Apr 19, 2013, 9:00 AM EDT
Long Beach has featured many magical moments in its near 40-year race history, and in the last few years, Simon Pagenaud has delivered some new additions to that race log.
In 2010, Pagenaud pushed a down-on-power HPD prototype past a Lola Aston Martin V12 driven by Adrian Fernandez for the overall win in the American Le Mans Series race. Just last year, Pagenaud ran a three-stop strategy to near perfection in the IndyCar race, all but hunting down Will Power with a series of laps at qualifying pace and coming up just shy of his first series win.
It’s not the results for Pagenaud – he finished just behind third-placed James Hinchcliffe in his first North American race, the Formula Atlantic event in 2006, and has another ALMS win in 2009 – but the atmosphere and nature of the track that makes Long Beach so special.
“Long Beach is a very special place to me,” he said. “I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but I know I love the rhythm, how it feels with my race car. I love the level of attack you need to have. I don’t love it because of the results, but I do with how it feels.”
Pagenaud’s 2013 has gotten off to a mixed start; exhaust issues sidelined him at St. Pete but he and the Schmidt Hamilton team bounced back in Barber with sixth. There’s been less testing compared to last year, but the addition of Tristan Vautier has aided his progress with more data.
“I’m enjoying his data,” Pagenaud said. “From how he drives, it’s similar in many ways, but the differences will make me stronger. It’s the same for him. He’s a really good driver. The big thing is Tristan doesn’t want to focus too much on setup, but I think he’s plenty on the pace.”
The competition level is pleasing too, but in Pagenaud’s estimation, could be further enhanced if IndyCar adopts more horsepower for its engines. Honda and Chevrolet, too, are razor close.
“You really have to be on the whole time, because one little mistake and you’re 20th on the grid,” he said. “At Barber it happened to a few of us.
“What I take out of it, is we need more power to differentiate a little bit of quality. At the moment, it’s so close in part because there’s not much power as there should be. The ratio of grip to power is too small.”
Power – Will that is – is a guy Pagenaud will need to get through to secure his first IndyCar win, but I wouldn’t put it past him to do so on a circuit where he has enjoyed so much success in years past.