What’s Your Frequency, Kenneth?

In 1986, TV journalist Dan Rather was mugged on a street in Manhattan. While being attacked, his assailant repeatedly said, “Kenneth, what is the frequency?” Years later, rock band R.E.M. released the song “What’s Your Frequency Kenneth?” and it soared up the charts.

Rather and no one else could offer an explanation to his assailant’s bizarre communication.

In his racing career, Simon Pagenaud has had his share of unexplained radio situations in race cars. One was a frequency issue while driving in the 24 Hours of LeMans. Though he couldn’t talk with his team, he did have a conversation over his radio with a competing driver while cruising down the famed Mulsanne Straight at more than 200 mph.

Pagenaud’s most recent radio problem happened during the pace laps for the Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway Saturday night.

As soon as an Indy car leaves the grid, it is common practice for INDYCAR teams to do radio checks insuring that all team members are on the same frequency and that the driver and team can communicate.

While Pagenaud was sitting in his car on the Texas grid, SSM General Manager Rob Edwards did the first radio check. Pagenaud and the team could clearly hear one another. However, as soon as the cars rolled away, communication with Pagenaud ended. They had lost radio connection.

Though he is a rookie in the IZOD IndyCar Series, he knew how critical radio communication is at an oval like Texas Motor Speedway. Pagenaud did not panic. He immediately made a mental checklist of things he could test himself in order to find the problem before the race started.

First, he grabbed the plug on his helmet to check to see if his earplug cable was plugged in. Fortunately, this first test discovered the problem. The next step was to re-connect his earplug cable back into the helmet jack. Easier said than done while driving a race car at 90 mph while wearing racing gloves.

It didn’t take long for Pagenaud to realize something was amiss. He could not get the plug into the jack. To make it easier, he removed his gloves and found out that the jack had been covered with duck tape.
With his gloves off, he removed the tape and reconnected the plug into the jack and then re-taped the plug and jack connection to make sure it didn’t disconnect again during the race.

Since much of this exercise took two hands, Pagenaud drove most of the pace laps at Texas steering with his left knee. With the plug fixed, Pagenaud quickly put his gloves back on entering Turn 3 as the field was approaching the start of the race. He put his second glove on just in time to put two hands on the steering wheel at the drop of the green flag.

Mystery and problem solved.

Maybe Pagenaud can figure out Kenneth’s frequency?

SIMON PAGENAUD (Poitiers, France)
What is it about the one-mile track in Milwaukee that you liked during the test?
“Milwaukee is a perfect racetrack for our Indy cars. It suits our package so well. The challenge you are facing as a driver is among the best of any racetrack in the world! In proper words, you must go into the corners with the most amount of throttle as you can, or shall I say the car can. The quicker you go the more grip. Nevertheless, the commitment level in these conditions has to be beyond reasonable. You are constantly pushing the limit a little bit further.”

How are you progressing with your oval racing skills?
“I’m learning in every corner of every lap. Oval racing is very technical, and you have to be on top of things all the time! You have to be aware of your surroundings, the car’s behavior and what it needs. And you are on a sharp edge all the time. I enjoy it more and more, and I’m glad the series provides the most track diversity of any other series in the world! It pushes us drivers at seeking to become the most complete. I think I’m on schedule, but I want more…”

How are you holding up during this stretch of consecutive racing weekends?
“Right now, there’s not much time for anything else than racing. I enjoy racing back to back. If I could be in a race car everyday, I would! It is even better in this situation when you go from a superspeedway to a street circuit like Detroit then to a 1.5-mile oval and then to a short oval. It can’t get any better.”

ROB EDWARDS (SSM General Manager)
When the Milwaukee weekend is over, the team will have worked six consecutive weekends and seven of the last eight. What are the challenges for a team during a run like this?
“You have two challenges, I would say. You have the physical challenge of the equipment, meaning that you hope you get through every weekend without any damage to the race car so it allows you to prepare and keep the car at the level you want. The bigger challenge is the challenge on the people side. You try to give breaks to the crew when you can. But you have to remember that it’s not just the races. We also tested at Milwaukee the Tuesday after the Indy 500. We are testing at Iowa this week on Tuesday. So, that’s really made it challenging to build in breaks for the guys, particularly for the truck drivers.”

How much more of a strain is put on the team when you go testing?
“It’s a strain just because there is no break at all. There is no chance for the guys to recharge their batteries. We don’t have the largest team in the paddock, so that means that just about everybody on the team is involved with the tests. Every engineer goes to every test. We try to rotate the crew through so one or two guys take a break. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than not doing anything.”

What goals did you have for this nine-week stretch?
“From a competition standpoint, we had different goals for the different races. For the ovals, the goal is really to run every lap that we can run. We managed to keep Simon on the lead lap at Indianapolis and run the full distance there. We just did the same at Texas. We’re just trying to do that at every oval race. Unlike someone that came from Indy Lights, Simon had no oval experience prior to this year. The best way of learning in this case is by doing. So running every lap in every race is the best thing for us. At Detroit the goal was to qualify in the Firestone Fast 6 and finish on the podium. We’re very happy we achieved that. Big picture goal is to stay in the top six in points as we were at the beginning of the month. If we do, that will be a substantial achievement for Simon and the HP team.”

SSM Milwaukee Mile Notes

*The Milwaukee IndyFest will only be Simon Pagenaud’s third oval race in his career. The first was the recent Indianapolis 500 where Pagenaud completed all 200 laps and finished 16th.

*The Milwaukee IndyFest will be Simon Pagenaud’s 25th start in a major open-wheel race. He has 10 IZOD IndyCar starts and 14 Champ Car races under his belt.

*Pagenaud enters the Milwaukee IndyFest at fifth in the IZOD IndyCar Series championship with 199 points. However, he is only nine points out of third place. Pagenaud trails Castroneves in fourth with 203 points and James Hinchcliffe in third with 208 points.

*So far in 2012, there have been 838 laps of competition. Pagenaud has completed all but one. He and the HP team have completed 837 laps of competition to date, which is the most of all IZOD Indy Car Series drivers this year. He ended the Brazil race just one lap down to the leaders.

*Pagenaud, Ed Carpenter and Dario Franchitti are the only three IZOD IndyCar Series drivers who have been running at the finish of every IZOD IndyCar Series race in 2012. Pagenaud also leads the Sunoco Racing Fuels Rookie of the Year standings.

*The Milwaukee IndyFest will be the 67th time a Sam Schmidt-owned car has lined up on an IZOD IndyCar Series grid. Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports co-owner Davey Hamilton was in the cockpit of the No. 99 car when SSM made its first race in March 2001 at Phoenix International Raceway.

*With Honda sweeping the podium at the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix and taking the top two positions at Texas, it has tightened the INDYCAR Engine Manufacturers championship. Chevrolet leads with 54 while Honda has 51. Lotus trails with 28.

*Sam Schmidt Motorsports will be going for its 50th win in the Firestone Indy Lights Championship this weekend at the Milwaukee IndyFest. SSM’s Esteban Guerrieri’s win in the Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May was the team’s 49th win. The SSM Indy Light’s team has 50 poles.

Social Media Information
For news and photos in real-time, follow Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Simon Pagenaud on Twitter.

Helpful Twitter Handles:
@SSMIndy #IndyFest
@simonpagenaud #indycar2012

Driver: Simon Pagenaud

Hometown: Poiters, France

Car: No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports Dallara/Honda/Firestone

Series: Round 8 of 16 in the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series

Standings: 5th