Simon Pagenaud has emerged as a serious title contender with a pole for tonight's Iowa 300 and a dominating win in last week's Honda Indy Toronto.

His recent success put him back on the level that delivered a sweep of the Month of May. The Frenchman prevailed in the rain at IndyCar Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course and backed that up with a thrilling win in the Indianapolis 500 and brought him to the series' points lead.

That momentum came to a halt in the following weeks as the 2016 NTT IndyCar Series champion finished no higher than sixth in the next four races - the Detroit Doubleheader, Texas and Road America.

Pagenaud acknowledged that worldwide obligations following the win in the 500 including a visit to his home country in France and the White House had taken its toll.

Hindsight being 20/20, Pagenaud feels that he couldn't have done anything different in the moment.

"I did the best I could in Detroit. I gave it everything I had. I was just in a blur, quite frankly. I won that incredible Indy 500 race, but I didn't have time to think about Detroit afterwards.

"I went into the media tour, explained the race, how crazy it was, how amazing that race was. All of a sudden I was in Detroit Wednesday night and I had to get running. It's also the most physical racetracks of the year, Detroit, with two races. One race already is the toughest.

"I would say I wasn't even ready physically because I didn't sleep enough just because of duties. I didn't party, I didn't get to go out much with my guys and enjoy it.

"Like I said, if I went out too hard, I would have been disappointed in myself. But I did everything I could to be ready. But that's part of it. I won Indy. You can't be disappointed with anything. You can't complain about anything. Just keep going. That's what we're doing right now. Refreshed, ready to go. The team is amazing behind me right now.

Then comes the Toronto win, which brought him right back into the thick of the championship fight 39 markers behind points leader and teammate Josef Newgarden. The win left Pagenaud feeling stronger than ever but aware of the challenge ahead.

"I've been saying it all year, I'm saying I want to live in the moment this year," he said. "I'm going to do it step by step, just be in the moment as much as I can. It's working.

"I'm at the level I always wanted to be this year. I'm going to keep doing that. Certainly as soon as I step down from here I'm switching to race mode for tonight. Long runs, run in traffic, put myself in tough situations to learn for tomorrow and be ready."

That commitment also has the 35-year old Frenchman feeling on a higher level than when he won his series championship in 2016.

“I would say it's even stronger right now,” he said. “We have an amazing atmosphere. Obviously in '16 we had a lot of momentum early. The middle part of the season was tough. Now it's a different situation where we had the middle part of the season go really strong.”

“It's really good right now. You just feel like everybody is giving it the extra mile. That's what we've got to do. To be fighting for the championship these days in IndyCar, you just have to be perfect.”

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