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PAGENAUD CROSSES GOAL OFF HIS LIST WITH OVAL VICTORY
Simon Pagenaud did a lot of winning en route to winning the Verizon IndyCar Series title last year, but a couple of key goals remained on his agenda – with a victory on an oval track among them. At Phoenix over the weekend, the Frenchman crossed that one off the list.
"I was very emotional at the end of the race, because I've been running after this – the desire to be good on ovals for me was really strong," Pagenaud said. "I wanted to come to America and I wanted to embrace the sport, embrace the ovals, and show that I could do the job. Obviously, it took a few years."
Pagenaud admitted that the declining frequency of oval events on the IndyCar calendar made his acclimation to them that much more of a challenge.
"Unfortunately, we don't race on ovals that much. We only race I believe like five ovals a year. When you don't have any background on oval racing, not even Indy Lights, it was difficult to learn the job and learn what it took to win a race on an oval.
"So understanding the strategy, understanding placement of the car with the turbulences compared to the guy in front of you, is very difficult to understand. The biggest thing I think is to understand what the car needs to be like to be good throughout the race, give you the confidence to attack and be good in traffic."
While acknowledging that the timing of the caution flag that put him in front of teammate Will Power to stay had been a key advantage, Pagenaud reckoned he'd had the car to beat anyway.
"I think today we had a phenomenal racecar, the best out there by far," he said. "The Penske cars I think were the best all weekend, but I think my car, was definitely a step above everybody else. I saw it very early in the race."
"We were able to save fuel being behind Will, behind Helio [Castroneves],” he added. “That helped us to stretch our window. We were a little lucky with the yellow that came out, but that's because we were able to stretch it, and it worked for us.
"My car was very good out of [Turn] Four; I was able to keep a very tight line. Obviously, as you saw, we decided to go with a very low downforce configuration to try to pass people. Despite being low on downforce, we were still able to follow really close in traffic. That's how we were able to make some ground.
"A lot of the backmarkers were very cautious today, which helped as well. Overall, the car was just phenomenal all night long. We kept with it as the track changed as well. I think the last restart also, having so many cars between me and Will, helped. With pace, I was just saving the tires at the end."
Pagenaud reiterated that becoming an oval winner was central to his ambitions to be seen as an all-around IndyCar ace.
"Yes, that's my goal, is to be as complete as possible. I also look up to Dario Franchitti, I think was one of the most complete guys. Helio as well. Dario has been a model for me for a long time. Obviously, my mentor Gil de Ferran. I can't wait to see the text I'm going to get on my phone! I'm sure he'll be very proud.
"We talked about Phoenix last week together. It's been a great relationship. He's been helping me to understand this whole deal. Whether you're on speedway or short oval, it's very different. I won a championship without winning on an oval. Now if I can win on oval, it's going to make life different. That's very important to me."