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Pagenaud, Newgarden Say All Is Cool At Team Penske

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 2 2017

Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden and teammate Simon Pagenaud have talked through their differences in the wake of the finish at Gateway last weekend. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. _ Simon Pagenaud says he and Josef Newgarden have hissed and made up following their controversial bump-and-run incident last weekend at Gateway Motorsports Park, because that’s how they do business in The House that Roger Built.

“Yeah, at the end of the day I have Latin blood inside of me and the emotions were pretty high in the race,” Pagenaud said with a smile at Watkins Glen International, site of Sunday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen. “It was a rough move. It was aggressive at the end of the race and the end of the championship, you know? We’re big boys and that’s what people want to see. So we have to race and race hard.

“I like to race clean. That’s the biggest thing _ race clean and hard. And I think that’s understood between me and Josef; we’re good.”

Understand, too, that Roger Penske operates his motorsports empire with one “team order” _ never wreck one of your own. Newgarden came perilously close last Saturday night, when his bold pass on Lap 218 of 248 around Gateway’s recently repaved 1.25-mile oval overhauled Pagenaud en route to victory in the IndyCar Series Bommarito Automotive Group 500.

Newgarden, who finished 0.6850-seconds in front of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, posted his third win in the past four races and fourth victory this season. Additionally, the 26-year-old Tennessean pushed his championship point lead to 31 over Dixon heading into the penultimate round of the season here in New York State’s Finger Lakes Region.

The normally placid Pagenaud raised eyebrows with his pointed post-race comments directed towards Newgarden.  Addressing the media alongside Dixon before Newgarden’s arrival, Pagenaud was asked if he had lost a bit of trust racing against his newest teammate.

“Absolutely. And respect, too,” said Pagenaud, the reigning series champion. “He doesn’t have respect for me. As a teammate I think we need to work together. Because if we (fail to) work together, he (Dixon) wins the race, it’s terrible for the team. That’s the kind of thing that’s disappointing. At the moment it’s not something I really want to talk about with him. But it will come to a conclusion, I’m sure.”

Seated inside a Penske hauler in the WGI paddock, Pagenaud issued a mea culpa for those remarks. “You have to understand I lost the race, so it was a very good chance for me to have a really good shot at the championship,” Pagenaud said. “And the move, it was aggressive, for sure. But I’m just disappointed in my reaction. Overall, I’m just really disappointed by my reaction because it’s not good for the guys on the team; we all work together. And the biggest thing is that Josef and I are here for a long time and we’re going to have to be good teammates for years at Team Penske. You can’t come out like that. I like to think that I’m gentleman…I think I am, I don’t know. I like to think I’m always fair but sometimes though we all have emotions _ every athlete, every person.”

Newgarden admitted post-race that his car did hit Pagenaud’s when the Frenchman “opened the door” heading into a corner. Newgarden didn’t apologize either on Saturday night or Friday afternoon at WGI.

I don’t think there’s any animosity, no,” said Newgarden, driver of the No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet.  “We’ve already seen each other, already spoken afterwards. I know it seems like a show sometimes, but we actually do work really well together in this team. That comes from the top down, from the leadership. So we’re good, yeah, absolutely. I think we’re excited to work together here this weekend.”

Pagenaud retained enough composure to finish second at Gateway, located in Madison, Ill., near downtown St. Louis. Pagenaud stands fourth in the championship standings, 43 points behind Newgarden but just one point behind teammate Helio Castroneves.

He’s a real professional race car driver,” said Newgarden, referencing Pagenaud. “So he’s easy to work with, easy to get along with. I don’t think there’s any problems with us as far as going forward. We’re going to work together like we always have.”

After watching a replay, Pagenaud classified the Newgarden pass as a racing incident. “I really don’t want to go back on it. I’ve moved on,” said Pagenaud, driver of the No. 1 Penske Chevrolet. “We talked about it and we’re good. This is my own perception of it.

“Obviously, there’s only one guy that can win. He did a tremendous job and I just have to be a bit more aggressive. The next day (Sunday) I realized how lucky we really are to be able to race each other so hard. In another team we couldn’t race like that. And quite frankly, the team gets blamed for being such a strong team that they actually give the fans the opportunity to see real good fights. On other teams I wouldn’t be allowed to race that hard, so it’s a blessing and I have to take it that way.”

Pagenaud’s spirit has been boosted by the championship math. With 54 points available this weekend, the championship lead could change hands heading into the season-finale at Sonoma Raceway on Sept. 17. Double-points will be available on the 2.385-mile road-course in Northern California.

“I mean it would have been much better if I won this (Gateway) race,” said Pagenaud, a 33-year-old native of Montmorillon, France. “But to be very honest with you, now maybe it’s time to wrench-it-up a little bit and be a little bit more aggressive. It’s going to be tough this weekend. We’ve got a lot of Hondas that are really strong and I need to pick up a lot of points. So as long as I’m 30 points behind Josef, or whoever is going to be leading coming out of here, I have a chance at Sonoma. That’s going to be the goal.”

Pagenaud also is counting on a change in the weather to factor into Sunday’s 60-lap/202.2-mile event around WGI’s famed 3.37-mile/11-turn natural-terrain layout. The forecast is for a 90-percent chance of rain and/or thunderstorms.

“That’ll be fantastic,” said Pagenaud, who placed ninth during Saturday morning’s third practice at 145.379 mph; Newgarden was eighth at 145.481 mph. “I’m hoping for some rain because it’ll mix things up, give you a bigger opportunity. And it would make any error more costly. In those conditions since I have nothing to lose…I mean, it’s a preferable situation, especially in the rain. So I would welcome that.”

The third practice was paced by Scott Dixon, the defending event champion and a four-time winner here. Dixon, who also led Friday’s second session, posted a hot lap of 1-minute, 22.6441-seconds/146.798 mph in the No. 9 Honda. Dixon led 50 of 60 laps here last year en route to a massive 16.5308-second victory over Newgarden, then driving for Ed Carpenter Racing.

“He’s phenomenal here,” Pagenaud said of Dixon, a four-time series champion. “The way he drives suits this track. He’s very comfortable here and has many wins, so we have to do the best we can to compensate for what he’s doing. He’s certainly very, very strong here. I don’t know what it is, otherwise I would do it. But we’re going to have to be extra strong this weekend.”

Pagenaud won his first series championship during his second season with “The Captain.” Newgarden would pip that if he secures the tile as a Penske newcomer, albeit with an admittedly seasoned-group.

“I think it’s great for the No. 2 car,” said Newgarden, who replaced two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya. “Obviously whenever you put a new group together _ it’s not completely new _ there’s a lot of guys that were there last year and years before with Montoya. It’s not a completely new group. But certainly it’s a new dynamic whenever you bring a new guy in.

We’ve all got to sort of gel together, figure out how we want to operate, how we work best together. You don’t necessarily know how that’s going to go. I didn’t know how this year was going to pan-out. I would hope we could have won a lot of races and been successful. I knew there was also going to be some gelling time we would need. We would need experience at racetracks together, that you just can’t simulate. You can’t do that in the offseason. You have to go through a season together.

I’ve just been really happy for that whole crew. Obviously Team Penske, it’s nothing new to them. They’re used to being in the fight. They expect to be in the fight. From that standpoint, it’s kind of status quo. But for me, it’s fun to be closer in the fight. We’ve been in the fight the last few years for the championship, but it’s been from a further distance. This time it’s fun to be in a more prominent position, more in a striking position than we’ve been in the past.”

Pagenaud’s lone victory this season has been on Phoenix Raceway’s 1.022-mile oval. Last year, he posted a season-high five victories. Newgarden, who took the point lead for the first time in his six-year career with a victory on Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course’s 2.258-mile permanent road-course on July 20, has flourished with Penske President Tim Cindric working as his savvy race strategist.

“He is very polished,” said Pagenaud, sizing-up Newgarden. “He pays a lot of attention to details and he has the perfect attitude to be a champion. He’s been aggressive at the right times this year but I think luck has been on his side. Obviously, if he wins he deserves it. His team is a pretty well-oiled machine. It’ll be surprising if he doesn’t win it.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 2 2017
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