Simon Pagenaud

(This is the latest in a series of stories tracing the roots of Verizon IndyCar Series drivers through their own words. We’ll look at where they grew up and what first sparked their interest in racing. Today’s subject: 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud.)

Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud chats with Phillip B. Wilson from about his childhood memories in France.

Wilson: Growing up in France, what is the earliest thing you remember?

Pagenaud: I remember I had this electric four-wheeler, it was a Jeep, I could sit in it and drive it around. I must have been 3 or 4. It was white. At my house, we had a big lot and it wasn’t fenced in, so I could do whatever I wanted. I would drive this thing in the rain and in snow. I remember rolling that thing a few times, flipping it over. I put on a wood roll cage myself because I couldn’t drive it when I was raining. I covered it with a plastic cover on top of the wooden roll cage. I nailed it down. But then I flipped and broke the whole thing. (Laughs.)

Wilson: You always have lots of stories to share.

Pagenaud: I have another one that’s good. I love bicycles, but I wanted to have something more like a car. I had this dream of building my own car as a kid. I was probably 6 or 7. I built myself a tricycle. I had a swing, but I was done playing with it. I took it apart, this swing, and I used part of the swing to build a tricycle. I asked my neighbor if he could weld the front side of a bicycle that I cut myself. I asked him to weld it so there was one wheel in the front and two wheels in the back and the middle was two bars from the swing. I had to weld the front side to the body. He did that for me and I built it and it worked. 

Wilson: You were creative at a young age?

Pagenaud: I was. I used it for a while, then broke it and that was it.

Wilson: Something about wheels?

Pagenaud: I have another good one, actually. When I started go-karts, my dad didn’t know anything about the mechanics, so he couldn’t really do anything to my go-kart to make it go faster. I was really handy, especially with mechanical stuff. I always wanted my go-kart to go faster. I’ve always been obsessed with wheel bearings, still to this day. My skateboard, I’d buy ceramic bearings.

Wilson: For your skateboard? Because you knew ceramic bearings were better?

Pagenaud: Because I hate friction. It’s an obsession of mine. When I was a kid, I would take apart my go-kart wheels and I would clean up the wheel bearings and try different lubrications and oil. WD-40, to me, was like gold. After we went to the track on a Sunday, I’m done with my schoolwork in a half an hour, then I was down in the garage working on my go-kart, working every angle to go to the next session hoping to be faster. I’d spend hours in the garage. When it came to the brake system, I put the WD-40 on the disc, the rotor, to clean it up. Next thing I know, I went to the go-kart track and had no brakes.

Wilson: Oh, no.

Pagenaud: I couldn’t tell my dad I did that because that was my mistake and Dad didn’t want to put money into go-karting. I had to drive my go-kart with no brakes the whole season. I was probably 11 or 12. I ended up winning the championship with no brakes. (Smiles.)

Wilson: How did you pull that off? What’s the trick to driving without brakes?

Pagenaud: I was braking early, but I wasn’t braking much. I had a little bit of brake, but the friction was very low. I couldn’t slow down much.

Wilson: That was a wild ride.

Pagenaud: Yeah, it was. I never told my dad.

Wilson: Too funny.

Pagenaud: I’m going to tell you another story now. I was always fascinated by rally driving, right? The reason being, around my house was a gravel road, circular like an oval but in between trees. In the rear, there was a concrete barrier on the outside of the track, we’ll call it. My dad had a little hatchback sports car. That was my mom’s car. I was allowed to take it from the house to the mailbox and bring the mail back. I would take it and do several laps. I’d bring the mail back, say that I forgot some of the mail and go back and so on and so forth. I’m about 13, it’s snowing so I’m super excited, I’m going to be sliding around. I tell my mom I’m going to go get the mail. I take the car out, start going around, I go around for so many laps. My mom comes out and says, ‘Stop! Stop!’ At that time, I was already pitching the car into the corner, and we had a garage underneath the house with two concrete blocks, and you had to go in between like you’re going through a pay toll. So I pitched the car in, used the hand brakes and managed to go into the garage perfectly at full speed. My mom dropped her jaw. She could not believe it. She didn’t say a word, she was so impressed.

Wilson: I thought you were going to say you hit the concrete blocks.

Pagenaud: I did not hit anything. It was incredible. (Pause.) I have one other story. (Smiles.) My cousin was at my house and it was the first time she saw me drive, that same car. She wanted me to take her around and show her how I can drive. I wanted to impress her a little bit. It’s the one time I hit the concrete barrier. But I only scratched it a little bit. My dad said the one time I hit it, I’d be done driving. But he let me drive again.

(Check out Pagenaud's biography. Also read previous “Racing Roots” entries on Marco AndrettiSebastien BourdaisScott DixonEd CarpenterJosef NewgardenSpencer PigotCarlos Munoz and Ed Jones.)