Pagenaud clicking with Team Penske

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit — When he broke in with Team Penske in the IndyCar series last year, Simon Pagenaud was the new guy driving for a powerhouse team.

He watched his more senior stablemates, Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya, enjoy considerable success.

Montoya finished second in the drivers’ standings, Power third and Castroneves fifth, with a combined 22 top five finishes in the 16 races.

Pagenaud finished 11th, and contributed four top five finishes.

As the racing series settles into Indianapolis for a month before twin races on Belle Isle on June 3-5, things are different for the Frenchman this year.

After four races of the 15-event schedule, Pagenaud has won two and led the most laps in a third.

With consecutive wins at Long Beach and Birmingham in the last two races, he leads the drivers’ standings with 188 points to 140 for defending champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing.

Pagenaud

He is benefiting both from the strength of the team backed by Roger Penske, in his 50th season involved in racing, and the domination of the Chevrolet power plants over Honda that has grown over last season.

“In terms of performance, I felt like I did much better than I did in the past,” Pagenaud said of his experiences in the IndyCar Series. “So I knew I would have speed.

“Now it was about executing and putting everything together. It’s not just on track, it’s also off track, finding a way to have perfect chemistry with my whole team.

“Last year, the results were not there. But it’s actually what we did last year that’s paying off now.”

The series hunkers down in its natural home, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for a month. The Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 14 and the 100th Indianapolis 500 on May 25 are the only races before Detroit.

“Indy is a track that suits us really well,” Pagenaud said. “We won the inaugural Grand Prix in 2014. I feel this is actually probably the track that suits my driving style the best.

“I think we should be strong there. If we’re in a position to win, I think we need to push to get the points. But if we’re not, then the important thing is to score as many as we can. That’s going to be the approach.”

As part of the events leading up to the racing in Detroit in June, the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, Detroit Public Schools, General Motors and the Detroit Public Schools Foundation hosted a panel discussion during the PNC Racing Fair at The Palace of Auburn Hills on Wednesday.

International Motor Sports Association sports car champions Ricky and Jordan Taylor talked about the PNC Grow Up Great and Fifth Gear programs and opportunities for students and minorities in racing, while incorporating the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) curriculum.

“It’s great. I think it’s an introduction to the racing world,” Ricky Taylor said.

“PNC gets the students involved in this event where they introduce the kids to careers in racing other than just us drivers. They could be engineers, and get into so many different fields working as tire specialists or engine technicians or race engineers.

“It’s cool to see the application of what they are learning in school with the advanced science and the technology.”

gregg.krupa@detroitnews.com

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Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix

June 3-5, Belle Isle, Detroit

Events: Truck Series, SportsCar Championship Series, Trans Am Series, IndyCar

IndyCar races: 3:30 p.m. Saturday (Dual I) and Sunday (Dual II)

Tickets: detroitgp.com or (866) 464-7749