IndyCar Meet-and-Greet: Simon Pagenaud

Before he claimed the pole for Saturday’s Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis, the Frenchman—a collector of cars, lover of animals, and winner of two straight races—spent some getting-to-know-you time with <em>IM</em>.
Simon Pagenaud

It’s a crisp,

sunny Friday morning. The uncertainty of qualifying for the third annual Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis looms over the garage area at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Crews throughout Gasoline Alley tune each car to absolute precision. Speed is the ultimate goal of the day.

The Team Penske garage is a magnet for fans. A mob circles the entrance, hoping for pictures, autographs, to meet a favorite driver.

Suddenly, off to the right, a fan cries out, “Hey, Simon!”

Simon Pagenaud rides up to the garage in a golf cart, driving with one hand on the wheel as though it were a low-riding muscle car. He steps out, greets some fans, and walks into the garage.

Pagenaud won the inaugural Grand Prix of Indy in 2014, driving for Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports. Now with Team Penske, on a day that will later see him claim the pole, he is looking for his third win in a row in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Pagenaud has himself in prime position to become the Grand Prix’s first repeat winner, and to bring team owner Roger Penske back to back wins in the event.

As Pagenaud walks through the garage area, he inspects his bright yellow Menards-sponsored Dallara DW12. Holding a Styrofoam cup of coffee in one hand, Simon, wearing a big grin, high-fives his crew with the other.

“Car looks good,” Pagenaud says. “Car feels good. I feel good. Should be good.” His smile grows as he thinks about the success the day might bring.

The yellow Menards car is both a new and familiar sight at the speedway: The retailer and its high-profile owner, John Menard—once fixtures at Indy in May—have returned this year after a hiatus.

“I think when people see it, they move out of the way,” Pagenaud says of the car’s gaudy color scheme. “It’s disturbing. So it’s perfect.”

It is Pagenaud’s sense of humor that carries him through hardships. No matter what happens, it seems he always has a smile on his face. Certainly, the smile is there when he describes the livery of his car.

However, there’s more to Simon Pagenaud than his sense of humor and confidence in his ride. He recently adopted a new puppy, a Jack Russell terrier. “He’s a lot of fun. He keeps me active. However, he also keeps me busy in the morning.” Pagenaud has a deep-rooted love for animals, in fact. In 2013, he hosted an adoptable foster dog from the Humane Society of Indianapolis in his motor home throughout the month of May.

His other big passion is fairly obvious. “I’m a big car guy,” says Pagenaud. “I love driving cars in general.” He has begun collecting classic cars and, of course, enjoys driving them. Behind the steering wheel, his favorite machine is not the racecar, but rather his Audi R8. “I’ve spent quite a bit of money on this hobby.”

Pagenaud’s home country is France, and when he’s not at the track, he spends a lot of time in the French Alps. “I love to go skiing with my friends. I have a really good group of friends, and as soon as I have free time, I like to go back to France and spend some quality time with them.”

At least for this month, though, Pagenaud’s focus is on one the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“The Indianapolis 500, in my opinion, is the crown jewel of racing,” he says. “It’s not really part of the [IndyCar] championship in my head. It’s a race that when you win it, you become a legend.”

With a proven ability to win on road courses like the Grand Prix of Indy, and riding a hot streak, Pagenaud—sitting on the pole for Saturday’s race—looks like the odds-on favorite.

But taking the checkered flag on the Indy 500’s unforgiving oval later in the month—where Pagenaud has never finished better than 8th—is another challenge entirely.

A strong competitor who loves racing, Pagenaud thinks he’s up to the task. And being with Team Penske, which has guided more than its fair share of drivers into the winners’ circle on Memorial Day weekend—he couldn’t have found a better match.

So Pagenaud will suit up, take off his Ray-Bans, and start from the front row on Saturday, then vie to bring home another win for Team Penske and, just maybe, also earn enough money to add another car to his collection.

Simon Pagenaud