Simon Pagenaud has no hesitation in comparing IndyCar racing to Formula One.
“IndyCar is a pure racing series,” said the 31-year-old Frenchman this week. “Formula One is not as exciting. You have the first two or three cars racing, and the rest, well, it’s just not as exciting.”
Pagenaud is a spectacular driver and brutally honest competitor. He took second place at the opening race of the 2016 IndyCar season in the Firestone Grand Prix of Saint Petersburg in Florida on Monday.
A man with the talent, though perhaps not the financial backing, to have participated in F1, Pagenaud said he is challenged by IndyCar’s unique format of short ovals, road and street courses, and superspeedways.
“We run wheel-to-wheel on every kind of track,” said Pagenaud, a four-time winner on the IndyCar circuit. “The diversity of racing is incredible. You can start last in an IndyCar race and still win. That won’t happen in F1.”
Pagenaud and Team Penske team-mates Helio Castroneves, Will Power and 2015 series runner-up Juan Pablo Montoya embarked on a season opener at Saint Petersburg that turned out to be one of the best ever in major open-wheel racing in North America. Montoya won the opening race.
A week from now, the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit on Belle Isle will set the pace for the championship as drivers and teams compete in the only doubleheader race weekend on the IndyCar calendar at the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix.
Pagenaud, who will be at the wheel of the No. 22 Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Chevrolet/Dallara, believes 2016 will be a titanic struggle between Chevrolet and Honda teams, the second-year aero-kit package key to success.
“Chevy has done a tremendous job improving the aero package from 2015,” said Pagenaud, the winner at Belle Isle in 2013, his first-ever series victory. “Our engine is strong, too. But I have no doubt Honda has moved forward with their package, too. They will be right there.”
Last year, Scott Dixon captured his fourth IndyCar championship for Target Chip Ganassi Racing when he beat Montoya in the last race of the year at Sonoma.
Ganassi will be tough again, but Pagenaud, who finished 11th in points, is expecting Penske to fire back and his results to be considerably improved.
“I had high expectations in 2015 when I joined the best team in racing,” said Pagenaud, who was born in Montmorillon in France. “I knew I had to be patient. I wanted more, and we didn’t reach that. We didn’t get up to speed. But I’m excited about this season. Roger [Penske] takes care of us like we are gods.”
With a new batch of talented rookies, including American Alexander Rossi, who drove in F1 last year, coming into the series full-time, virtually anyone in the field can win a race in IndyCar now.