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Strong start helps Pagenaud keep eye on championship

Simon Pagenaud believes Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports has what it takes to challenge IndyCar's big boys for the title.

After winning Sunoco Rookie of the Year honours in 2012 and scoring his first two IndyCar Series wins in 2013, Simon Pagenaud is looking to contend for the 2014 championship.

Pagenaud, who has finished fifth and third in the standings in his previous two seasons, is the only driver apart from points leader Will Power to score top-five finishes in the first two races of the 2014 campaign. The strong start is a refreshing change for Pagenaud, who had to claw his way back into title contention last season after a DNF in the opening race.

"The fact that we started well is important, because at the end of the year every point matters," explained the Frenchman, who tested on the Texas Motor Speedway oval in the Honda-powered #77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports car earlier this week, "It's a dynamic - you want your team to feel that desire to win and be in a good mood and that's definitely where we are at the moment."

The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on 27 April is his next opportunity to challenge for a victory. Pagenaud made his series debut at Barber Motorsports Park in 2011 and has yet to finish outside the top eight at the road course in Birmingham, and clearly relishes his role as a driver from a little team consistently battling the heavyweights of IndyCar.

"It's good to feel pretentious enough to feel like we can compete with Penske, Ganassi and Andretti," Pagenaud said, "It's never too early to think championship. I think that's one of our strengths as a team. We've always been good at that. "

But he knows that, in order to achieve his goal of adding a Verizon IndyCar Series championship to the sportscar title he won in 2011, he'll have to beat the competition on a regular basis. But he says the team has all the pieces to do just that.

"It's our third year together," Pagenaud reasoned, "It's definitely clicking well. The pit crew is fantastic. The strategy is awesome and I'm driving well. I think we are position to get many wins – and wins are certainly going to be important this year.

“I think you saw that between [Scott] Dixon and Helio [Castroneves] last year. The points this year really reward wins, so we're going to have to win races if we want to be in title contention."

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