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Here Comes Simon Pagenaud
Going into the Verizon IndyCar Series season, many drivers, fans, and experts wondered whether Simon Pagenaud would finally find his feet at Team Penske.
The Frenchman did that and more as he delivered his first win for Penske at Sunday’s Grand Prix of Long Beach. The victory came in his 19th start with the legendary organization and he instantly became a title favorite.
Although it took much longer than many thought, the confidence boost that comes with his first Penske win will only make Pagenaud more difficult to beat.
"Certainly there's a lot more to come. I think the team – my No. 22 team is tremendous – certainly one of the strongest right now," Pagenaud said.
"I feel like I'm driving really well, so all the stars are aligned. It's going to be a long championship, you know. We started really well. There's the Indy 500 to come. There's a lot to come. We'll just keep focusing on what we want to do, and we'll see what happens."
The Long Beach victory increased Pagenaud's lead in the championship standings, moving him 14 points ahead of Scott Dixon and 28 up on Penske teammate Juan Pablo Montoya after three of 16 races. Pagenaud and the Verizon IndyCar Series make a stop at Texas Motor Speedway for the ninth race of the season, the Firestone 600 on Saturday, June 11 (7:30 p.m. CT, TV: NBC Sports Network, Radio: IMS Radio Network, SiriusXM Channel 209, 95.9 FM The Ranch locally).
Pagenaud arrived at Penske after registering four wins in three years with the Schmidt Peterson organization and three top-five finishes in the championship standings, including a best of third in 2013. Those performances had people thinking he'd be an instant championship threat as soon as he moved from a mid-level team to a powerhouse.
Things didn't exactly turn out that way as he went through a disappointing 2015.
While he failed to stay among the top 10 in the championship on many weekends last season, his three Penske teammates – Juan Pablo Montoya, Will Power and Helio Castroneves – kept themselves in the championship hunt all year.
The best finish Pagenaud could record was a third at Detroit and Mid-Ohio, and that left many wondering when would record his next victory.
"I knew it was coming because we've been so competitive since the beginning of the year – it was just a matter of when," he said. "But I've been saying it: Consistency is key for me in this championship and for the way I drive. It might not be exciting to watch. It might not be the most fun to watch, but it works. I'm just going to stick to what I believe in, and when it's time to win, we'll win."
Despite the apparent struggles last season, Pagenaud insisted before the season that things weren't as bad as they appeared and it was a better year than the results revealed. His team spent the offseason improving on the little things and preparing for every race."I'm not somebody who puts a lot of pressure on myself, and I like to just be laser focused on my task, and that's what I've been doing this year," Pagenaud said. "I felt we were going to be competitive. Every race I come in, I don't really focus on results. I focus on doing my job, and whatever the result is, it's the best I could do at the time. When I don't do that, then I'm upset with myself. Sometimes you might finish sixth and be happy with yourself, and sometimes you win a race, and you might not have done the best job."