SPEEDWAY – In many ways, the attention of the world was focused right on him. But it wasn’t the one at the front of the Economaki Press Room you might imagine.
Sitting in front of the assembled media at a Friday news conference at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway were Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan and Gil de Ferran-all former champions of the Indianapolis 500.
Yet is was the one in the middle of the three that was the star of this show. His name is Simon Pagenaud. When it comes to the French driver over the past week, everyone is getting in the know.
“It’s been fun,” said Pagenaud of his first week of the Month of May in Indianapolis. “When you fast it’s always fun.”
So is the fame, which culminated in some ways with this news conference announcing Pagenaud’s helmet design for the 98th running of the Greatest Spectacle. On his helmet will be the colors, name and image of Ayrton Senna-the legendary Brazilian Formula 1 driver who was killed 20 years ago in an accident this spring.
“Having the chance to wear his helmet is incredible,” said Pagenaud of representing Senna, who he said was his driving hero growing up in France. “It’s obviously not just about me. It’s to remember his legacy and everything he has done for us and the entire world, for Brazil and our sport.”
The honor has been apart of a wild week for one of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ brightest rising stars who began to make history before the speedway was turned into an oval. Pagenaud qualified in the Top Five for the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis despite intense rain during the qualifying session.
A day later, he managed to weave his way around a major crash at the start of the first IndyCar race on the 14-turn infield course and then conserve enough gas to come home with the first victory for SPH Motorsports.
“Everything is going very smoothly at the moment. We’re pretty much in the zone,” said Pagenaud of himself and the team. “The Grand Prix was fantastic.The best weekend you can expect. There was a lot of pace and the ability to adapt to any situation as a team and as a driver.”
So far he has adapted well to a wealth of attention which has been thrust upon him since winning the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Pagenaud was able to focus in on the task at hand as the track switched back to an oval and has been in and out of the top five over the past week of Indianapolis 500 practice.
He currently sits third in the series standings as he approaches the fifth race of the young IndyCar Season just a year removed from a Top Three season finish as Pagenaud is pleased that his years of work have begun to pay off.
“Running up front like this, it’s kind of a relief because that’s what you dream of. That’s what I’ve been dreaming of my whole life, coming here being one of the top contenders for the win and winning last week in the Grand Prix,” said Pagenaud. “It’s just what you dream about all the time. That’s why I go to the gym so much, that’s why I work so hard.
“Everything that’s happening right now is the reason I’ve worked so hard and why I’m so dedicated to the sport.”
Of course there is another way to take the fame to a whole new level-win the Indianapolis 500. Pagenaud is considered a bit of a dark horse candidate to take home the victory after the impressive month in Indianapolis, but the success has been tempered by the experienced driver.
“Seeing it happening is a lot of fun but we still need to keep focused and keep working at it,” said Pagenaud of preparations for the Indianapolis 500. “It’s going good so far.”