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Simon Pagenaud remembers his inaugural Indy 500

May 12, 2013, 2:45 PM EDT

Simon Pagenaud AP

Even with prestigious races such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans already under his belt, Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports’ Simon Pagenaud still very much had a lot to take in during his first Indianapolis 500 last season.

“I think it was honestly the most intimidating race I’ve ever been in,” said Pagenaud, who started 23rd and finished 16th in his first crack at the legendary event. “I mean, I’ve raced in Le Mans, I’ve raced in many races, many different series. So far, it’s probably the toughest because, honestly, as a road race, you don’t know what to expect on the first turn, you don’t know what to expect off a full stint. You don’t really know.

“Indy was a big learning curve and a steep one…I don’t think you can ever be ready for Indy.”

For his second time out at the Brickyard, Pagenaud is helping guide rookie teammate Tristan Vautier through his first “500” even as he himself continues to learn more about it. While he said that he wasn’t worried about Vautier getting up to speed, he also noted the effects of being part of such an enormous event, especially when it’s your first time taking part in it (“You obviously have 600-something horsepower on your back and you can still hear the crowd,” Pagenaud said).

As he continues to acclimate himself to Indy, Pagenaud also finds himself with a chance to make some history, too. One hundred years ago, fellow Frenchman Jules Goux averaged a speed of 75.9 miles per hour in a Peugeot en route to becoming the first European winner of the Indy 500 — then known as the International 500-Mile Sweepstakes.

A century later, Pagenaud is hoping to replicate Goux’s victory, which would surely raise interest for the series across the pond.

“The awareness in Europe would definitely grow,” he said. “It would definitely help to be recognized as much as Formula One can be over there. I think for IndyCar, obviously we want to grow here in the U.S., but it’s also important for us as foreign drivers be able to develop the series over there as well.”

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