In 2007, Simon Pagenaud wondered what he was doing with his life. He had lost his ride in Champ Car, wasn’t well known in the NTT IndyCar Series, and didn’t know where to go.
That’s when fellow Frenchman Gil de Ferran called with an offer to try sports cars. Pagenaud jumped at the chance. Eventually, he caught the attention of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in 2011, then Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports, and eventually signed with Team Penske before the 2015 season.
But before de Ferran called him 12 years ago, Pagenaud considered going back to France and changing his life. Fortunately for him, he didn’t. Had he done so, he wouldn’t have swept both races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May 2019.
“I really questioned my career (at the end of the 2007 season),” Pagenaud said after completing the IMS sweep by winning the Indianapolis Grand Prix and the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. “Champ Car (had) folded, so I wasn't really known in the (IndyCar) paddock. … It was very difficult for me to have a connection. People didn't know my worth.”
They know now. This is Simon Pagenaud’s worth: Since using de Ferran’s offer to return to open-wheel racing, he has won 14 races, the 2016 IndyCar Series championship, and the Indianapolis 500. He has also become one of the most consistent and competitive drivers in the series, having finished no lower than sixth in the final standings in the past four seasons.
“It's funny how things just takes their place,” Pagenaud said. “After a few races (in the IndyCar Series), I was already in touch with Roger (Penske). That was my dream. It's always been my dream to go to Team Penske. … Now it's the Dream Team. They've helped me realize all my dreams with Chevy and Team Penske. I wouldn't want to be with anybody else.”
And, without Team Penske, he wouldn’t have been able to dominate the month of May so thoroughly. In the Grand Prix, he started eighth, drove to the lead late in the race, and won by 2.047 seconds over Scott Dixon. For the 500, he won the pole position, led 116 of the 200 laps and prevailed in a thrilling duel with Alexander Rossi to win by 0.209 seconds.
“The stars aligned for me the whole month,” Pagenaud said the day after after winning the 500. “I think there are days, like yesterday, I couldn't do anything wrong. I give that a little bit to Lady Luck. We had everything go right for us the whole race. Yes, (luck) was on our side.”
After he crossed the finish line in the 500, Pagenaud was congratulated in person and by phone. Rick Mears, Dario Franchitti, Takuma Sato, Tony Kanaan and teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves were among the first. But the congratulations that mattered most to Pagenaud? An emotional call from de Ferran.
“Without him, I don’t think I would’ve ever unlocked so much potential,” Pagenaud said. “He definitely has a very special place in my heart. I sent him a message. I said, ‘Thank you for everything, because all of your advice worked.’”