find the right revs, a high groove that works
and the limit of adhesion on cold tires.
However, he’s competing for the same
vacancies with road course specialists such
as Giorgio Pantano and Simon Pagenaud,
both of whom have also raced the No. 22
this year. Pantano, the 2008 GP2 champion
and a former F1 driver, was unsurprisingly
quick in his first test for D&R in Sonoma.
“It was not that difficult,” says the
Italian. “Finding the limit of the car takes
maybe 20 laps, but then I was there. My
style is a bit different from Justin’s, but the
team was good at adjusting the car for me.
the Champ Car/IndyCar merger in ’08 but
he jumped at the chance to sub for D&R’s
Ana Beatriz at Barber Motorsports Park
when she broke her wrist at the season
opener in St. Petersburg.
Bob M. Heathcote/LAT Phil Abbott/LAT
“It was difficult,” he recalls, “because I
knew that was my chance to show what I
could do, but I didn’t have everything in
place to do so. I’d never driven the car or
the track! In the end, it went pretty well.”
A charging drive to eighth on race day
earned him kudos, but his next opportunity
didn’t come until five months later at
Mid-Ohio, when he was strapped into the
other D&R car after Wilson broke his back
in practice. Pagenaud’s first laps were in
qualifying, wearing equipment borrowed
from various of his new rivals.
“The driving position wasn’t bad,”
recalls Pagenaud, “but it was unfortunate
that my lower back wasn’t in contact with
the seat, so I struggled a little bit to feel
what the car was doing on corner-entry.
So I just hung on for dear life.”
On Sunday (now with his own gear) he
was fourth quickest in the morning
warm-up, and although he had a small
off-course excursion in the race he
finished 13th and his quickest lap was
sixth fastest. A few races later, he stood in
(at the last minute, of course!) for Simona
de Silvestro in Sonoma, and thoroughly
impressed HVM Racing team owner Keith
Wiggins.“I’ve long been aware how good
Simon is,” he shrugged. “I’d have been
more surprised if he hadn’t been great.”
Pagenaud and his sports car teammate
Bourdais are the temps who’ve made the
best cases for a full-time ride in 2012, but
there are many just burning with the desire to
prove themselves. For all of them, another
year playing substitute doesn’t appeal.
Bourdais shone on the road courses but
wants to keep the car for ovals next year,
too. (BELOW) Pantano is ready to commit
to IndyCars. (LEFT) Last-minute rides
didn’t faze the remarkable Pagenaud.
Qualifying for the race in 11th was a bit of a disappointment
but he explains: “It’s because we changed something on the
setup, not because of the red tires. In the race, I could feel where
the reds gained me time over the blacks – more grip overall, both
lateral and for traction out of slower corners.”
Pantano says he’s given up on Europe because he can’t afford a
good ride and he likes the relative parity of the IndyCar scene. “Here,
a driver can make the difference between good and bad lap times,”
he states. “In GP2, that’s impossible. OK, in IndyCar you have Penske
and Ganassi, but Dreyer & Reinbold is not far off at all, and next
year there will be a new car and everyone starts fresh again….”
Pagenaud, meanwhile, seems almost to have sought to throw
himself in at the deep end in 2011. The ’06 Atlantic Series champ
has been without a ride in topline U. S. open-wheel racing since
DEEPENING THE FIELD STILL FURTHER
Occasional entries attract yet more valid drivers
As well as subs and stand-ins, many IZOD IndyCar Series drivers
race all-new (or nearly new) entries. Many of these race the Indy
Mann impressed everyone by getting a part-time Conquest Racing
entry in the show at this year’s Indy 500 when the driver of Conquest’s
full-time car, Sebastian Saavedra, failed to do so. She finished the race, too.
A neck-damaging crash in a Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing entry at
Loudon has not prevented the combo from reuniting for the final rounds.
“I’m not ready to dust off my waitressing résumé, from the days when I
used to wait tables every night of the week,” she asserts. “Getting into a
car for Indy led to my ride with RLLR, so I’m going to keep working my
backside off away from the track and hope one of the companies we’re
talking to takes the plunge and sponsors me.”
AFS Racing’s No. 17 lay dormant after Raphael Matos campaigned it in
the first four rounds, but a joint entry between AFS and Sam Schmidt
Motorsports got the car back on track for Plowman at three races. On his
IndyCar debut at Mid-Ohio, he was disappointed to be unable to get the
most from the red tires. “Everyone else went a second quicker and I didn’t
make any gain! But in the race, I felt more at home, and we made progress.
Plowman, like compatriot Alex Lloyd, deserves to be considered for a
Having time to think about what I needed to do, I was then able to go to
the Sonoma test and do a good job. And race weekend was good, too.”
It sure was: he qualified 15th, ahead of drivers as good as Oriol Servia,
Ryan Hunter-Reay and JR Hildebrand, and in the race he finished 12th. In
Baltimore, he looked like the confident driver we saw in Lights whenever
there was a low-grip track and/or concrete walls were looming, despite the
Schmidt car being unusually off the street-race pace.
full-time ride, but may have to spend another year waiting by the phone.