Simon Pagenaud, the French pilot who conquered America

In Formula 1, The Marseillaise has not sounded on a podium for a driver for 20 years and the victory of Olivier Panis at the Monaco Grand Prix. On the other side of the Atlantic, on the other hand, French piloting triumphs. Simon pagenaud, from Vienna and aged 32, won Sunday at the end of the last Grand Prix of the season, the IndyCar Championship, the benchmark discipline in North America for single-seaters. Winner of five Grands Prix out of 16, the last of which, at Ponoma on Sunday, Pagenaud is the first Frenchman to win this benchmark championship since Sébastien Bourdais, quadruple winner of ChampCar (a formula formerly competing with IndyCar and now absorbed) between 2004 and 2007. « Since I arrived in the United States, I think at that moment, it is even a childhood dream to be an IndyCar champion, » admitted Pagenaud. A look back at the career of this seasoned pilot, admired in the United States but little known in France.

Pagenaud wins the last race of the season and the title:

Arrived in the United States ten years ago. After taking his driver’s classes in karting and then in Renault-stamped disciplines (Formula Renault and World Series), Simon Pagenaud began his career in the United States in 2006 in Formula Atlantic, one of the promotion formulas in the USA. “Promoted” in ChampCar the following season, he finished eighth in his “rookie” season (beginner). But he fails to land a flywheel in the IndyCar Unified Formula, as his team, Team Australia, do not join the series.

A blend of speed and endurance. Forced to leave the world of single-seaters, Pagenaud did not remain without a steering wheel for long. It competes in the American Le Mans Series, an annual endurance racing competition. In 2010, he won the 1,000 kilometers of Spa, in Belgium. The following year, he finished second in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with Peugeot. Despite his successful experiences over long distances, Pagenaud has not lost the desire to race in IndyCar. In 2011, he seized the opportunity offered to him to replace the injured pilot Ana Beatriz. In 2012, he started the season at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Fifth (2012), third (2013) then again fifth (2014) in the general classification of the championship, he convinced Roger Penske, one of the big names in motorsport across the Atlantic, to enter him in his team for the season. 2015. The acclimatization is difficult (he finished 11th in the general classification). The rebound is all the more beautiful.

The American way of life. If he never misses an opportunity to greet his region of origin (he even competed in the 2014 Rallye de la Vienne!), Pagenaud quickly blended into the American scene. Engaged to Hailey, a Californian, Pagenaud lives in Mooresville, North Carolina, in the heart of the United States. Affable and willingly playful with the cameras – it is not uncommon to see him joking with his staff at the finish of the races – the Frenchman was quickly appreciated by the American public.

And now, Indy! Pagenaud has become the king of a discipline where many former F1 drivers shine, such as the Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya or the Japanese Takuma Sato. He has not tasted the queen discipline of motorsport. But his dream today is not here. It is today to win the flagship race of the IndyCar calendar: the 500 miles of Indianapolis. In five seasons, Pagenaud, who has no success on an oval in his career, has never been able to do better than eighth, in 2013.

« It was already the goal this year, unfortunately we had mechanical problems, we would have fought for victory otherwise. It’s been two years in a row that we have the feeling that we can aim for victory (he has finished 10th in 2015 and 19th in 2016, editor’s note). It’s the next step, it’s clear. In 2017, we will try to win the championship again, but the 500 miles is a race that is very close to my heart « , he underlined. The last French winner of the 500 miles is called Gaston Chevrolet. It was in 1920.

IndyCar Vs Formula 1. The differences between IndyCar and Formula 1 are many. The single-seaters of the Indy championship, closer to each other than in F1 – therefore with a more open drivers’ championship – are heavier and less sophisticated. Unlike the IndyCar, F1 is a championship for manufacturers rather than drivers, which also explains why the biggest brands are involved (Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren, Honda, Renault, etc.). The IndyCar championship is also distinguished by the presence of races on ovals (5 of the 16 on the calendar), a place where Formula 1 does not venture.

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