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Simon Pagenaud, Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsport - Q&A
3 June 2013
Dubbed 'super-sub' after filling in for other drivers at short notice in 2011, then putting in an impressive full rookie season performance in 2012, now it's finally Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsport's Simon Pagenaud's turn to bask in the newly minted accolade of IZOD IndyCar Series race winner.
After the Sunday race, Pagenaud spoke to the press and was joined by team owners Sam Schmidt and Davey Hamilton.
We are pleased to be joined by our race winner, Simon Pagenaud.
Yeah, it was a crazy race. I think it's more we should say an amazing weekend. We really had some issues yesterday in the race. As you could see, it was difficult for Tristan and I. Qualifying compared dramatically to where we were before. The HP team is working hard and they make things happen.
Yesterday was difficult, but they worked really hard. My engineer, Ben, Rick, they were looking through everything, the data, trying to understand what we were missing. I think they went to the hotel at midnight, came back early this morning. They all looked pretty tired. But they said they thought they found it.
When I jumped in the car for the warmup, it was much better, much improved. They made some even bigger changes for the race. The car was incredible for the race.
I was on full attack mode for the race. My goal was to attack, go to the front, not look behind, which we did on every restart. We used a lot of Honda 'push to pass'. It worked.
We unfortunately got collected when Will had a loose moment in one. But luckily enough my reflexes are pretty sharp right now. I managed to avoid him. Damaged the front wing. They fixed the front wing and we were back out in contention. From that moment on, I was like, Just go for it, let's see what happen. We gained a position almost every lap and used the 'push to pass' again. We found ourselves in the lead by having such a fast car. Once we were in the lead, it was easier to push and do qualifying laps after qualifying laps. Have to say the hours in the gym really paid off today.
How does it finally feel to find yourself on top of the podium?
Well, first of all, the last two laps were very difficult. For me, I mean, I'm 29, just turned 29 during the Indy month. I started racing when I was eight. My goal was either Formula One or IndyCar. That's what I wanted to do as a human, as a person, that was my goal. My dad never believed I could do it until later when he found that I actually had talent.
He pushed as hard as he could to make it happen. My mom as well. So it's 21 years of hard work, you know, trying to have my dad believe I could make it happen first, then have sponsors helping me throughout the young years of my career, then have people like Sam and Davey believe in me when I was doing sports car. People like Honda obviously made this happen. It's 21 years of a lot of hard work.
The last two laps I was quite emotional in the car. It was difficult to stay focused. I kept saying, Keep pushing, keep pushing, don't lift. It worked out. When I crossed the finish line, it was a sweet moment.
Simon, you've had a pretty interesting career path. Tell me a little bit about when your open-wheel career stalled, you started a sports car career, did you think you would be able to transition from that into standing here talking about your first win?
Well, I believe you always have to believe to make it happen. There were a lot of tough moments, especially the end of 2007, 2008. Gil de Ferran called me, Honda. They hired me to go in sports car. Honestly, at that time I was an open-wheel kind of guy. Didn't want to give up on my dream.
At the end of the day it's also a business. That's what you do as a business, as a work. I thought, Why not? Why not try in sports car, maybe I can gain experience, learn more things, open my mind.
Honestly, when I went through sports car, I think I'm learning a lot. I learned how to work on tyre development, engine development, electronics, and aerodynamics, which honestly I had no idea on all those items what I was talking about before 2008.
I learned a lot because Gil, my teammate, was an open book. We spent hours chitchatting around the table, explaining me things. I just drank everything he had to say. It helped a lot. I think sports cars definitely was the biggest move of my career to come back. The hardest thing was to have someone trust the fact that I could come back and be a strong open-wheel driver.
We're pleased to have the team owners, Sam Schmidt, Davey Hamilton. Congratulations. A big milestone. Sam, we have to ask, you're the winningest team owner in Indy Lights, now you get the first IndyCar win. Talk about it.
This is better. I don't know if I'd give up all those wins and championships for this, but this is really huge. I know what Simon is feeling like right now because I had a chance to win one race as a driver. Been a long road, long journey these last 13, 14 years. Obviously, wouldn't be here today without (co-owner) Ric (Peterson) and Davey. Yeah, just fantastic. Thank you very much.
Simon, you've been a loyal Honda driver. This race is in General Motors' hometown. Talk about the way Honda performed in the Indy 500 last week, Honda disappointed, to come here this weekend and dominate both races.
Honda are famous for making great race engines. That's what they did at Indy 500. They came back very strong. I believe Justin was fifth and we were eighth. We were running for almost the lead at some points there. We came back very strong. We had a very fast car. They worked really hard. I think they understood how the engine is working a little bit better at Indy, and it's paying off here in Detroit.
It's very sweet for them to win in General Motors' city, but I want to thank GM for putting this event. It's great to have promoters and partners. I wouldn't bash them at all. I think what they're doing here is fantastic. But I'm definitely proud of Honda's work and proud to be part of the family.
Simon, what was your reaction to Vautier? Did you think that was your bad moment?
I got worried. I think I lost half a lap thinking too much. I thought, Man, we're going to have a restart, I don't want this at all.
Luckily enough, they cleared him. I think everybody wanted me to win this race. It helped a little bit. They were very active. I don't know what they did with Tristan, pulled him out, restarted him, but the next lap he wasn't there anymore. So thanks to the safety crew. I got to say thanks to them. When I see them, I think I'll buy them a beer .
Tell me a little bit about the relationship you have with your engineer Ben. IndyCar now has its first engineer winning brothers.
Ben is an incredible man, I would say. Also he's a fantastic engineer. I mean, I can't recall the last time I've had a bad balance. We talk a lot about grip right now. But car balance has always been pretty good. Ben knows exactly what I need. I don't even need to talk to him anymore. We've been together since the beginning of 2010 in sports cars. We won the championship in ALMS. He went to NASCAR in 2011. I talked him out of NASCAR, basically coming and joining us at the Schmidt team.
It's great that he followed me because he truly always trusts me. Some days I'm like, Yeah, I don't know what he thinks, but he always trusts me, always thinks he can provide me a better car. Sometimes I think I should have driven better for him. It's this kind of relationship that makes us so strong.
I think his wife is a little jealous of us. My girlfriend is jealous of us. We are pretty much on the phone 12 hours of every day. But that's what makes us so strong.
Yesterday we had a rough day. Today we had a great day because we bounced back. He's really well-supported by Nick, Dan, especially Rob Edwards, our team manager. The whole team is just working really well together. Ben being such a great mood person, it's a great pretty atmosphere on the team.
I think in this series we're used to seeing Ganassi and Penske on top. What does it say to you that anybody can win?
This year it's very much been the case. It's quite impressive, to be honest. We never know who is going to be on top each weekend. Everybody was impressed with Dale Coyne and Conway. Mike was the class of the field most of the time. I was happy to reverse that.
But it's great to see what IndyCar has been able to provide, a product that's helping every team to be able to be competitive. There's a lot of smart people in every team right now. It's about who's going to be the smartest every weekend. But it's certainly very, very competitive, very difficult to pick a winner every race.
How do you feel after these two races? The work that the crew guys had to do to get the cars turned around less than 24 hours.
Feels like the 24 Hours of Le Mans all again. Certainly 70 laps is a long race, especially in IndyCar, which I believe is one of the toughest racecars to drive at the moment without the power steering, which is a great thing. It rewards drivers who go to the gym. So I'm happy about that. At the end of the second race you're holding on on nerves more so than anything else. Being in the lead really helps.
Well, yeah, I've now been away from my home for four weeks straight. I'm living it every day with the crew. The 48-hour turnaround after Indy, we're fortunate all of our cars were brought home in one piece. Literally 48 hours they left our shop for moving up here. We've had a great group of individuals. We've grown substantially over the last couple years to I think 38 employees, partners there. They've all meshed really well. I think we have a fantastic chemistry amongst all the guys. We're all pushing the same direction. Nobody had their heads down. They knew what they had to do and they got it done. Kudos to the drivers for keeping the cars in one piece. That made life easier. But the next three or four weeks is not going to be easy.
Last year here you qualified fourth and finished third. How much development have all the teams done with the DW12s where you could be so struggling yesterday, and how close was today's setup to what you had last year where you were the class of the field other than the two Ganassi guys?
Yeah, it's a fair comment. But it's not three seconds, we're talking 7/10ths, 6/10ths of a second, all of a sudden you're at the back of the field. It's amazing. Track position also made a big difference today. But, you know, the understanding of how to ride the bumps better. You want to spend the most time as possible on the ground. That's definitely what we improved on overnight. Yesterday we were spending way too much time up in the air. The ride was very rough. We didn't know why.
Last year we were pretty good. But the tarmac has changed on most corners. So in areas where we were good last year, we're still good. But in areas that have changed, we're now in good shape. We tried a few different things that were quite new and didn't work out yesterday, so we tried the other way with the same things and it worked out in the morning.
It's not that simple. All the guys, they have to dig really deep into the data to understand how to gain grip. That's exactly what they did. So hats off to them because you got to be pretty smart to understand those things right now.
Transcript courtesy IndyCar. FastScripts by ASAP Sports.