Pagenaud leads first ‘500’ practice, confident that bad luck is behind him

Simon Pagenaud hasn’t had the best year. His best finish was P8 at the IndyCar Grand Prix earlier this month, on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He was bumped off track in the first lap, a scenario he had already dealt with a month prior on the streets of Long Beach. Thankfully, this time it wasn’t a situation that took him out of contention like it did in California, but it did place him further back in the pack without the opportunity to battle for a podium or a win.

The 2016 series champion is feeling stronger going into the sixth round of competition this season, with a car that is already showing speed on day 1 of practice. Not only did he clock a lap of 225.787 in the bright yellow No. 22 Menard’s Team Penske Chevy but the car is also showing potential to run well in traffic or clean air, which could be a benefit given the new aero kits. Pagenaud and his crew seem to be learning the kit’s capabilities in differing conditions, rather quickly.

Having a good jump start on that learning curve, in combination with his confidence in the engine could mean an end to the bad luck he’s been experiencing. And what better time for things to come together, than during the Month of May?

“It was a very productive day. We’re obviously still learning a lot about the aerodynamics of the car. It’s quite different to what we had the past few years. There’s still a lot to learn for everybody, I believe. But we’re on the right track.

I think this year we have a pretty strong opportunity. Chevy has done a tremendous job, so we feel like we have a lot of power. You know when you come and you feel you have a chance, wow, it’s an early Christmas, I tell you.

It was clear from the beginning of the year, that’s number one goal is to win Indy. So we put all the effort we can in it. The team’s done a lot of work on understanding the car and trying to extract the best out of every component on it. So far it’s working.”

This year will mark Pagenaud’s 7th Indianapolis 500 start, with his best qualifying position being P3 back in 2015. He currently runs twelfth in the points championship, but with double points still being a reality for the Indianapolis 500, a solid finish on race weekend could bump him up significantly in the standings.

Two of his biggest competitors? His own Team Penske teammates. Josef Newgarden, who currently leads in points and Will Power, who runs 7th and is aiming to feed off the momentum of his win this past weekend and be the first driver to complete “The May Double” by winning the ‘500’ later this month.

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Photo credit: Matt Fraver, IndyCar

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