By ROB HAMILTON
As the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course gets closer, IndyCar drivers are starting to look forward to their trip to Morrow County for the event, which runs from July 31 to Aug. 2.
In his first year with Team Penske, Simon Pagenaud is definitely one of those drivers. Currently 10th in the season points standings, Pagenaud has a history of success at Mid-Ohio. In his first year competing in IndyCar (2011), he finished 13th, but then has been third, second and ninth the previous three years.
“I love that track — it’s very similar to European tracks I’ve raced,” he said. “You can push it to the limits of the Indy cars. I think we’ll have a great race.”
This year has been a bit of an adjustment for Pagenaud, who had finished fifth, third and fifth in the points standings the past three years competing for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports before making the move to Penske.
“It’s a transition,” he said. “This is a fantastic race team and the future is bright. Right now, we’re just building. The performance has been awesome and when you qualify so well, you want to finish well. I’m really excited about the future.”
One thing that is helping the French native is his long-term relationship with engineer Ben Bretzman, whom he’s worked with since before entering IndyCar in 2011. After having competed in several other racing series previously, starting with French Formula Renault in 2002, he also credited his former Schmidt Peterson team.
“We knew each other before IndyCar, which helped us get up to speed,” he said. “Obviously, we had a team at the time that did everything they could to give me good equipment.”
Pagenaud appreciated that help, as he considers IndyCar to be the most challenging series he has run in.
“When you go from one (series) to another, you have to learn the little details,” he said. “Indy is the most challenging to win a race. You’ll never figure it out completely — there’s always more to find.”
He explained a few of the things he’s had to learn since joining IndyCar.
“On the driver’s side, there’s how you come out of the pits on cold tires or come into a dirty or bumpy pit lane,” he noted. “Sometimes you can have the best strategy and it doesn’t work out.”
Pagenaud added that a course like Mid-Ohio offers its own set of challenges.
“The combination of corners and elevation changes,” he said when asked about the more interesting aspects of the road course. “It’s the little tricks and things you have to do with the car to stick on the track. Some times, you’re not using conventional race lines to make things very interesting.”
While he noted that having good pit stops was very important to having a good day at Mid-Ohio, Pagenaud added that some of the most important work at that track can be accomplished during Saturday’s qualifying session.
“I think it’s most important to qualify well,” he said. “Since passing is not that easy there, that’s a good advantage. It helps to get some good lap times and to save some fuel.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS