CHAMPCAR/CART: Pagenaud reflects on his first US race

Pagenaud makes big impression in first US race French racer enjoys "wonderful party" atmosphere at Long Beach Indianapolis, IN (1 May 2006)---- Simon Pagenaud was a largely unknown quantity before the first race of the 2006 Yokohama Presents...

Pagenaud makes big impression in first US race

French racer enjoys "wonderful party" atmosphere at Long Beach

Indianapolis, IN (1 May 2006)---- Simon Pagenaud was a largely unknown quantity before the first race of the 2006 Yokohama Presents The Champ Car Atlantic Championship Powered by Mazda season, but after scoring pole position in the first qualifying session and finishing the race in fourth, the young French racer has quickly established himself as a talent worth watching this season.

Pagenaud, who narrowly missed out on winning the 2004 Formula Renault Eurocup Championship to American Scott Speed, raced in the 425-hp World Series by Renault at tracks like Monaco, LeMans, Monza, and Donington in 2005, scoring three top-fives in the highly competitive category.

Seeing inspiration in countryman Sebastian Bourdais, Pagenaud made the decision to move from France to Indianapolis and contest the Atlantic Championship with Team Australia for 2006, with a keen eye on moving to the Champ Car World Series in 2007.

While Pagenaud faced many new challenges in his first weekend of racing on U.S. soil, he was refreshed by the atmosphere in the paddock, and relished the opportunity to shine in one of the continents best-known events.

"The organization was really good, and in the paddock, you had fans able to walk up and watch the crews working on the car, and get an autograph from the driver," said Pagenaud. "It was really different than anything in Europe. It was a wonderful party, and you could tell why this is such a successful and long-running event-the public is absolutely part of the race."

Pagenaud was also charged with having to quickly learn the Long Beach circuit while fighting it out with one of the most talented pack of hungry racers in the sport.

"When I got to Long Beach, I'd never seen the track, and I'd only spent about half a day testing this car because I had a stomach flu in the pre-season test," said Pagenaud. "So it was a lot to take in and the track was even narrower in person than in the in-car videos I'd studied before the race! But I was quite pleased with the performance, particularly taking the pole in the first qualifying."

Starting from the front row of the grid, Pagenaud filed in behind the pole sitter and eventual winner at the start, and remained in the lead pack during the entire race, but lost positions on two of the restarts, something he knows he is going to have to improve on in the future.

"Yes, the racing was much different-in Europe, you win the race in the first ten laps, but here, you can be fourth for thirty laps, and then there is a safety period, and you get the chance to pass the three guys ahead of you on the restart!" said Pagenaud. "I think the restarts for me are something I am going to have to get used to-its certainly something I need to get better at!"

Pagenaud will get the chance to test the Team Australia machine at Houston Motorsports Ranch in the open Atlantic test in advance of round two of the Atlantic Championship on the streets of Houston for the Fast Trac 100. The event marks the return to the Houston market for Champ Car, and with everyone in the field having to learn the track, Pagenaud sees it as a great new opportunity.

"Learning a new track is not a problem for me, and since everyone is going to have to do it this time, I think that could be an advantage for me because some of the guys already knew the Long Beach track," said Pagenaud. "I also think that it's great that we will get to test one more time before Houston, just so we can keep improving our communication within the team, and learn as much about the car as possible."

The on-track strength has come from some solid off-track communication as Pagenaud develops some important relationships in his quest to perform and move up.

"I am really happy to be racing with Team Australia," said Pagenaud. "My engineer, Chris Yanchar, is very open-minded and even though we have only worked together a little bit so far this season, we have a good relationship already. He is a perfectionist just like me, and that's very important. I think we will get stronger and stronger as the year goes on and we get more confidence with each other and with what the car is doing. The Atlantics program is a new one for Team Australia, and I was impressed with how smoothly the weekend went."

Pagenaud is now forth in the Champ Car Atlantics Championship, and will race round two on the weekend of May 12-14th.

The Champ Car Atlantic series will reward the 2006 series champion with a significant $2 million dollar bonus towards a Champ Car campaign, and will also feature a new car/engine combination with a new-design Swift chassis mated to a 300-hp Cosworth.

-sgm-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Scott Speed , Simon Pagenaud