For race car driver Simon Pagenaud, much has changed in his world since this time last year.
In the week leading up to the annual IZOD IndyCar round at Mid Ohio Sports Car Course in 2011, the ride-less Pagenaud was deciding whether or not to make the four-hour drive over to Lexington, Ohio to be a spectator for the weekend.
The race was set for Sunday, Aug 7 at the end of what had been an eventful week in the United States and around the world. Without a car to race in Ohio, it would have been perfectly understandable for Pagenaud to stay home in Indianapolis and absorb the week’s worldwide news headlines.
Here are just a few of the stories that broke in the week leading up to the 2011 Mid-Ohio race:
- Pop singer Nicky Minaj had a Janet Jackson-like wardrobe malfunction live on ABC’s ‘Good Morning America. (New York Daily News)
- A Swedish man was arrested after trying to split atoms in his kitchen, telling authorities it was only a hobby. (Washington Post)
- NASA launched the Juno spacecraft on an Atlas V rocket headed on a five-year, 400-million-mile voyage to Jupiter.
- Eminem, Coldplay, Foo Fighters, and Foster the People were ready to headline Lollapalooza in Chicago’s Grand Park.
- Adele’s 21 was the No. 1 Album on Billboard’s 200 for the 11th week in a row.
- The movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes was released.
- British comedian Rowan (Mr. Bean) Atkinson survived a fiery wreck after crashing his McLaren F1 supercar on an English Road (New York Daily News)
- The Middle Eastern country of Jordan announced plans to build a Star Trek theme park in its city of Aqaba. (USA Today)
Any of those stop-the-presses stories would have kept most men home on the couch for a weekend in an attempt to grasp the magnitude of what was happening in the world. But, Pagenaud is no ordinary man. He shrugged off the headlines, hopped in his car and traveled east to Ohio.
Little did he know that he, himself, would become a motorsports headline later that weekend.
Pagenaud drove to the Mid-Ohio track from his Indianapolis home early Saturday morning for a meeting and was expecting to drive back home later that day. By the end of the day, though, he was the driver of the No. 22 Dreyer and Reinbold car normally driven by Justin Wilson.
In the morning practice session, Wilson suffered a fracture in his back after a freak crash. Though his car did not impact a wall or guardrail, Wilson was injured when his car bounced across uneven surfaces after dropping two wheels off the track exiting a corner.
“I felt really sorry for Justin,” said Pagenaud. “He’s a good friend and you never wish for that kind of situation to happen, but I’m glad that Dreyer & Reinbold Racing asked me to represent him and the team. I’m pleased they had the confidence in me to do the job.”
Pagenaud was a logical choice to fill in for Wilson. The French driver was fresh off an IndyCar test with Sam Schmidt Motorsports at Mid-Ohio the week before. Also, Pagenaud had success at Mid-Ohio in ALMS racing, including winning in 2009.
After scrambling around the paddock in search of a firesuit, helmet, gloves, shoes and even a seat that fit him, Pagenaud qualified 18th. In the race on Sunday, he finished in 13th and on the lead lap.
What a difference a year makes!
Pagenaud heads into the 2012 Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio race leading the IZOD IndyCar Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings and seventh in the overall championship. He won’t need to scramble to find appropriate race attire either. He’ll be decked out in his immaculate white and baby-blue HP firesuit and familiar red helmet. And, he’ll be driving the eye-catching, Honda-powered No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP-sponsored car.
In 2011, Pagenaud made the Mid-Ohio headlines as a last-minute substitute driver. In 2012, he wants his performance to make headlines.
“SIMON PAGENAUD (Montmorillon, France)
Mid-Ohio has strong connections with Honda and you have raced a great deal there. Do you almost consider it your “home” course in the U.S.? “Mid-Ohio is a home race for a lot of teams and drivers in the IndyCar Series. With most of the teams being based out of Indianapolis, this is the closest racetrack we go to. Honda’s activities and partnerships with the track and the proximity of their Ohio plants with Mid-Ohio allow us to see a lot of our Honda associates and friends each year and lets them come to the track for the race week end.”
What do you remember about your ALMS win at Mid-Ohio? “Gil De Ferran and I won with the Acura LMP1 in 2009. It was a great battle with Highcroft racing.”
Talk about your IndyCar run at Mid-Ohio last year subbing for Justin Wilson. It was truly a last-minute sub situation? “I came to the racetrack for a few meetings and was not expecting to drive at all. My meeting was on Saturday morning, so I drove over early that morning. I got there just in time to watch the Saturday morning practice. When Justin got injured, Derrick Walker my manager called me in a hurry to drive for Dreyer & Reinbold. I had no gear and no seat. So in order to make the race, I had to qualify, but we only had one-and-a-half hours to get in position to drive. So, I borrowed a few seats to try out including one from Vitor Meira, Will Power and JR Hildebrand. I borrowed Seb’s (Bourdais) race suit and shoes, and used James Jakes’ Hans Device. I was able to use Justin’s gloves and helmet and I went out to qualify. The nice thing was that at least I knew the team since I drove for them in Barber at the beginning of the year. I think we qualified only one tenth off transferring to the second round of qualifying! The DRR car was really fast that weekend.
“We finished 12th and thought that was a pretty good considering the situation. Despite knowing a little bit more in advance, the three races I did in 2011 in IndyCar were all in similar conditions.”
How was last week’s Mid-Ohio test?“It was certainly very interesting and it allowed us to confirm what we thought we could improve. We know our baseline is good, but we need to find a little more to contest for Pole position. We had a list of tests, and we ticked off the boxes. Unfortunately, it rained early in the afternoon, and it prevented us to try some important items. That’s why the practice on Friday will be so important to us.”
SSM Mid-Ohio Notes
- The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio will be Simon Pagenaud’s 29th start in a major open-wheel race. He has 14 IZOD IndyCar starts and 14 Champ Car races under his belt.
- Though a rookie, the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio will be Simon Pagenaud’s second IndyCar start at Mid-Ohio. Pagenaud raced in the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series race at Mid-Ohio, filling in for the injured Justin Wilson. Driving for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Pagenaud started 18th and finished 13th. With virtually no practice in Wilson’s car, Pagenaud finished the 85-lap race on the lead lap.
- Pagenaud also has one victory and one second-place finish at Mid-Ohio in American Le Mans Series (ALMS) racing. He sat on the pole and won the ALMS race in 2009. The next year, he won his LMP class by finishing second overall.
- In his 28 major open-wheel races, Pagenaud has finished all but two races and usually is on the lead lap. His second DNF happened in the last race in Edmonton when Pagenaud was taken out by Charlie Kimball in the last corner of the last lap.
- Pagenaud has been running at the finish in 10 of the 11 races in 2011.
- So far in 2012, there have been 1,473 laps of competition. Pagenaud, along with Penske Racing’s Helio Castroneves, has completed all but three laps. The pair has completed 1,470 laps to date, which is the most of all IZOD Indy Car Series drivers this year.
- In 2011, Sam Schmidt Motorsports used Simon Pagenaud as a test driver at Mid-Ohio, which also ended up being somewhat of an audition of the Frenchman. Watch Pagenaud talk about driving the No. 77 car and his comparisons to an ALMS car. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aqq8pgCZCnI
- A second-place spot on the podium in Long Beach is Pagenaud’s best finish of the season. He also finished on the podium (3rd) in Detroit.
- Pagenaud leads the Sunoco Racing Fuels Rookie of the Year standings.
- Entering Mid-Ohio, Pagenaud has six Top-10 finishes, including four Top-5 finishes.
- With the 23 laps he led in Toronto, Pagenaud has led in two races for a total of 49 laps.
- Pagenaud enters the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio seventh in the IZOD IndyCar Series championship. However, he is only 10 points out of the Top 5. The top seven in points are Ryan Hunter-Reay (362), Helio Castroneves (339), Will Power (336), Scott Dixon (301), James Hinchcliffe (286), Tony Kanaan (279) and Pagenaud (276).
- The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio will be the 71st 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.
Social Media Information
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The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, an 85-lap race around the 15-turn, 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, will air live on ABC Sunday, Aug. 5 at 1 p.m. ET. The race will also be live on the IMS Radio Network and on XM 94/Sirius 212.