NEWTON, Iowa – After a brief dip in performance in June, Simon Pagenaud has regained the same form in July that he enjoyed during a dominant Month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Pagenaud won the pole Friday afternoon for Saturday evening’s Iowa 300 at Iowa Speedway. It was the Team Penske driver’s third pole this season and his second straight.
Pagenaud won the pole with a combined two-lap average of 180.073 miles per hour around the .875-mile short oval. Pagenaud also won the pole for last Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto and the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26.
Pagenaud won both of those races from the pole. He also won the May 11 IndyCar Grand Prix.
“It was very intense with the temperature being so high,” Pagenaud explained. “The Tarmac (track temperature) was 135 (degrees) Fahrenheit. In these conditions, the car slides around quite a bit. It’s all about having the right balance on the race car.
“We had a good snapshot this morning of how the car was. We ran quite a bit in traffic. We knew we had to make some adjustments to be really strong on long runs,” he added. “At the end, we did a qualifying run. Pretty good. Ben (Bretzman, race engineer) is really good at this stuff, my engineer. We just worked on the little details, made sure we would have enough balance and grip to go through the corner. So much strong grip I had a pretty hairy moment in Turn 3.
“That was a very intense qualifying. I’m still shaking. But that’s what IndyCar is all about.”
Team Penske swept the top three positions, with Will Power second at 179.589 mph over two laps and NTT IndyCar Series points leader Josef Newgarden third after a two-lap average at 179.449 mph.
All three of those drivers are in Chevrolets.
“There’s very strong competition within the team,” Pagenaud said. “But as you can see, Team Penske is phenomenal. They give us the fastest car. I think Team Chevy also has a big part in this. They’ve made such an improvement since Toronto. Definitely seem to have the upper hand right now. So, thanks to them for doing that.
“Team Penske, man, they keep plugging away all season long. We’re really right now hitting our stride. Definitely happy to be ahead of my teammates. Josef is main competition this year. I got to grab any points I can get, be aggressive, show authority. That’s what we’re trying to do with the No. 22 car.”
Honda drivers Takuma Sato (177.646 mph) and James Hinchcliffe (176.200 mph) rounded out the top five.
Another Honda driver, Alexander Rossi, qualified sixth with a two-lap average of 176.057 mph. He enters Saturday night’s race just three points behind Newgarden with six races remaining in the NTT IndyCar Series season.
Racing around the three-quarter-mile short oval in an early evening race will be tricky for several reasons. It won’t truly be a night race, because sunset isn’t until 8:40 p.m. local time, so the sun and glare may be an issue.
Also, tire degradation will create some “comers and goers” in the race.
“It’s an 18-second lap, so when you pit, you can quickly lose a lap, unfortunately,” Pagenaud explained. “You make one mistake; you can find yourself half a lap behind. It’s important to stay on top of your game the whole time.
“It’s also important not to freak out. When the balance goes away, sometimes you tend to get stressed out and gain a sense of urgency. That’s when you make more mistakes,” he noted. “It’s very important to keep your emotions in check, but also you have to be aggressive. You can’t go through traffic without being aggressive. It’s a very fine line. It’s very difficult to find that rhythm.
“I found it very interesting. I don’t know any tracks on the schedule where you have to be that in tune with your emotions.”