Simon Pagenaud’s preferred mode of transportation in Southern California is on a beach cruiser along the boardwalk, but for the MAVTV American Real 500 at Auto Club Speedway he will have to speed things up a bit with his V-6, turbocharged 700 horsepower IndyCar.
Pagenaud and his teammate Tristan Vautier are hoping to end the 2013 season with a bang in the 500-mile race on the 2-mile D-shaped oval. The forecast for relaxing beach time looks bleak however, as the Frenchmen prepare for their last chance at an IZOD IndyCar Series victory this year.
“Fontana is a very difficult oval and certainly my favorite on the schedule,” Pagenaud said. “There are different lines we can run to pass other cars or to protect our tires.”
The green flag will drop on the MAVTV American Real 500 at 8:50 p.m. ET when the sun is still out on the West Coast, and teams will have to manage their car set-ups as the sun goes down and the track temperature drops.
“It will be most important to have an easy car to drive that is versatile in every lane on the track,” Pagenaud said. “It will be so crucial to protect the tires during the whole 500 miles too so that we can remain fast when the track is cold and quick at the end of the night.”
Being the last race of the season, preparation for the 500-mile race at Auto Club Speedway undoubtedly brings reflection on the season as a whole. Tristan Vautier will walk away from the MAV TV American Real 500 no longer a rookie.
“I think we can be proud of our performance and the speed we’ve shown this year in the No. 55 Angie’s List Schmidt Peterson Motorsports car,” Vautier said. “We’ve been very competitive on most tracks and we made it to the Firestone Fast 6 three times in qualifying.”
Vautier won the 2012 Firestone Indy Lights Championship in convincing fashion, but his jump to the IZOD IndyCar Series was no easy task.
“The main thing I’ve learned this year is how vital it is to be a complete driver to perform at this level,” he said. “Here in Fontana driving on the limit for 500 miles is incredibly challenging. It’s easy to make a mistake if you lose focus even briefly, and the most successful drivers in this series simply don’t do that.”
At the end of his second year in IndyCar competition, Pagenaud and the No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports Dallara/Honda/Firestone car find themselves a huge leap ahead of their 2012 Rookie of the Year performance.
“Everybody raised their game and got to a winning level on a regular basis in the second part of the season,” Pagenaud said. “We won two races and we fought for our chance in this year’s championship all the way to the end. We’ve been fighting the likes of Penske, Ganassi and Andretti. That is an incredibly difficult task and requires serious commitment.”
Although taking home the Astor Cup for Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports is just out of Pagenaud’s reach, he could still claim second in the IZOD IndyCar Series Championship. He is currently third in the championship with 491 points, trailing second-place driver Helio Castroneves by 30 points.
When the checkered flag flies on the MAV TV American Real 500 and the 2013 IndyCar season, it won’t be hard to locate Simon Pagenaud.
“I have a favorite beach bar in San Diego where I love to go,” Pagenaud said. “I hang out on the boardwalk and then ride a beach cruiser. It’s just so much fun.”
Catch Pagenaud and Vautier in action at Auto Club Speedway on NBC Sports Network Saturday, Oct. 19 at 8 p.m. ET. For the latest team updates from practice, qualifications and the race, follow @SPMIndyCar on Twitter.