With his fourth win in the Verizon IndyCar Series and his second of 2014, Simon Pagenaud is without question one of the leading drivers in this year's championship. And as second place for his rookie team mate Mikhail Aleshin shows, it's very much a team success for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports as a whole.

"It's fantastic for the race team and the entire organisation," agreed Pagenaud. "Having Mik come here second is incredible ... Obviously the top teams [Ganassi, Penske, Andretti], they're always up there, but Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has been elevated to the next level, which is awesome to see.

"I think one of the reasons is that this is our third year together," he offered. "We've developed a package, and we keep improving, which is great. I think all the problems we had in 2012 have now resolved, and it just takes time to get to this level."

Despite starting from pole for the first race of the weekend, Pagenaud had suffered a disappointing race 1 on Saturday as result of brake issues and then sustaining damage after getting caught up in Scott Dixon's accident. Even though he was pipped to pole position for Sunday's race, Pagenaud was determined that race 2 would go better - and that he was owed a win.

"We had such a fast car this weekend," he said as he celebrated after the race. "Awesome race. The car was just beautiful. Awesome braking. Awesome traction. Awesome grip. What else could you expect as a driver. That's why I was so disappointed yesterday."

Pagenaud was immediately on the tail of race leader Helio Castroneves, but it took a caution for Carloz Munoz's retirement to set up the restart opportunity that allowed him to overtake the Brazilian and claim the lead of the race just after the midway point of the 90-lap event.

"I had a good run on Helio," explained Pagenaud of the moment that decided the race result. "He protected the inside, but he had a bad run in turn 3 ... As soon as I got behind him and I got that run, he went down the inside, but he went on a brake early, and I fixed to go to the outside and I crossed back to the inside, which surprised him.

"But as always it was super clean," Pagenaud pointed out. "We didn't touch, or it wasn't even a close call. And it was a late pass, it was aggressive, but it was very clean."

Pagenaud was surprised to look in his mirrors a few seconds later and realise that Castroneves was no longer there, having been taken out by contact with Sebastien Bourdais: "Unfortunately I don't really know what happened with him and Bourdais, but I wish we could have fight this race to the end because it was going to be a great fight with Helio."

In the closing stages of the race, the man immediately behind Pagenaud was his own team mate, Aleshin, which he admitted took some of the pressure off as the pair set their sights on getting to the finish rather than fighting it out among themselves.

"He really helped me for this race, he was a tremendous team mate today," said Pagenaud. "He didn't really try to challenge me on the restarts. I got really good restarts on my own, but he wasn't playing the aggressor [that] Mikhail can be, so I want to thank him because he thought about the team interests, my interest in the championship, and that's very unusual for a team mate to do that. Hats off to him, and for a great run, as well."

In fact the relationship between Pagenaud and Aleshin seems unusually warm for team mates in the fiercely competitive arena of motorsport.

"The first time I met him, we were racing in Europe in Formula Renault back in 2003 and 4," Pagenaud pointed out. "He stayed there, I came over here and we meet again. He's grown a lot. He's a much better driver than he was back then. He's a cool guy.

"The first time he came to the US, we picked him up with my girlfriend Hailey, and I've got to tell you she warmed him up straightaway, and it worked out really well. We hit it off, and we're good friends, as well, outside the racetrack. He's a very professional guy, he's interesting in many ways.

"I'm Latin France as you know, and Mikhail is Russian, so my emotions are a bit like Helio - it goes up and down - while his emotion is more like a dead line, basically ... [That] was a compliment!" he added quickly, laughing. "He's able to recover from, for example, what happened to him yesterday was bad luck, and he recovers just quickly from events, and he's able to get back in a car and just be fast like he was this morning in qualifying."

Talking about Aleshin quickly led to contrasting Pagenaud's experience in 2013 in a one-car team with that of being one half of a two-car line-up in 2014, and the advantages that brings. "I think as a onecar team it was very focused on me, which worked well, but this year I'm able to extract some more information from Aleshin, from Mikhail, and that really helps, too."

But Pagenaud is wary about the team growing too fast and losing the core strengths that have allowed it to find this new level of performance n the first place.

"The difficulty of being on a bigger team is not to get lost and for the big teams to target which drivers they need to listen to the most. I would think that would be the difficulty," he suggested. "I think the advantage of this team is the communication. Everybody is very open minded, very close and it's easy to go from one layer to another to address the problem, and I think that's the advantage of this team.

"It's very much a race team that gets down to business when it needs to," he added. "Obviously compared to a bigger organisation, the issue is financial support, but the Series the way it is at the moment helps us, helps this team, helps smaller teams to make it to be competitive. Surely today I don't feel like I had a slow car, I actually feel like I had the fastest car."

It's a car that has helped him close the gap on championship leader Will Power to just 59 points; but now the Series is due to head to Pocono Raceway. Not only is it an oval circuit - which Pagenaud has yet to win on - it's also a double points event which means that Pagenaud could lose a lot of ground on Power and Helio Castroneves who both have more experience on such circuits.

"It's better, it's a learning curve," said Pagenaud of how he was adjusting to oval racing. "We didn't race much ovals before, now it's better because there are a bit more, so I'm learning more, and I feel a lot more confident in how to set my car up for me to be comfortable, and I realize it's more about being comfortable than having a fast car, for example.

"I haven't had much time to look at the points yet," he added. "I think from now on it's understanding what did we do well at the Indy Grand Prix, what did we do well here, and try to improve our whole car and be competitive there, as well. I think that's what we need."

Next weekend's visit to the infamous 'Tricky Triangle' could well prove to be the turning point of the 2014 championship - and Pagenaud is determined to do everything he can to make sure he comes out ahead.


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