Penske’s Pagenaud Flying High In Visit To Texas

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 7 2018

IndyCar Series driver Simon Pagenaud took the controls of a drone this week. This weekend, he will take the controls of his Indy car at Texas Motor Speedway. (RacinToday photo by Martha Fairris)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

PLANO, Texas – It’s not an exaggeration to say Simon Pagenaud’s visit with employees of DXC  Technology here Wednesday afternoon droned on and on and on…and then the Team Penske ace actually got to fly one.

On-track activity for the Verizon IndyCar Series DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway in nearby Fort Worth doesn’t begin until Friday. Pagenaud’s early arrival into the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex was a prime example of the other side of his job description with team-owner Roger Penske _ the marketing side on behalf of a paying corporate partner.

“We have so many partners that support us that we also represent more than just a race team,” said Pagenaud, the 2016 series champion and 2017 point runner-up. “We represent a name, a brand, that is known around the world, so you a have to act knowing that and how legendary Roger really is. We’re just a little thing that’s part of a big thing.”

Pagenaud dutifully spent almost two hours mingling with several hundred employees in an outdoor setting at the worldwide company’s branch office. Despite temperatures in the mid-90s, the Frenchman outlined the series for any employee not well-versed in open-wheel racing, conducted a Q&A session, autographed placards and posed for selfies next to his black-and-white No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet.

DXC Technology _ a leading independent, end-to-end IT services company _ has launched a program that is pushing the edges of drone technology into practical/integrated business uses. In a bid to get the word out before a diverse

Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud is 10th in points heading to Texas. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

audience, DXC is making its debut as title sponsor of “America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Race” on Saturday at TMS, while also serving as primary sponsor on Pagenaud’s No. 22 car. DXC is primary sponsor on Pagenaud’s car for six races and an associate on the remaining 2018 events. The company also provides Team Penske with high-tech support.

“It’s a dream kind of relationship,” Pagenaud said. “It’s excitement, because when you go racing you want your emotions to be positive. DXC Technology…3,000 people (employees) are going to come to watch the race, which is an incredible turnout, way more than we expected. It shows that racing is relevant to a lot of people. When you can put your brand on the car and go sit at the racetrack when the race is sponsored by your company, it makes a big difference. All very exciting.”

Pagenaud later was afforded the opportunity to fly a drone similar to one that will be put to work at TMS Saturday night. His first flight left Pagenaud with a gee-whiz appreciation of the technology.

“You can see everything! It’s like a camera,” Pagenaud said. “You’ve got a camera on the nose of the actual drone…quite amazing. We flew over to the American flag (at the front of the courtyard) and took some pictures and videos. With the wind it was a little difficult to fly, but it’s very stable.”

In what will be another series first for sanctioning body INDYCAR at Texas Motor Speedway, DXC Technology will deliver the green flag for Saturday night’s race (8:45 p.m. EDT start, with pre-race show beginning at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Network).

The Inspire 2 drone will deliver the green flag to Honorary Starter Dan Hushon, senior vice president, chief technology officer for DXC Technology. The Inspire 2 model has the ability to accelerate from 0 to 50 mph in five seconds and has a maximum speed of 58 mph. The drone, which will take off in Turn 3 at approximately 8:34 p.m., will fly through Turn 2 and then Turn 1 before heading down the frontstretch for the flag delivery onto the DXC Technology 600 ball field logo.

“I’m super-excited about it because drones show you a different picture than what you’re used to,” Pagenaud said. “We need to evolve and see something different. We need youngsters to be interested in what we do. If we don’t evolve with the society, we’re going to be forgotten. This is great news to have the drone carry the American flag for the start of the race. I’m really excited to see that happening and that we’re allowing new technology to be a part of racing.

“The whole idea behind Team Penske is to combine a partnership and use it to success. DXC, it’s really interesting for us at Team Penske to be partners with them. We use each other for our strengths. DXC offers a lot of solutions, for example simulation programs for our race team. It’s a company that can provide you a lot of new solutions we need with all the technology we have on-board to analyze better and understand what you have on the race car, understand the competition better and react quicker.

“All the people we saw today are part of our success at Team Penske. It’s very easy to relate what they do and explain what I need from them at the racetrack.”

And so the Americanization of Pagenaud continues, a saga topped by his dream day job with Team Penske, his Californian-born fiancee and a 1960s “Muscle Car” built for boulevard cruising.

Add a loyal fan base, and it’s clear why the 34-year-old native of Montmorillon, France, now feels at home in Charlotte, N.C., and from sea to shining sea.

“Pretty much so,” said Pagenaud, who is in his fourth full season with Penske’s open-wheel powerhouse. “The first thing I’m very impressed with is how welcoming the American people are. I do feel very welcome here. For example, I went to dead last at the INDY Grand Prix (after first-lap contact and a spin on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road-course on May 12) and didn’t qualify well and finished eighth with a strong comeback _ and people were still cheering for me. People wanted me to stop by for a photograph.

“I don’t know if I would have that much support even in France. I’m impressed for the American people to support a foreigner. I‘m grateful to have this kind of support. I love living here and love how practical life is here. Anything is possible here, and that’s how I like living.”

“The Captain” added Pagenaud to his open-wheel lineup in 2015, following Simon’s three-year association with rival team-owner Sam Schmidt that produced four wins and a third-place point finish in 2013.

“It’s no secret I always wanted to drive for Roger,” Pagenaud said. “When I was 8 my dream was to drive one of those Marlboro cars. The reason I always wore black slacks in the (Indy car) paddock was to attract Roger.”

Outfitted in those slacks and a closet-full of starched, white dress shirts, Pagenaud is teamed with reigning series champion and Tennessee native Josef Newgarden and 2014 champ Will Power of Australia. No matter the country of origin, the “Penske Way” is built upon a basic premise.

“The moment you sign to go racing for Roger Penske, you are expected to race to win,” Pagenaud said. “We have all the resources in the world, the best teammates in the world and it means you are one of the best drivers in the world. My teammates are my strongest competition because we have the same car. I’ve never had strong teammates that could beat me on regular basis. It raised my game to have these teammates. You’ve got to bring your A-game every day, which is not an easy thing to do as a human being.

“To a European, it’s a little like driving for Ferrari. When I retire, it will be the best memories of my life.”

Pagenaud currently is 10th in the point standings via five top-10 finishes in eight starts, including a best of sixth in the 102nd edition of the Indianapolis 500 on May 27 won by Power. Pagenaud is looking to improve upon this past weekend’s doubleheader at The Raceway at Belle Isle Park in Detroit, where he finished 17th on Saturday and 10th on Sunday.

Team Penske owns a track-record nine victories at TMS, the most recent recorded last June when Power won under caution over Tony Kanaan. Team Penske’s roster of winners at TMS includes Helio Castroneves with four, Power with two and Ryan Briscoe, Sam Hornish Jr. and Gil de Ferran with one each. Seven of those victories have come in the last 13 races, dating to 2006.

Pagenaud, who has 11 career series victories, has made six starts on the 1.5-mile oval with a best finish of third last year. Pagenaud has three top-four finishes in his last four starts at “The Great American Speedway.” This year’s 248-lapper will mark the debut of INDYCAR’s new-for-2018 Dallara universal chassis on a layout that was repaved and reconfigured after the 2016 season.

“I love that track, to be honest,” said Pagenaud, who led a career-best 59 laps in the 2015 TMS race. “I love the banking, the opportunity to run high and low and in the middle. You don’t have to be stuck behind anyone. The cars are like planes going around the racetrack. That track really makes you think. It’s ‘Oval 101’ that race. It‘s a very different challenge to Indy and could be more of a challenge this year…but it’s the most fun I’ve ever had.”

Pagenaud’s Penske resume is, of course, highlighted by the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series championship, a season which produced a series-best five victories in 16 races_ including a three-race winning streak _ seven poles and 406 laps-led. Simon became Penske’s 14th Indy car champion in the company’s landmark 50th anniversary season via a 127-point margin over Power.

“The 2016 season was definitely the high-point in my career,” Pagenaud said. “I could do nothing wrong and there are years like that and there are years like this one that are tough…but it doesn’t mean I’m not as good. I think every race car driver, or myself at least, when you smell blood _ and blood meaning winning _ you want it again. It’s a bit of an animal instinct that I have and the more I win the more I want to win. I want it bad. It’s a way of living.

“I am pretty calm as a person, but hide a very high intensity which I’ve learned to use inside the race car. There’s a fire boiling inside and it’s totally normal for an athlete.”

Pagenaud’s desire to refine his race craft includes regular doses of meditation to channel his energy and find a path to ultimate concentration.

“Very much so,” Pagenaud said. “I’m finding new heights…every day you find out more about yourself. It’s amazing what the mind and brain can do, how it can drag you down or bring you up. It’s about controlling your emotions. The more you work on your brain, control every detail, the more your body is in tune with it. And you have to be in tune with the universe to be in tune with your machine. You need great awareness in space when you are racing other guys inches apart.

Now, a driver like (former Penske Indy car teammate) Juan Pablo Montoya…he doesn’t give a damn about that stuff. So I hope he doesn’t read this.”

Pagenaud grew up as a fan of Ayrton Senna, the late three-time Formula One World Driving Champion from Brazil and a driver Simon said had a “mythical attitude” about him. “I got interested in Senna when I was 4-years-old watching him on TV,” Pagenaud said. “He was wearing that yellow helmet but it was not the color that attracted me. He had an aura around him that was different.

“I love cars, but it was an attraction to a human being that was special. There are always people we see in life who we listen to when they speak _ they have this aura around them, charisma _ that others don’t have. I find myself being similar to him and I realize he’s helped me find my way. But I‘m not trying to copy or emulate someone. It’s more that it means something to me.”

In addition to his engaging persona, Pagenaud also is known for his fashion sense, his interest in fine wine and his hands-on fascination with iconic American “iron.”

“I have a ’68 Ford Mustang,” said Pagenaud, who speaks fluent gearhead. “It’s a fastback, has the original engine and transmission and I’ve made it look ‘cooler.’ It’s flat-black, has full-disc brakes and power steering so my fiancée, Hailey (McDermott of San Diego), can drive it, too.

“It’s my cruiser. I use it to relax and I love it because my grandpa (Pierre) had a Mustang in France, so I always wanted one. It’s not politically correct because I drive for Chevy, but there’s a story behind it.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 7 2018
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