LOS ANGELES – It’s not just another race, Simon Pagenaud declares, but the third-year Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports driver is pressure-free entering the Verizon IndyCar Series season finale.
He’s in the series championship mix for the first time, sitting 81 points behind front-runner Will Power and 30 points shy of second-place Helio Castroneves entering the double-points race Aug. 30. That makes his mission simple, if not easy.
“I just have to go into the race thinking to win the race,” Pagenaud said. “That’s the only way I could have a chance to win the championship. It’s nice to come to the last race with a chance to fight for the championship.”
The contenders gathered – along with fans, media, the Astor Cup and an IndyCar parked above a fountain at The Grove lifestyle complex – on Aug. 28 to discuss the championship-deciding MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway. Watch it live at 9 p.m. (ET) on NBCSN.
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“I'm not really in control of what Will and Helio are going to do, so I can only control myself and my team and then we're going to try to go win the race,” added Pagenaud, who’s finished fourth and third in the standings his first two years.
Like both the Team Penske competitors, Pagenaud has raced with a title on the line. He won the 2006 Champ Car Atlantics championship and the 2010 LMP1 title in the American Le Mans Series.
“I’d rather be in Will’s position right now, but it’s OK,” said Pagenaud, who has two victories this season. “I believe you have to be patient, and we've had a steady progression every year, and we're back this year fighting for the championship at the last race.
“Am I happy with third? No, but we'll just keep trying.”
So have Power and Castroneves, both of whom have been the championship runner-up three times: Power in 2012, 2011 and 2010; Castroneves in 2013, 2008 and 2002.
Power won the 250-lap season finale at Auto Club Speedway last year from the pole, and is coming off a victory at the last oval (the Milwaukee Mile two weeks ago). Castroneves this season has finished second in both 500-mile races (Indianapolis 500 and Pocono Raceway). He has outscored Power 266-240 on ovals. Pagenaud has totaled 201 points on the five ovals.
“We have to be smart and we have to be fast,” said Castroneves, who owns a victory on the Belle Isle street circuit this season. “It has been great to compete with Will this season as we both want to bring home this championship for (team owner) Roger (Penske).
“Will is in a good position with more than a 50-point lead but with double the points on the line and 500 miles to go, that’s what makes this so exciting. In the 500-mile races we didn’t win but we got some major points in those races. So far, I would give my effort a B-plus but I need an A-plus in this race on Saturday night.”
Throughout the highly-competitive and contentious season (there have been 10 different winners in the 17 races), Power hasn’t wavered from being aggressive on every lap of the diverse schedule.
“That’s really how we got to where we are now so no reason to change,” said Power, who is tied with Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay with a field-high three victories. “I think that’s just how we get our best results.
“Yes, we have a lead going into this race but we can’t rest on that or it will go away fast. We have some tough guys chasing us so we need to try and stay in front of them and do the best we can to try and win. The rest will take care of itself.”