Simon Pagenaud

Simon Pagenaud in pink? Yes, that’s new for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES’ 2022 season.

Rather than wearing a Team Penske race suit – often in day-glo yellow and black – to INDYCAR’s annual Content Day last week, as the Frenchman did for seven years, Pagenaud donned the pink-and-black attire of Meyer Shank Racing.

The look is one Helio Castroneves showcased in winning last year’s Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge and Jack Harvey wore it for years, but for many within the INDYCAR community it was the first time to see Pagenaud in such hue. It was striking if not somewhat shocking.

Former Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden described it as “very strange.”

“You’re so used to seeing him in Team Penske gear, talking to him, communicating on text,” Newgarden said. “We (were) getting a lot of the same information from the same people. It’s odd seeing him on the other side.”

“I like it,” said Pagenaud, who will drive the team’s No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda of the same colors. “I think it suits me pretty good.”

For what it’s worth, Pagenaud said his famous dog, Norman, likes the pink, as well.

The real determination will come on track, when Pagenaud begins pursuing his 16th career NTT INDYCAR SERIES victory and second “500” and championship trophies while on a different team for the first time since 2014.

Pagenaud is off to the best start possible, posting the fastest lap of the three drivers, including Castroneves, at a recent single-day test at Sebring International Raceway. Obviously, more challenging days await, beginning with a Feb. 14 large-field test at Sebring followed by the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding on Feb. 27 and the races to follow.

“So far it’s been a really pleasant start with a great team, great atmosphere,” Pagenaud said of joining MSR. “Really good vibe.

“We did our first test … learned a lot of things. It was very interesting.”

Pagenaud and Castroneves have been reunited after three full INDYCAR seasons together – six years overall -- in Roger Penske’s organization. Castroneves said it feels natural to have Pagenaud alongside, even as Pagenaud mirrors him not only in uniform and resume but in hair color (jet black).

“You know, Simon is an amazing talent,” Castroneves said. “Very particular, understands what he likes, looks for small details. When we’re together, one complements the other.

“I really like (this pairing). He understands the team process, working as a teammate. We’ll hopefully carry that over to MSR, which not only is going to help us, me and Simon, but the team to elevate.”

Pagenaud said it was the vision of team co-owners Michael Shank and Jim Meyer that attracted him to Meyer Shank Racing. Not only is the team expanding to two full-time cars this season, but being constructed in Pataskala, Ohio, is a new 40,000-square-foot race shop that doubles the size of the workspace. When Shank and Meyer made what Pagenaud described as “a proper offer,” he was convinced this was an organization on the rise and a home for him.

“That to me was like, ‘Wow, OK, they have the means, they have the resources, they have the desire,’” he said. “We’re at the beginning of a cycle here with this team.

“For all of those reasons I was like, ‘Man, this is really interesting what’s happening here.”

Pagenaud cautioned against expectations becoming too high too quickly, but he believes he and Castroneves can contend for race wins and podium finishes at several venues, especially Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where they have combined to win the “500” five times. Pagenaud earned his place on the Borg-Warner Trophy in 2019 in a day-glo yellow car sponsored by Menards.

Newgarden also expects MSR to be strong at Indy.

“You can’t deny they’re going to be incredibly tough competition,” he said.

Pagenaud isn’t sure what his reaction will be when he pulls alongside a Team Penske car for the first time. He knows it will be different than when he drove for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in his pre-Penske days.

“I mean, seven years of your life doesn’t just go away like that,” he said. “Randomly enough, I sat at the table with Scott (McLaughlin) and Josef to put our suits on (at Content Day). It seems like after seven years you kind of fall into the habits of things.

“But yeah, it (was) an incredible seven years. I made friends out of teammates, although we’re competitors on the racetrack. This is a big change in my life, a big change in my career, but a good one.”

INDYCAR’s season begins Feb. 27 with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding on the streets of the Florida city. Live coverage begins at noon (ET) on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network.