Simon Pagenaud feels refreshed and better-prepared heading into this year's Verizon IndyCar Series season following a quiet off-season, acting as a boost as he bids to reclaim the drivers' championship from Penske teammate Josef Newgarden.

Pagenaud took a dominant maiden title win in 2016 in his second season with Penske, winning five races, but lost out at the final round of last year to Newgarden to end the year P2 overall.

With no media tour following a championship win to worry about since last year's season finale at Sonoma in September, Pagenaud opted to return to his native France and refresh ahead of his push to take back the title this year.

"I really needed some time to go home," Pagenaud told the Verizon IndyCar Series website. "The biggest thing was my sister was having a baby. Luckily, we managed with Penske to arrange my schedule so I could go back and be with her for this moment, which was really cool. I’m so happy for my sister. That was very nice.

“I went home and restarted my training. My trainer was in France and I was able to do a full month of training. I feel super refreshed. It was a long season, but not being a champion, it helps to rest.

"It’s a very different situation for me than it was last year, where this time of year I was a little worn out. Now I’m excited about 2018 already and ready to go, fresh and excited.

“I want to get the [champion's] #1 back. It’s just a loaner."

Penske has been the leading IndyCar team in recent years, taking three of the last four championships, and while Pagenaud has confidence in engine partner Chevrolet's advances over the winter, he remains wary of the progress his team's rivals could have made.

“I expect Chevy to make big progress. They’ve been working so hard since the beginning of 2017 to keep improving and we saw it at the end of the year, neck and neck with Honda,” Pagenaud said.

“The Chevy boys have been bringing updates. They’ve won the championship six times, so it’s a testament to their work. Honda has been putting a lot of effort into the Indy 500. We’ve been very focused on the championship.

"We’ll see. I’m pretty convinced we’ll have a big evolution this year, but you never know how much the competition is going to step up, too.

"You can only focus on your game."