Pagenaud Leaves Honda For Chevy’s Team Penske
At the end of a post finale MAVTv500 race press conference at Auto Club Speedway, a question was quickly posed to Simon Pagenaud as Simon was leaving the room – “Hey Simon, great year! What are your plans for 2015, any changes? Pagenaud replied with a large smile and a twinkle in his eye, “Just wait, in a couple of weeks there will be a big announcement – there may be a surprise.” Since Simon was quickly leaving the room, there was no time for a follow-up.
Fast forward to about one month later. Rumors swirled around the future of Simon Pagenaud and if he just might jump to Honda’s new alliance with McLaren in F1 and campaign for Honda in this new effort in the other top professional open wheel racing series here on mother Earth.
After all, Pagenaud has been very closely associated with Honda so as to have him viewed as a factory driver for most of the company’s competitive efforts. So much so, that Simon Pagenaud took on the challenge of Pikes Peak last year in a specially outfitted IndyCar powered Honda Odyssey. Sadly, the effort did not produce great results other than the promotional value … the Odyssey’s time (12:54.325) was beaten by a turbo diesel-powered Freightliner that was being promoted by Banks Power (12:49.211).
On Monday, September 29, 2014, Simon Pagenaud officially became a member of a four-car team that may just have the most talented group of drivers to grace a team in American open-wheel racing – Verizon IndyCar Series’ Penske Racing.
An Interview With:
SIMON PAGENAUD & TIM CINDRIC
MERRILL CAIN: Good afternoon, everyone. I’m Merrill Cain with Team Penske, and thank you for joining us today for this special media teleconference. We hope everyone saw the news this morning that Team Penske is proud to welcome aboard Simon Pagenaud in the fourth car for the organization’s Verizon IndyCar Series program beginning in 2015. A four‑time IndyCar race winner with a championship pedigree who has finished among the top five in the Series Championship in each of the last three seasons, we are happy to be joined by Simon Pagenaud along with Penske Racing President, Tim Cindric, to discuss today’s announcement.
Simon and Tim, thank you for joining us on the call this afternoon.
We’ll begin by getting some opening comments from both Tim and Simon who are at the Penske Racing facility in North Carolina today and we’ll open it up to questions for media on the call. Simon, first off, congratulations on today’s news and welcome to Team Penske.
SIMON PAGENAUD: Thank you. It’s a very special day in my career. This is a stepping stone in what happened for me in this life. It’s an honor to be part of Team Penske, a team that I’ve always dreamed to drive for, so a very special day.
MERRILL CAIN: Simon, obviously, this is a great opportunity for both you and the team. Can you just talk about what this means for your career overall, and also what you’re looking forward to as you complete a powerful four‑car Verizon IndyCar Series lineup for the team starting next season?
SIMON PAGENAUD: It’s definitely the next step in my career. I’ve been working my whole life as a race car driver, and now was perfect timing for Team Penske to come and work together. I’m really excited to get to work with Helio (Castroneves), Will (Power), and Juan Montoya. So having three teammates like them is definitely a huge help as a driver to complete the steps and it’s going to help the team as well. I’m really excited. I think it’s a tremendous opportunity for my career.
MERRILL CAIN: Thank you, Simon, and we hope the off‑season goes quickly for you as you get ready for 2015. Tim Cindric, why was now the right time for Team Penske to expand into a four‑car team and why was Simon the right driver to add to the lineup going forward?
TIM CINDRIC: It’s the first time we’ve run four cars with Team Penske, so it will certainly be a challenge. But when you have someone like Simon who may seem as though maybe this has been something that we’ve looked at here in the short‑term, that’s not necessarily the case.
Simon had obviously had an association with (former Team Penske driver) Gil (de Ferran) back in the Sports Car days when we were running the ALMS program, and that’s where we took notice of what his capabilities were. You know, really this has been the opportunity that we’ve had to bring him on board.
If that meant changing to a four‑car program, that’s what we were prepared to do. We feel like any time you can expand an organization, certainly it’s satisfying to know that we can continue to add to the Team Penske heritage, and bringing Simon on board was certainly an added plus to that. So, certainly looking forward to the challenge ahead.
Q. Tim, we know that each individual driver will have their own individual team, but it seems when you’re going to add a fourth car to the organization, you’ve never had four cars before. Maybe just talk a little, if you can, about some of the logistical hurdles you guys need to jump over to add another driver and another car? It’s probably a lot more difficult than it actually sounds like.
TIM CINDRIC: It’s a good question. When you look at the landscape right now, and you’re looking at even how Andretti runs their program and the team continues to change and develop up until the first race. Typically we don’t really put our teams together year to year, even when we stay with the same group of people. We don’t necessarily designate them as the No. 3 car mechanic, No. 2 car mechanic or engineer, what have you, until later in the off‑season. So I think that would be the same case.
Personnel is the first challenge that you have, and logistically how do you place four cars, how do you put them under the tent? How do you debrief? How do you put together what you need for our overseas trip now at the Brasilia race and those sorts of things? Certainly a logistical challenge, but more importantly the personnel is always what makes the difference, so that becomes your biggest focus.
Q. Simon, you seemed to thrive with a bigger team. I mean, you’ve got three primary guys that you can feed off of and debrief with. Talk a little bit about the wealth of experience and success that those three guys have had over the years and how you’re going to use a lot of that to develop even further as a race car driver?
SIMON PAGENAUD: It’s a tremendous opportunity. I’ve got Helio, a three‑time Indianapolis 500 Champion. I’ve got Juan Montoya, and Will Power who is now a champion of the Verizon IndyCar Series, so it’s great. It’s really going to be a very interesting season next year. Feeding off each other will be an important task. We all work for Team Penske, and that’s how it works here. I’m really excited about it, and I think it’s a perfect – like I said, perfect timing in my career.
Q. Simon, we started talking to you in July or August about all the people interested in you. Could you just talk about what it took to get you. As good a partner as Honda was, and maybe this is one of the few opportunities that a race driver gets or was the fact it was Roger Penske? I know it was a tough decision, but just maybe talk in your words as far as being torn maybe between staying with Honda or going to maybe one of the great opportunities a race driver gets?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yeah, it’s a good question. As a driver, you grow, and there are teams that you look for and there are teams that you admire. Team Penske has always been a team I’ve always admired. The Penske way has always been something that impressed me, and I felt like I would fit the mold really well. I don’t think any driver would turn down any opportunities from Roger Penske, so it was because of my interest in this team, it was the decision I made. I have to thank Honda for the past and for everything that they helped me to do. But, like I said, I just admired this team so much, this is my decision.
Q. As far as Ben (Bretzman), the engineer that Simon has had, will he come on board as Simon’s engineer next year?
TIM CINDRIC: We haven’t started the process. This is the first step and we haven’t spoken to anybody in Simon’s team at this point in time. So after today we’ll start that process. Honestly, I don’t know him. I’ve never met him, so don’t really know what that is. He hasn’t contacted us either. So I really don’t know what the next steps are there. We have some depth here, but we’ll certainly look to add from outside where we can.
Q. It just seemed that when Will (Power) came over, he brought Dave (Faustino). It just seems like the natural progression.
TIM CINDRIC: Well, if you remember, David didn’t come for a year until after Will was here. Will didn’t mention David to me. I didn’t know David Faustino until after the first year Will was here, and Will never mentioned his name until Derrick Walker mentioned him to me. Derrick was the one that said I should talk to David. It was never Will.
I know it’s interesting, and I asked Will, I said, it’s interesting you hadn’t brought up David’s name? And he said, well, I just wanted to be here first, and I figured you guys would figure out the rest. But if we could have David, that would be great. I said, why didn’t you tell me a year ago? (Laughs)
Q. Simon, congratulations. You mentioned your teammates earlier, Helio, Juan, but Will is the big talking point. You obviously had a bit of a rivalry this year. How different will it be being teammates with Will compared to when you were rookie in Champ Car and you two were teammates at that point?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Well, Will is a champion. He’s a tremendous driver. Yes, we’ve had contact on track and all that, but you need to grow as a driver. We’re quite mature now. We’ve known each other for a long time and been good teammates. I enjoyed very much working together at the time. I think it’s going to be our job to make it work for the team at Team Penske. It’s a great opportunity, certainly for me, but for all of us here. I don’t see any problem. I don’t see any reason why it won’t work well. Actually, it is going to work well.
Q. As a follow‑up, with leaving Honda, is it at all bittersweet given what they’ve been able to do for your career?
SIMON PAGENAUD: They’ve done a lot for me, that’s definitely the case. It’s been a great relationship. It’s been a fantastic three years in IndyCar with Sam Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, but then you have to choose some decisions in life. And like I said, my dream has always been to drive for Roger, and I got this opportunity and I made this decision.
Q. Some of the feedback I’ve already started to get in this announcement is that now Andretti and Penske each have four cars. How do you answer that with what’s good for the goose is good for the gander kind of thing as far as the overall sport?
TIM CINDRIC: I guess we didn’t really look at it as car count. We looked at it more as opportunity from our end. I think you see it in all the different sports, whether it’s IndyCar, NASCAR, what have you in terms of car count, obviously raises your odds in some ways. But if you don’t do it right, it can also be a distraction, and we’ve seen that within our NASCAR program. We’ve been a stronger team with two guys than we were when we ran three cars. So I think it really depends on when you add those cars and what your capabilities are.
I think if there was a time for us to add a fourth car, it was now. To where we feel we’ve at least got people in the right places. And our focus of expanding is really just a matter of enhancing what you have, and also adding a car rather than really trying to catch up in some ways. I think what we learn from the NASCAR side of it is if you don’t have the two cars right, it’s hard to add a third car. When we brought back the two cars in NASCAR, it benefited us in terms of our approach. So we felt like if we were going to add a fourth driver that really there wasn’t another guy to consider.
But Simon is someone that we’ve been interested in, as I said earlier, since he drove Sports Cars for Gil, and this is the first time we’ve had an opportunity to get together and who knows when the next time might be, so you just have to make a decision.
Q. Do you think this is good for the sport to have three teams so dominant in terms of their car count?
TIM CINDRIC: I think that’s for somebody else to judge. You saw what the Schmidt Peterson team was able to do with one car and you look at the number of race winners they had this year, and there were two four‑car teams out there this year. You look at the number of race winners that were at IndyCar, I’m not sure it really matters.
Q. Simon, have you talked to Will since the decision was made?
SIMON PAGENAUD: No, I haven’t talked to Will yet. I will certainly do that very soon. We’re actually going to a Verizon event tomorrow all together with all four drivers. So we’ll have time to chat about it and that will be an interesting day.
Q. Is this a Verizon car, or are we that far down the line yet?
TIM CINDRIC: No, the answer is no and no. As far as a Verizon car or are we that far down the line, we’re obviously starting to work on the sponsorship package for that program, but it’s not necessarily a Verizon car. It’s not necessarily not a Verizon car. We haven’t talked to Verizon other than letting them know that Simon is coming on board. We certainly have some sponsorship programs that we’re working on, and Verizon is part of all of our cars, so that’s yet to be determined.
Q. When did you seriously consider adding that fourth car, and was that decision based on the fact that a driver of Simon’s caliber was available and you didn’t want to miss the opportunity to lock him up for the long‑term?
TIM CINDRIC: When did we start considering it? I would say pretty much all season long it’s been in the back of my head because I’ve known what Simon’s obligations were, based on the discussions we had before. This is a business you have to be kind of looking ahead to be sure that you’re prepared. So in my mind that thought had been going on throughout the season. But we really hadn’t crossed that bridge or talked about it in seriously until it was time, really.
Q. Simon, have you had much interaction with Rick Mears in your time with IndyCars, and have you looking forward to benefiting the role he plays with Team Penske?
SIMON PAGENAUD: I am very much looking forward to interact with Rick. We’ve had a few words on the racetrack, but just as competitors and very respectful words. I’m always looking up to those kind of drivers, like I did with Gil de Ferran, so it will be really awesome for me to get to have good stories with Rick.
Q. Simon, could you talk about the resources at Penske with both what’s available to you and plus the depth of all the talent that you’re going to be working with when you get there?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yes, it’s a good point to bring. The big advantage of a team like Penske is definitely all the resources that you can have and all the research and development that you have available to make the car better and improve. As you know, I’m someone very technical, and that is the side of the sport that we enjoy. What better fit for me? There wasn’t any better fit. So it’s pretty exciting going into 2015 that way.
Q. Do you feel that perhaps you’re going to be able to add to some of the deep history of the Penske legacy?
SIMON PAGENAUD: I surely hope so. I mean, as a driver, when you walk into a team like this one, the goal is different. You’re here to win. That’s the bottom line. The goal is to have complete success with the contract.
Q. Congratulations, Simon, and Tim, too. There was some suggestions that Nissan approached you about possibly driving their new P1 car in Le Mans in the World Championship. Can you comment on that at all, and if you gave any serious consideration to such an offer if it came?
SIMON PAGENAUD: I’ve always been interested in Sports Car. I’ve had a great career in Sports Car. But as you can see, my goal was to go back to IndyCar in 2012, but it was a successful time and great opportunities ahead. So, yes, I’ve been in talks with Nissan. It’s been good talks, but I was very interested in my opportunities in IndyCar, so that was the bottom line.
Q. Joining Penske in IndyCar, it would be like if you joined McLaren or Ferrari in Formula 1?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yes, the Penske heritage is huge in racing. What Roger Penske did for the sport is amazing in America and worldwide as well. It’s truly an honor to be part of the team now, and I’m very excited to get to work with everybody here. I’m just super excited and really impressed with the organization already.
Q. Do you feel that for the timing it’s a different thing to be the little French man on a smaller team than a big one and it’s another thing to be part of one of the big teams?
SIMON PAGENAUD: That’s an interesting question. I don’t think nationality has anything to do with success. It’s who you are as a person, and who you think will win. I definitely feel like on the Team Penske side and my side it could be a really good fit, and that’s why we joined the two ends of the link.
TIM CINDRIC: We worked with a smaller French guy before in (Romain) Dumas.
Q. Congratulations both of you. My first question is for Tim. I know in the past there have been times where you weren’t able to go from two cars up to three cars because of sponsorship considerations. Simon is a great talent. What was it about this that you feel confident that you can collectively stage a fully good four‑car effort bringing in all the financial resources it will take?
TIM CINDRIC: The fortunate thing is obviously we have an owner that is committed to winning and committed to opportunity. That doesn’t mean we can’t make a business case behind it, but obviously, to make this decision, we have to have those resources in place or at least to the point where we’re confident enough that it can stand on its own.
So I think it’s a little bit different than the Montoya situation because that one, honestly, we didn’t have one discussion whatsoever. This one, I think we also have some processes in place to where we feel like there is some potential beyond our existing sponsors. But at the end of the day, that is the secondary thing for us in terms of this opportunity. I know that sounds backwards sometimes, but we’ve been fortunate to have a really good marketing team, and with the off‑season the way it is, we feel like we’ve got more time than you typically would have to raise those budgets. So, obviously we’re willing to take that chance.
To have four cars, there is efficiency in doing that. The first car costs the most, and then each one after that costs a little bit less. That’s not always the case for the driver, but it is the case for the sponsor, in a way.
Q. Simon, if you could talk about the path it’s taken to get to this ride? Obviously one of the best rides in the history of the sport. If you could talk a little about the road and the path that it’s taken for you to get here?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Of course. It’s my path in America has been very interesting and challenging at times, but quite a good adventure. I came here in 2006 and won the Champ Car Atlantic championship. Then I went to Champ Car, had a good time being teammates with Will Power and unfortunately the series folded. So I found a home with Gil de Ferran and a great organization, and then I had an opportunity to drive Le Mans in the 24 Hours.
So I had the chance to have really good rides and to shine in those good teams. I’m really happy to get in contact, basically with Team Penske and Tim Cindric. So that was, I think, Sports Car was a very important moment in my career. It helped me to learn a lot by technical aspects of the car and set‑up, and also to be known as someone who could share and work as a teammate. Then the next step was coming back to IndyCar with Sam Schmidt, and I can’t thank him enough for what he did and the opportunity he gave me. We had great success and it allowed me to have a great opportunity today with Team Penske.
Q. I know that you’ve had quite a bit of success with Sam, but how stunned were you when the initial overtures came from Team Penske?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Well, I worked pretty hard. I worked really hard, and the goal as a driver is to go out and win races and win championships. So you always hope for the best. You always hope that you’ll get the best opportunity possible. There’s been a lot of interest during the winter which I truly was honored about it. Luckily enough I had a very good opportunity with the team that I always dreamed to drive for, so the decision from then on was pretty easy for me.
Q. Do you have a car number yet or something you’re leaning toward?
TIM CINDRIC: 22. 22. Thanks for asking.
Q. Simon, you’ve been honest the last couple of years – (you’ve) got to upgrade (your) oval track program, and I think you’ve made strides. But you’ve never had a strong teammate that had oval experience. Now you have Montoya, Castroneves and Power, and now Rick Mears. Maybe that is the one missing piece of your career right now. As far as looking ahead, that’s got to give you more optimism than anything?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yes. It took time for anyone like Dario Franchitti or Will Power to win on oval, and I think it’s the natural progress and natural improvement. I feel definitely ready to take on the fight on the ovals, and definitely having someone like Montoya with so much experience on the oval and Helio by my side will be huge.
I’m actually really looking forward to our first test together on an oval some day. That is definitely going to be an interesting one for me in that sense.
Q. Have you determined the first test dates for Simon yet? How different is this year’s first testing program going to be considering you have the aero kits coming, but it’s a little bit of a waiting period until that point?
TIM CINDRIC: Yeah, I think understanding where the aero kit test plan is probably the best answer for that as we try to work through that for Chevrolet. Chevrolet has done a lot of work on the aero kit program over the past couple years as I’m sure Honda has. But understanding what the best approach is for utilizing their days and how they plan to utilize their days, we’re still working close to Chevrolet on that and trying to incorporate Simon into that at some point in time would be great if we get that opportunity.
But certainly before the year is out, we’d like to get him in our car at some point in time. We’re actually pouring the seat for him here today, so we’ll have that piece out of the way. Really, after that I guess I don’t have a specific date, but I can say he’ll be in the car before the end of the year.
Many are now left asking … what in the heck did Honda do to warrant such a level of defection to the manufacturer of the other engine and aerodynamic body work for the Dallara DW12 in the Verizon IndyCar Series – Chevrolet?
Last year around this time, Target Chip Ganassi Racing jumped to Chevrolet, and with the merger of Ed Carpenter Racing with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing earlier this month – CFHR will be running Chevy-power leaving Honda without rising American star driver Josef Newgarden.
And now this – Simon Pagenaud leaves Honda for Team Penske!
At least, now, Pagenaud will not have to be concerned about being bested by a 10,000 pound mule for a rolling cross-country shipping container.
In 2015, what is Honda going to do to buttress its dwindling American open-wheel prospects? Of the three four-car teams, only one is powered and supported by Honda – Andretti Autosport. Maybe their answer will lay in providing better Aero Kits!
… notes from The EDJE