Photo: Brett Kelley
Simon Pagenaud (Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports, Honda), who scored his first IndyCar win last year, talked to the media to preview the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park. Selected quotes are below.
Q. Simon, you're off to a strong start in 2014 with two top-five finishes at St. Petersburg and Long Beach, currently third in the points. Are you where you want to be in the championship after two rounds?
SIMON PAGENAUD: So far so good. It's where we finished last season. It's interesting to see how the season started, who is strong. Actually everybody is strong. It's good to score some good points at the beginning of the season. Hopefully, keep doing that in our quest for the championship.
Q. This weekend the series heads to Barber Motorsports Park. You made your series debut there in 2011. You've never finished outside the top eight at Barber. What about the layout of that track suits you so well?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Well, I really like that track. It's fast. It's very difficult. You have to be very, very precise with your driving, with your race car. There's no margin for error. It's a track also where IndyCar teams test a lot, therefore pretty much everybody is on their game. It makes it very difficult in qualifying to make a difference. It's pretty easy to lose six spots in 1/10th of a second on the grid. It's a track I enjoy racing at. It's very physical. You really have to be focused for the whole race. That's the characteristic that I like.
Q. In the offseason a year ago you told me how much work and effort you put in to prepare for last year, and your goal was to win the championship. You fell short of that. I know you were disappointed. Did you have to change anything or up your routine to prepare for this year to take the next step and achieve your goal of winning the championship?
SIMON PAGENAUD: I think every year you try to do that. I think you try to up your game every year. I think that's why it can be hard for some drivers to stop and go in a different series and come back. I think it just shows the competition is really, really high right now. You have to be able to extract 100 percent of yourself in the car.
We worked really hard with the team during the winter to get the car exactly like I wanted, make the car basically more similar on different racetracks, so it was easy for me to extract more out of it. So far that's what we've been doing. I've been able to work more on my driving, more on details to actually improve at every racetrack, extract more lap time.
Mentally I'm in a very good state. Physically I'm very, very ready. Now it's going to be about being strong on the ovals also. I'm very, very excited about the ovals coming up.
Defending race winner and polesitter Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport, Honda) was fastest in the first practice at Barber this morning, with a time of 1:08.8470 on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn course. Josef Newgarden (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, Honda) was second fastest at 1:08.9336 and Helio Castroneves (Team Penske, Chevrolet) third at 1:09.0094. Hunter-Reay topped Practice 2 in the afternoon as well, improving to 1:08.7836. Sebastien Bourdais (KVSH Racing, Chevy) turned a 1:08.9311to post the second fastest time of the session, followed by Castroneves’ Penske teammate Will Power at 1:08.9746
With back-to-back top-two finishes to start the 2014 season, Power leads the Verizon IndyCar point standings. Power has won two of the four IndyCar races held at Barber (2011-12), with Castroneves winning the inaugural event in 2010. The third Penske driver, Juan Pablo Montoya, finished fourth at Long Beach in only his second race since returning to IndyCar.
Franck Montagny, who made his Verizon IndyCar Series debut with Andretti Autosport in 2009, returns to the team to drive its No. 26 Honda-powered entry in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 10. Montagny, who tested last month on the Homestead-Miami Speedway road course, is scheduled to participate in the Open Test on the 2.46-mile, 14-turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway circuit Apr. 30.
He will join full-season Andretti Autosport drivers Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe and Carlos Munoz in competing in the 82-lap race. The No. 26 entry will be driven in the 98th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race on the 2.5-mile oval, May 25, by NASCAR regular Kurt Busch.
The relationship between Andretti Autosport and Montagny dates to 2008 when he competed in seven races for the team in the American Le Mans Series, teaming with Andretti, Tony Kanaan, Raphael Matos, James Rossiter. Montagny made his American open-wheel debut in the April 2008 Champ Car finale at Long Beach, finishing second to Will Power. He has four podium finishes in a dozen starts in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and made seven Formula 1 starts with Super Aguri.
Jacques Villeneuve is returning to the Indy 500 backed by Dollar General, which will serve as primary sponsor of the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports car he will pilot. Villeneuve, who will participate in a refresher session Apr. 29 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, won the 1995 race and was the runner-up as a rookie in '94.
"I have so many wonderful memories of racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway throughout my career, including my last appearance at the track in the Brickyard 400 when I also was sponsored by Dollar General," Villeneuve said. "It's been 19 years since I ran this race, but returning with a team like Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and a household-name sponsor like Dollar General is going to give me a fantastic opportunity to perform at a high level."