Photo: Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR

2018 IndyCar Driver Review: Simon Pagenaud

By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief

Motorsports Tribune reviews the season of the top 12 drivers from the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. Our list continues with the sixth-place finisher, Simon Pagenaud.

Simon Pagenaud, No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet

  • 2018: 6th in the championship 
  • Wins: 0, Top 5: 4, Top 10: 14, Poles: 0, Laps Led: 31
  • Best Finish: 2nd (Texas, Toronto)

While this past season wasn’t the kind of season Simon Pagenaud was hoping for, there was still some bright spots along the way.

The 34-year-old Frenchman endured a rough start to the year, finishing 13th in the opening race on the streets of St. Petersburg.

Among the most consistent top five finishers in North America’s premier open wheel championship over the last several years, it wasn’t meant to be through the opening eight races of 2018. Although he finished as high as sixth in the Indianapolis 500 in May – one of five top 10 results over that stretch – there was also nerving results of 24th (Long Beach) and 17th (Detroit – Race 1).

The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach was undoubtedly the one that hurt the most early on as the pace showed after a third-place qualifying run. However, it was all undone moments after the drop of the green flag when he was a victim of an opening lap collision, which saw the front of the field get bunched up as he was rear ended by Graham Rahal while entering Turn 1.

Luck didn’t shine on the 11-time Indy car race winner until the bright lights of a hot summer night in June when he put forth a runner-up finish at Texas Motor Speedway. He started the race from second and led 26 laps before putting forth his best performance of the season, which was perfect timing considering his sponsor for the event – DXC Technology – was also the title partner for the event.

Despite the tough start, there was some return to form as Pagenaud never finished worst than eighth over the remaining eight races. There were flashes of brilliance with another runner-up finish on the streets of Toronto at Exhibition Place, combined with combined with a pair of fourth-place finishes at Gateway Motorsports Park and Sonoma Raceway.

While the season failed to deliver a victory, he still managed a solid campaign to nail down his sixth top 10 finish in the overall championship standings over the past seven seasons.

Ultimately, there was a lot of change at Team Penske in 2018 to adjust to: Helio Castroneves moving to the IMSA program full-time and having a part-time commitment (Indy-only) on the IndyCar side, along with learning the new universal aero kit.

Next year should provide a bettering measure of everyone at Team Penske as a whole as they return the same lineup – Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Pagenaud – and have another season to build on the experience from the 2018 campaign.

Talent certainly isn’t a question when it comes to Pagenaud. The common theme is how dominant he can be when he flips the switch and turns on the aggression. When the green flag waves in March, he will be out to prove that the underwhelming year of 2018 was more of a fluke as he no doubt aims to return to his winning ways.

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Joey Barnes is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Motorsports Tribune. He has covered auto racing since 2013 that has spanned from Formula 1 to NASCAR, with coverage on IndyCar. Additionally, his work has appeared on Racer, and Autoweek magazine. In 2017, he was recognized with an award in Spot News Writing by the National Motorsports Press Association.