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Simon Pagenaud: Rookie no more

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Simon Pagenaud on Pole Day 2013.
  • Simon Pagenaud on Pole Day 2013.

IndyCar's 2012 Rookie of the Year Simon Pagenaud is a perfectionist. "There are a lot of areas to improve," he reflects. "The first one is qualifying. To be on pole, I'm going have to put my tricks all together over one lap! It's my job to work on that and help the team prepare the car for that lap that's going to count. I can also improve my fuel consumption, my pit stop and car position in the pit, my race car on ovals and [my] feedback to the team."

After a partial 2011 season in which he had little time to get accustomed to the teams and the car, Pagenaud gained confidence at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports last year. The continuity of working with the same team and the addition of French teammate Firestone Indy Lights champion Tristan Vautier is providing a further boost. "We can now focus on details, and improve ourselves in a defining manner," Pagenaud says. Working closely with engineers Ben Bretzman and Nick Snyder, team manager Rob Edwards and strategist Robert Gue, he says, "I enjoy the technical aspect of racing."

Last year, he was "a little nervous" about the ovals. "I realized there was a lot more to it than you can see from the outside. It's an art that requires a lot of work and understanding of the tactics, how the car is handling throughout a stint, and how the track is evolving, placement in traffic, understanding dirty air." It was at Iowa Speedway where he grasped what oval racing was about. "It took me a good 30 minutes to get my head around it and then suddenly we were rocketing from last to the front."

He hopes to do the same in this year's Indianapolis 500. "I hope I'll get to taste the milk before I get too old," says the enthusiastic Frenchman. "I have been dreaming about IndyCar my whole career."

The 28-year-old driver, who came up through the ranks in Europe prior to capturing the Champ Car Atlantic Championship in 2006, is intensely focused. "Every morning I wake up thinking, 'today I have got to push more' and 'how can I do a better job than yesterday?' I want to be the best. It's my inner motivation and what keeps me working every day."

Tied for 10th in the points, Pagenaud is positioned for a competitive May.

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