Simon Pagenaud is no longer motorsports’ International Man of Intrigue.

When the green flag dropped on the first race of the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season in St. Petersburg last March, not much was known about the French driver hired by Sam Schmidt and Davey Hamilton.

He had a reputation of being a pretty good sports car driver and rumor had it that he loved the rough-and-tumble world of European rally racing. Pagenaud had even surfaced in the IndyCar paddock a few times in 2011 as a substitute driver. But after the checkered flag of those races, he would quickly disappear to leave people wondering if they’d see him again in an Indy car.

Despite his mysterious background, there were a few people who claimed Pagenaud was, in fact, an incredibly talented driver who had just been flying under the radar. Team Penske driver Will Power said Pagenaud was not only worthy of being in an IndyCar, he said his former Champ Car teammate would be immediately competitive in the right car.

The engineers and staff of Honda Performance Development, which is Honda’s racing company in North America, also spoke highly of the talents Pagenaud displayed behind the wheel of Honda-powered sports cars the last few years.

Despite the public support of Honda and Power, many in the IndyCar community still raised an eyebrow when it was announced that Pagenaud would drive the No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports car.

Fast forward six months, and Pagenaud is no longer flying under the radar. In fact, the rookie driver is often now found running up front in IZOD IndyCar Series races. He is no longer a man of intrigue.

It’s hard to stay a mystery when you finish on the podium (second place) in just your third race like Pagenaud did at Long Beach, Calif., in April. On his way to claiming IndyCar’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year crown, Pagenaud has appeared on the podium three more times since Long Beach, has nine top-10 finishes and sits fifth in the championship.

Any chance of anonymity in the IndyCar paddock completely vanished when Pagenaud was selected to star in one of NBC Sports’ INDYCAR 36 episodes. The French driver completely opened his door and allowed the NBC cameras to live his life for 36 hours.

With a rookie of the year title, four podium appearances and his own TV episode in 2012, IndyCar’s ‘motorsports man of intrigue’ has officially blown his cover.

Driver: Simon Pagenaud (5th)
Hometown: Montmorillon, France
Car: No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports Dallara/Honda/Firestone
Event: MAV TV American Real 500
Track: Auto Club Speedway (2-mile oval)
Date: Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012
Series: Round 15 of 15 in the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series

SIMON PAGENAUD (Montmorillon, France)
You really enjoyed your first round of oval racing with Indy, Milwaukee, Texas and Iowa. Do you have to get back into an oval ‘mindset’ to prepare for Fontana? “Yes, driving on an oval is different, and the race craft is also different. Fontana is a superspeedway with the least amount of downforce we run all year! Finesse is very important but also being clever with the set up for the race will make a big difference.”

What was your first impression of Auto Club Speedway (Fontana)? “It’s really wide and quite bumpy. I think it is going to be a great place for racing.”

How did the test go? “The test was ok. We improved our base set up! Of course, the temperature will be different on race day as we run at night, and temperatures play a big role in a car’s behavior at those speeds. We also worked on assisting IndyCar by testing different levels of downforce.”

What type of race do you think fans will see? “I think it will be very similar to Texas. There will be a lot of passing and some cars will drop off more than others at the end of the stints. It will also be a challenge in duration since it is a 500-mile race at night. IndyCar has a great product and a fantastic potential for a great finale.”

SSM Fontana Notes
*The MAV TV American Real 500 will be Simon Pagenaud’s 32nd start in a major open-wheel race. He has 17 IZOD IndyCar starts and 14 Champ Car races under his belt.

*In his 31 major open-wheel races, Pagenaud has finished all but two races and usually finishes on the lead lap.

*Pagenaud has been running at the finish in 13 of the 14 races in 2012.

*So far in 2012, there have been 1,718 laps of competition. Pagenaud, along with Penske Racing’s Helio Castroneves, has completed all but three laps. The pair has completed 1,715 laps to date, which is the most of all IZOD Indy Car Series drivers this year.

*A second-place spot on the podium in Long Beach is Pagenaud’s best finish of the season. He also finished on the podium in Detroit (3rd), Mid-Ohio (3rd) and Baltimore (3rd).

*Pagenaud clinched the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series Sunoco Racing Fuels Rookie of the Year title at the GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma on August 26th, with two races still left in the season.

*Entering Fontana, Pagenaud has nine Top-10 finishes, including six Top-5 finishes.

*With the 14 laps he led in Baltimore, Pagenaud has led in three races for a total of 63 laps in 2012.

*Pagenaud enters the MAV TV American Real 500 fifth in the IZOD IndyCar Series championship. The Top 5 in points are Will Power (453), Ryan Hunter-Reay (436), Helio Castroneves (401), Scott Dixon (400), and Pagenaud (372).

*The No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports car is a Dallara-built DW12 chassis powered by Honda Racing’s HI12, which is a turbocharged V-6 engine approved by INDYCAR. Like all other IZOD IndyCar Series cars, Firestone Firehawk tires and E85 fuel are used as well.

*With five different car-driver combinations in the INDYCAR paddock, Schmidt may put more miles on his electric wheelchair than any of his race cars this weekend. In addition to Pagenaud in the IZOD IndyCar Series, Schmidt frequently will steer his chair to the Indy Lights paddock to oversee his four-car operation with drivers Victor Carbone, Esteban Guerrieri, Tristan Vautier and Oliver Webb.

*The MAV TV American Real 500 will be the 74th 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.

Broadcast Schedule
The MAV TV American Real 500-mile race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., will air live on NBC Sports Network, Saturday, Sept. 15 at 8:30 p.m. ET. The race will also be live on the IMS Radio Network and on XM 94/Sirius 212.