It may be against the nature of Frenchmen Simon Pagenaud and Tristan Vautier to spend the better portion of a week in Sonoma Raceway’s wine country and not visit a winery, but the Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports (SHM) and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (SPM) teammates have a much larger task at hand in conquering the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.
Pagenaud is coming off of a second-place finish in the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. He currently sits fifth in the IZOD IndyCar Series Championship, 27 points back from fourth position and 103 points behind championship leader Helio Castroneves.
“I always want to win and I go into every race weekend with the mindset that winning is a possibility with the No. 77 HP car and team,” Pagenaud said. “We came very close in Mid-Ohio, and we need to maximize points this weekend in Sonoma because time is running out.”
The 2.385-mile permanent road course in Sonoma is famous for its elevation changes and roller coaster feel, which Pagenaud will attempt to navigate with ease.
“The elevation changes are very different than any other race track I’ve ever been on,” Pagenaud said. “There is no margin for error, and the tarmac has a different grip level than what we usually have. It’s also not forgiving because there is only one racing line. It’s so easy to make mistakes and go off course, and I can’t afford any this weekend.”
Rookie Tristan Vautier, driving the No. 55 Angie’s List Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Dallara/Honda/Firestone car, drove at Sonoma Raceway in 2011 for Pro Mazda competition. He also tested at the track with SPM earlier this season.
“I love these types of road courses with fast, smooth corners and big braking zones where you really get to feel the full potential of the IndyCar you’re driving,” Vautier said. “Finding success this weekend will depend on adapting the car at this track to my driving style as much as we can.”
While Pagenaud and Vautier attack the 12-turn course at Sonoma Raceway, their sponsors HP and Angie’s List will have plenty of the Napa Valley’s best wine to enjoy from their hospitality units.
“I always have good wine, no matter where I am,” Pagenaud said. “France is famous for wine, but I don’t think it’s better one place or another. Because of the temperature, sun and rain here in Sonoma the wine is very colorful and rich in terms of taste. It’s much fruitier than what we have in France. They’re actually very different but both good.”
Rookie Tristan Vautier has less wine insight to offer than his teammate.
“Driving on a race weekend and wine tasting don’t really fit together, and we’re flying home right after the race Sunday night,” Vautier said. “I can’t offer much wine insight but I hope all of our fans and sponsors get to enjoy themselves!”
The Go Pro Grand Prix of Sonoma kicks off Sunday, August 25th at 4 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network. For the latest updates from Simon Pagenaud and Tristan Vautier at Sonoma Raceway, follow @SPMIndyCar on Twitter.