2016 IndyCar champion & Team Penske ace
Newly crowned IndyCar champion Simon Pagenaud is the latest online driving instructor for SAFEisFAST.com.
The French driver races for Team Penske and scored five victories and seven pole positions on his way to his first IndyCar title earlier this year. Pagenaud entered the series in 2011 and has raced for four teams, winning the Rookie of the Year title in 2012.
Pagenaud is a former Champ Car Atlantic title winner and has experience racing in various championships including Formula Renault, the Champ Car World Series, and American Le Mans, which he won with the Highcroft Racing LMP1 squad in 2010.
Simon Pagenaud answers your questions!
What type of training do you do in the off-season?
Five days a week, for an average of three hours per day, working in the gym on my core, neck, arms and shoulders with additional sessions on strength and endurance. I also work on cardio three times per week, which is generally running.
Hi Simon! You were mega this year and congratulations on your title win. My question for you is about heel & toe. Do you have a way to teach it that is easy to understand?
Thanks, Louie. Heel and toe is a saying. What is most important is to do it the way that is easy for you depending on the size of your right foot. I divided my foot in two. Half of the top of my foot is on the brake and applying pressure, then I blip on the throttle with the right half of my foot by using a rotation movement from my ankle. I found it to be the most precise way so I could keep constant pressure on the brake, which is the most important thing.
What advice would you give to any parents on helping to secure sponsorship? I have a 15-year-old son who is currently doing really well in karts and wants to achieve his dream of being a professional racing driver, but the costs to move into car racing are enormous. Thank you.
It’s a great question and a difficult one to answer. Quite frankly, it’s very difficult. Set on-track goals. If the goals are always met, then the kid just may have a future. In terms of sponsorship, it’s wildly competitive out there, as well. I think too many people try to do the same thing and seeking sponsorship is not always the right way to go. I suggest, perhaps, offering something to companies within racing in exchange for money so that you can go racing.
IndyCar seems to have become more and more about strategy every year. How important is it having someone like Tim Cindric fighting in your corner and helping make the right call on pit stops etc?
Yes, there is a lot of strategy in IndyCar and it is very important to have a good relationship with your race strategist. Tim Cindric was on the 12 car [driven by Oriol Servià and Will Power] and Kyle Moyer was my strategist this year. Relationship is key, and with Kyle, we had to get to know each other for him to understand what my qualities and weaknesses were and are, so he could focus on putting me in good situations.
Would you trade your 2016 championship win for an Indy 500 title?
Hmm, I don’t know… No, I think I’ll keep my championship and then work on Indy 50
What was the toughest part of getting to grips with the DW12 chassis? How different is it to drive than the old Panoz DP01 Champ Car?
It’s a car that has a lot of rear weight distribution, so there is some rear movement at high speeds. That was the most difficult thing to understand and get used to. The DW12, and with the downforce that we have now, is a car that requires a very high commitment level and you have to be very quick with footwork and hands. Things happen a lot quicker because we brake a lot deeper, carry a ton more speed mid-corner and pick up the throttle a lot sooner than we were in the Panoz.
Do you think that potential world champion racing drivers are being priced out of the sport nowadays, or do you believe that the best drivers in the world still rise to the top?
Yes, it is a shame to see paying drivers taking good seats, but unfortunately society is evolving and being a really complete race car driver is also attractive to become an ambassador of a company and represent brands. In the end, though, the champions always rise to the top one way or another. Money doesn’t buy everything.
With the exception of Canada & your home country of France, which country & track would you like to see IndyCar expand to?
There are many tracks here in the United States to focus on. Keep in mind that France alone is the size of Texas. I just think that we need to focus on all of the opportunities and possibilities here in the USA. But, for sure, many tracks in Europe would be cool along with some in South America.
Hello Simon, firstly I would like to congratulate you on your championship win this year. Now for my question: knowing that top level motor sport can have limits on testing, what kind of training do you do on a regular basis (e.g. during a week) to get more seat time, be it karting, simulator etc? Do you have a set schedule for this?
Thanks, Michael. The biggest part of my time is physical training. Five days a week in the offseason is where I generally live, with an average of three hours per day. Mental training is just as important and that’s around an hour a day, five days a week. Chevrolet has a state-of-the-art simulator that we use before race events, and I have a simulator of my own at home that I use quite regularly, as well.
Hi Simon, I would like to ask your opinion about driver-discovering programs from sim racing, like the Nissan GT Academy. Do you think that people who have 90 per cent experience on sim racing and only 10 per cent on track can easily jump from virtual racing to reality?
I think The Nissan GT Academy is a tremendous program for unexpected talent. I don’t think it is that easy to go from virtual reality to real life, though. There is a whole different approach to it when it is real life. But I do see and think that you can use virtual reality to prepare better for a racing event.
Would you ever consider racing at Le Mans again?
Yes. I finished second there in 2011, so I have unfinished business. I, however, would want to go back there in a similar environment as I did with Peugeot Sport – with a factory team.
How much of a help is it having great teammates around you? Penske seem to have the pick of the bunch at the moment! Thanks.
It is a big help, for sure. It helps to keep the ship in line and having more information available if there is something that needs improvement. It also raises the level of competition.
There are some big aerodynamic changes being rumoured for IndyCar in 2018. What changes would you like to see to help improve the racing?
I like the formula right now because the cars are fast and demanding physically, but it can be difficult to follow another car with the air disturbance. I think something to work on might be making sure the car drafts really well. If it does that, then passing will happen
Where do you think you’d rank among the current field of F1 drivers? Do you think drivers in IndyCar are underrated in comparison?
No, we are not underrated within the industry. Top-level drivers are always top-level drivers. I believe that a top IndyCar driver and a top F1 driver are just as good, but the area of expertise is different.
Hi Simon, I have read that both you and your compatriot Romain Grosjean have used sports psychologists to help improve your focus and concentration. I’d be interested in knowing what made you think you needed help, and what sort of things you work on to “up your mental game”? Judging from your great IndyCar season, it seems like you are on to something.
When it comes to my business, I’m very pragmatic. When I grew up I was a hyperactive kid and I used to crash into a lot of things. At 18, I was looking at ways to improve myself as a driver. Like every athlete or human being, the brain is the main central processor for any action we may take. So I decided to find ways to improve my brain and I thought meditation was going to be the best way.
Do you see yourself racing beyond your IndyCar career, maybe in NASCAR or another discipline where age isn’t as much of an issue, or have you got other goals in life beyond motor sport?
Yes, NASCAR is definitely something I would like to try, but after my IndyCar career. I also want to participate in the World Rally Championship someday as it is my true passion.
How do I get into racing?
It depends how old you are. A kid should probably start in karting or Midgets. If you are older than 18, I would look at entering the Class B events. Cars like a Ford Fiesta or a Honda FIT are really affordable and reliable. You can go racing with a very reasonable budget and not too much mechanical preparation.
Hi Simon, I had a bad crash earlier this year that put me in hospital and ended my season. Since then, I’ve done a few private tests but I’m struggling with confidence and fear. From your own experiences, how do you pick yourself back up from a big accident and get back on track both mentally any physically? Thanks.
I have had the same thing happen. At the beginning of my career, when I was 16, I lost the brake at the end of a long straight and my head hit the guardrail in the crash. It took me several years to get my confidence back, but I think I could have done a better job. Gaining confidence is a mental approach. It takes a lot of discipline and the guidance of a mental trainer. It’s impossible to do it yourself and to know how to effectively train mentally. So I would suggest seeing a mental trainer within the sports industry. Physically, follow the instructions from the doctors and connect your doctor with your trainer to make sure they have you doing the right exercises. Best of luck to you and hang in there. It’s a process, for sure.
Hey, what track would you like to make your first ever NASCAR race?
I’d like a 1.5-mile oval such as Charlotte or Texas.
Simon, what is the best/fastest line through turn 17 at Sebring?
Thanks, Don. In my opinion, it’s the inside lane because you reduce the distance a lot more that way.