Simon Pagenaud and Ben Bretzman

Simon Pagenaud is unequivocal in his short-term goal.

“I’m going into Houston thinking I can win the championship,” he said. “We have a good car on street circuits so we’re going to go for it in Houston.”

The second-year driver of the No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports car is third in the IZOD IndyCar Series standings – 70 points behind championship front-runner Helio Castroneves – with three races remaining.

But his isn’t a Don Quixote-esque statement. In the past three races, Pagenaud has vaulted two positions in the standings and outscored Castroneves by 46 points and second-place Scott Dixon by 66 points. He's 21 points arrears of Dixon.

Pagenaud's second street circuit victory of the season at Baltimore on Sept. 1, which followed a runner-up finish at Mid-Ohio and fifth place at Sonoma, fuels much of the ammunition heading into the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston presented by the Greater Houston Honda Dealers on the 1.7-mile, 10-turn street course at Reliant Park.

“I think we have a really hot car right now. We just need to keep going,” said Pagenaud, who secured his first series victory in Race 2 at Belle Isle in early June. “It’s looking good. We’re actually the team that has scored the most points the past three races, so it’s interesting to be up here and for people to realize we’ve had a good season. Last year we were a lot more quiet; we were consistent and always there, but this year we’re just that much stronger.

“I think we’ve been very competitive though the competition is a lot stronger this year than it was last year. Our consistency, with two wins, has put us up there.”

The Honda-powered car has 11 top-10 finishes in the 16 races, including an early season streak of four in a row following a mechanical issue in the St. Petersburg opener that relegated Pagenaud to 24th place. Overall on road/street courses, he has an average finish of 8.1. He’s recorded three top 10s in the five oval races, with back-to-back sixth-place finishes at Iowa and Pocono. The season comes to a head at the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway oval Oct. 19.

Through the initial five races of the season, Pagenaud had to roll through the field following non-advantageous qualifying results (18.8 average on four road/street courses and the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval).

“The start of the season was difficult because I was expecting to start as strong as I finished,” said Pagenaud, who finished fifth in the 2012 standings and claimed the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award with six top-five finishes. “It took a while to understand how the tires provided by Firestone were working, and I think we’re just scratching the surface now.

“The trust (race engineer Ben Bretzman) has in me and the trust I have in him is a big part of it. We know each other and we’re also good friends; we spend many hours on the phone discussing the race car and challenging each other’s mind. Plus, it’s a whole group of really good engineers here and everything combined gives good results.

“I knew if I had the right car I would be fighting for wins. Once we did it, it clicked.”

Pagenaud competed in the last Indy car race at Reliant Park (2007, when he advanced two positions to finish fifth in the 93-lap race in an Aussie Vineyards-sponsored car for Team Australia), but the experience offers miniscule data.

“There’s not much to take out of 2007; it’s completely different,” said Pagenaud, who the year before earned the Champ Car Atlantic Series championship. “What we think is going to work needs to be the thing that is going to work. The rest will come down to the driver.”

Average finish for title contenders by points position at road/street courses:


Avg. finish



Helio Castroneves


2 (St. Petersburg, Toronto 2)

13 (Sao Paulo)

Scott Dixon


1 (Toronto 1, 2)

18 (Sao Paulo)

Simon Pagenaud


1 (Belle Isle 2, Baltimore)

24 (St. Petersburg)

Marco Andretti


3 (St. Petersburg)

20 (Belle Isle 1)

Ryan Hunter-Reay


1 (Barber)

24 (Long Beach)

Justin Wilson


2 (Sonoma)

22 (Belle Isle 2)

Dario Franchitti


3 (Toronto 1, Mid-Ohio, Sonoma)

25 (St. Pete, Barber)

James Hinchcliffe


1 St. Petersburg, Sao Paulo)

26 (Barber, Long Beach)

Will Power


1 (Sonoma)

24 (Sao Paulo)

Charlie Kimball


1 (Mid-Ohio)

21 (Long Beach, Toronto 1)