By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar Correspondent
SPEEDWAY, Ind. -Simon Pagenaud should feel like he has more pressure on his shoulders as the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season draws closer than he did in a winless 2015 campaign.
Not so fast, apparently.
“I think I just feel better, actually. I feel more ready for the situation,” said Pagenaud. “I think last year there were so many unknowns, you know. I was coming from a team where I was number one for three years with great teammates, but it wasn’t like three teammates of the caliber of Montoya, Castroneves and Power. So all of a sudden, I stepped in a big organization without much testing, without knowing much. So I know where I stand, I know how to behave, I know what to say, and to be myself. I feel confident because I know Roger [Penske] and Tim Cindric have full trust in me and that’s gold to me, so I feel super happy and relaxed now.”
2015 was Pagenaud’s first year with Team Penske, having never raced for an organization of that caliber, and it took a lot of adjusting to. Especially considering how much of an environment shift it was – from one teammate to three and the resources to match, it certainly takes a toll on even the most skilled drivers.
However, the biggest lesson that Pagenaud learned was more internal than external.
“To be myself, really. Be yourself and drive for yourself,” Pagenaud said. “Drive like you know how to drive and have a good time driving, I’m driving the best car in the paddock, I know it, it showed last year, the performance was there, and it’s about now, growing into my position.”
Pagenaud is in a very special club of drivers across Team Penske’s racing empire. This year marks Penske’s 50th year as a team and coincidentally, it’s the same year as the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, and winning it would be even more special than usual this year the organization.
“It’s certainly going to be a huge year for us – 50 years. So obviously we want to do even better for Roger and make it a special year. He said he wants to win 20 Indy 500’s, so that means we have to win another 4. So that means we have to continue now, and I want to be the next one, so obviously it’s going to be a big, big year. But I like pressure, I like it, it helps me to perform even better.”