By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
Simon Pagenaud’s 2018 racing season wasn’t one that he would like to remember. His first winless season since 2015, the Frenchman was sixth in NTT IndyCar Series points with four top-five finishes, the first coming halfway through the season at Texas Motor Speedway.
Sports car racing wasn’t kind either to the 2006 Atlantics champion with three races and all three finishes were tenth or worse. However, with a new year comes new beginnings and Pagenaud starts the 2019 Rolex 24 at Daytona in third place on the starting grid in Acura Team Penske’s second year in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. There are changes heading into 2019 so a simple pickup off of 2018 might not be so simple. IMSA signed a tire supply deal with Michelin where the entire field is on Michelin tires and with the split in the Prototype classes, the DPi machines are quite a bit faster.
“It’s a new year and hard work always brings success so we’re at that point where it was really time to work hard in the winter and I’m really motivated for the year to come,” said Pagenaud. “Obviously we have a great program here with Acura and the Michelin tires make the car feel really nice. I feel like the team’s had time now to have a full season under their belt and I feel like we should be in touch for the overall win.”
Team Penske last year raced the full season with two ARX-05 DPi entries, winning at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with the No. 7 entry of Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor. Pagenaud is the endurance specialist for the other entry piloted by Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron. That entry had four podiums in 2018.
“I’ve been with Dane (Cameron) since 2013 and it’s been awesome to be with him and Juan Pablo (Montoya),” said Pagenaud. “I get along really well with him as well so it would be awesome and be great for the guys, they’ve been working really hard on this project (with) Acura as well. I hope we can celebrate at the end.”
A win at the Rolex 24 would definitely boost Pagenaud’s morale heading into 2019. His last racing victory was in the 2017 IndyCar finale at Sonoma Raceway but his last sports car win was at Silverstone in September 2011 and despite his full time job being different, Pagenaud believes that sports car racing can help him on the open wheel side.
“It’s great for me to get to start the season so early,” said Pagenaud. “[I can] understand my fitness level, understand my mental side if I’m ready or not to do those magic laps or not and this year I definitely feel like I’m in a good spirit.
“Our job is all about hand-eye coordination, reflexes, so the more you train in the car, the better, but simulators these days are pretty phenomenal, in the gym also we found ways to activate reflexes but it’s the best way to train, to be in the car.”
The 57th Rolex 24 begins at 2:35 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on NBCSN.