“A lot of work needed to be done,” he
admits. “In 2015 it was all new relationships,
so communication was not flowing that well.
It’s natural. Last winter I took time to talk a
lot with my crew, and we built confidence by
talking, and [me] helping them to
understand the approach I was taking. It
was about having my guys believe in that
approach, and trusting whatever direction I
was going to take the team. And at the
beginning of the season my approach was,
let’s be consistent; let’s be strong up front;
let’s not take too many risks on strategy.
“And mentally, the winter was about
rebuilding my confidence, because 2015
wasn’t the greatest for that.”
Pagenaud also benefited from the
off-season development work done to
Chevrolet’s aero kit, which brought the
car’s fundamental characteristics into
closer alignment with his own preferences.
“We trended toward something that
was more about rear stability, which helped
me all year long, whether it was on an oval
or a road course,” he says. “When the rear
is good, I’m able to do special things.”
But there’s special, and there’s ridiculous.
Pagenaud went into the new season
confident that he’d be more competitive
admits that even he was shocked by the
degree of his early-season dominance.
“That was a surprise,” he says.
“[Although] being able to contend for the
championship wasn’t; I’d done it in the
past with Schmidt, so I couldn’t see any
reason why we couldn’t do it with Team
Penske. It was just a matter of working
the details out last winter. But then it’s
something special here.’”
The success of any plan depends in
some part on knowing when to deviate
from it. Pagenaud’s approach of “fast, but
controlled” worked great when he was
picking up trophies at will early in the
season, but a few rare exceptions aside –
Michael Schumacher in 2002; almost any
of Sebastien Loeb’s years in the WRC –
those purple patches occur in cycles.
Pagenaud’s streak was ended by a
frustrating outing at the Indy 500 that
snowballed into a mid-season mini-slump –
one that coincided with Power
rediscovering his mojo and going on a
six-race invincibility streak of his own.
Pagenaud steadied the ship as the
season entered its final four races, and
received an additional buffer when Power
crashed at Watkins Glen – a result that gave
the Frenchman all of the championship
momentum going into the final race.
It’s how a driver navigates these
changing cycles that can ultimately
determine the outcome of a title fight.
Prolonged dominance can create a
temptation to start driving more
conservatively in order to protect an
advantage; a mid-season dip can breed
“The winter was about
having my guys believe in
my approach and trust the
direction I took the team”
Teammates and title rivals Simon Pagenaud and Will Power finished
1-2 twice in 2016, with Pagenaud emerging triumphant from this
encounter at Mid-Ohio. That win put the Frenchman back in charge
of the championship narrative after a mid-season streak for Power.
Simon Pagenaud’s first
season with Team
Penske in 2015 yielded
just two visits to the
podium – for third
places at Detroit and
Mid-Ohio (BELOW). He
finished the year 11th
in the standings with
384 points. And one
year later? Five wins,
three second places
– and he’d overhauled
his 2015 point score
by Iowa, with six races
still to spare.