By IMSA Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – He may be a full-time IndyCar driver now, but there’s no driver with more experience in various Acura prototype sports cars than Simon Pagenaud.
It’s a fact that wasn’t lost on him in testing last week at Sebring International Raceway as he and his Acura Team Penske teammates prepared for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts.
“I’ve been fortunate,” Pagenaud said. “I’ve seen every iteration of the Acura prototype since 2008. It’s been a phenomenal time with them. I’ve got a great relationship with everybody and it really helps going forward on all the tuning.”
When Team Penske landed Acura’s new IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Daytona Prototype international (DPi) program beginning with the 2018 season, Pagenaud was an obvious choice to join the team’s lineup for endurance races, and he was tabbed to share the No. 6 Acura ARX-05 DPi machine with Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron.
It’s a role he loves playing.
“For me as a third driver, it’s just jumping in and trying to get as many laps as possible and get up to speed and help my teammates be comfortable in the car,” said Pagenaud. “It’s different than IndyCar. It’s very much about having a fast average over three drivers throughout the entire race in every condition. It’s a lot of fun. I really enjoy it.”
What he really enjoys are the opportunities he gets to help develop the race car. As a second-year program, there’s plenty of room for continued growth on the Acura DPi.
“What’s really great about IMSA is you really get to work on the technical stuff,” he said. “On the engine, on the tuning of the traction control, on the mapping of the engine, it’s quite phenomenal. I really enjoy the technical side of it. That’s really great.”
Heading into the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring on March 16, Pagenaud and the No. 6 team will be looking to build on a sixth-place class result in last month’s Rolex 24 At Daytona. It was a solid showing hampered by late-race mechanical issues, but this is a team – and Pagenaud is a driver – that expects to compete for victories.
Hence the reason they were working so hard last week at Sebring.
“We had the Daytona race and obviously a lot of miles under our belts,” Pagenaud said. “It was interesting to know what we needed to do going forward for the season. The team is challenging for the championship this year.
“Here in Sebring, it’s a very challenging race track. It’s going to be a very challenging race. Acura has been very strong, but as a team and a manufacturer, we’re trying to understand what could break, to fix all the reliability issues we could see, but also make the car handle the best way we can with the Acura engine and the chassis from the Team Penske car.”
Pagenaud, who won the 2016 IndyCar Series championship for Team Penske, is mostly known these days as one of the world’s best open-wheel racers. He owns 11 career IndyCar victories, and was the 2006 Champ Car Atlantic champion before running the full 2007 Champ Car World Series season.
But back in 2008, when Champ Car merged with IndyCar, the ensuing game of musical chairs ended with Pagenaud as a sports car racer. That year, he drove a first-generation Acura ARX-01b for de Ferran Motorsports in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) LMP2 class.
The next year, Pagenaud and the de Ferran team moved to the ALMS LMP1 class with the Acura ARX-02a machine. The 2009 season saw Pagenaud and co-driver/team owner Gil de Ferran record five victories, the first coming at Long Beach, on their way to second in the LMP1 standings.
With de Ferran retiring from driving and the team shutting down following the 2009 season, Pagenaud moved to Patrón Highcroft Racing – the team that beat him to the ’09 title – for the 2010 season. He was paired with David Brabham in an upgraded ARX-01c, Acura’s first-generation LMP1 car, and the duo recorded four victories en route to the 2010 ALMS LMP1 championship.
That was Pagenaud’s last year of full-time ALMS competition, and by 2012, he was a full-time IndyCar driver. However, he still drove both the ARX-03a and 03b prototypes, winning in an 03b at Road America in 2013 with Level 5 Motorsports.
In fact, the only one he didn’t race was the ARX-04b, which made its lone competition appearance in the 2015 Rolex 24 At Daytona. That was the year Pagenaud moved to Team Penske’s Chevrolet-powered IndyCar program, which also saw him join Corvette Racing for the Rolex 24 At Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
In yet another example of his prowess behind the wheel in a Prototype, Pagenaud helped Cameron and then-co-driver Eric Curran win the 2016 WeatherTech Championship Prototype championship as an endurance driver in the No. 31 Whelen Corvette DP.
We have a few weeks to wait and see what he, and his teammates, will do at the 67th running of the Sebring 12 Hours, but it is probably a good bet that No. 6 will be somewhere toward the front at the end of the race.
Tickets for the doubleheader Super Sebring weekend featuring the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and FIA World Endurance Championship are still on sale for the weekend of March 14-17.
Ticket packages are available on www.sebringraceway.com.
For fans unable to attend, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring will be broadcast on Saturday, March 16 starting on CNBC at 10:30 a.m. ET with more coverage throughout the day on the NBC Sports App and NBCSN. The entire race can be streamed live on the NBC Sports App.
The 12-hour race follows the IMSA MICHELIN Pilot Challenge race, the Alan Jay Automotive Network 120, on Friday at noon ET and the IMSA Prototype Challenge race on Thursday at 12:35 p.m. ET, all of which can be streamed live on IMSA.tv with IMSA Radio commentary.
Live IMSA Radio coverage of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring also will be carried on IMSA Radio which is available on IMSA.com, RadioLeMans.com and SiriusXM Radio (XM Channel 202/Sirius Channel 216/Internet Channel 972).