Simon Pagenaud

Simon Pagenaud recalls the final two laps of the 2013 Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans as being the most emotional five miles to date of his motorsports career.

“I kept saying, ‘Keep pushing.’ When I crossed the finish line, it was a sweet moment,” said Pagenaud, who hadn’t finished higher than second in 38 previous Verizon IndyCar Series and Champ Car races.

The 5.6274-second victory in Race 2 of the doubleheader weekend on the 2.36-mile, 13-turn Belle Isle circuit was a watershed for the 30-year-old driver from France and team, which also earned its maiden Verizon IndyCar Series victory.

“Detroit was huge for us last year; it was definitely a lift and what started it all. It was like a swirl,” Pagenaud said. “For us, as a team, that’s when everybody started to believe we could win every race. That’s when everybody raised their game. It was more focus on us, and I believe everybody at this time thought they were winners.

“The team changed then; I changed. Now we’re going to every race thinking we can win. There’s no reason why we can’t do it again. We have a fast car, the best pit crew, hopefully the best driver, so why not.”

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Pagenaud, the 2012 Sunoco Rookie of the Year, went on to record eight top-10 finishes in the final dozen races, including another win on the streets of Baltimore, that led to third place in the driver championship standings.

He’s a contender again this season – winning the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 10 and joining Team Penske’s Will Power as the only drivers to post top-five finishes in the previous three races. Pagenaud started fifth and finished 12th in the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports car in the 98th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race on May 25, and is fourth in the standings heading to Detroit.

“Belle Isle) is a track I really enjoy,” said Pagenaud, who has third- and 12th-place finishes in his other two starts. “Going to same place is reassuring, but I’ve changed because it was possible to win all of a sudden. All of a sudden you realize, ‘OK, I can do this. I’ve done it once so why not two and three and four.’

“Now it’s about winning the championship, and we know it’s going to take three or four race wins. So it’s not a matter of if it’s going to happen, it’s a matter of when it’s going to happen. That takes a lot of work, but the team is working so hard and so well it’s possible. There are a lot of points available at Detroit and it’s an important part of the season.”

Mike Conway, also a winner this season (Long Beach) and the Race 1 winner in 2013, returns to Belle Isle in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka car for Ed Carpenter Racing. Conway led a field-high 47 laps (of 70) in Race 1 and earned the Verizon P1 Award for Race 2.

“The Detroit races really brought me back into the IndyCar Series last year,” said Conway, who placed third in Race 2. “It was exciting to return in grand style and win at a big event like Belle Isle. I’m looking forward to return to Detroit and defending my title.”