SIMON SHOWS HE'S FOR REAL – It's been a long road back to open-wheel for Simon Pagenaud since his only Champ Car season in 2007. Much of it's been chronicled, but between driving six iterations of Acura/HPD prototypes and two versions of Peugeot's 908 in sports cars, a Honda Civic in Grand-Am's Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, and even a rally race in France, Pagenaud's driven the wheels off nearly anything and everything since 2008.
So, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the versatile Frenchman has made the most of his first two races as a full-time open-wheel racer, and has been second best of the Honda runners only behind Scott Dixon. The balance is there and Pagenaud appears at ease through the corners with the high downforce levels on this car, which isn't too different from his sports car days.
His only real baptism will be on ovals, having never driven on one at any stage of his career. His Schmidt Hamilton team won't be testing at Indianapolis this week, per Pagenaud's classification as a series rookie, but will be at Texas for two days. Knowing the team has an announcement of a second driver imminent, it would be safe to guess the SHM team will be looking to pair Pagenaud with an oval veteran – Townsend Bell, Buddy Rice or a Vitor Meira come to mind as a good fit here, if the signing doesn't require any added funding.
SATO, KANAAN WITH ROUGH STARTS – It's been far from an enjoyable return to full-time IndyCar competition for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing with driver Takuma Sato. And for Tony Kanaan, a switch back to his old number, with his old engineer and a different paint scheme, his luck came up snake eyes – same as his number, 11.
RLL led twice for 11 laps with Sato at St. Pete, but the car had a mechanical failure after its final pit stop and retired, thanks to an air line that operated the gearbox failing due to heat. Same story at Barber, except this was power-related. Of the five drivers stuck on 24 points, a near minimum 12 in back-to-back races, Sato has clearly ran well but hasn't yet got a result.
Kanaan's start, if possible, has been worse. The KV Racing Technology driver was plagued with battery woes at St. Pete, which ended a race where he seemed poised to capture the lead thanks to an off-sequence strategy and yellow timing. In Barber, he had to pit to repair a broken right rear shock – one of the few areas that carried over from the previous car. A minimum 10 and then 12 points in back-to-back races sees TK at the bottom of the points standings.
LOOKING OUTSIDE THE CIRCLE – After a relatively successful opening round for the six teams not receiving the regular Leaders' Circle payments, they all took a step back at Barber. Three of the six entries finished in the top 15 at St. Pete; none of them did so at Barber.
The dollar amounts stay the same even if the performance level doesn't, so it mattered not that James Jakes finished only 16th at Barber – he and the Dale Coyne Racing team, which seem far from happy with their handling, were best of the “outside six” at Barber and have the $80,000 in the bag.
A frustrating weekend for rookie Josef Newgarden saw him ending one spot behind, but again second of the entries as he was in St. Pete. Newgarden's practice pace didn't include a great qualifying effort and he seemed annoyed at his efforts, which is the measure of a determined young driver. SFHR currently leads ahead of the Charlie Kimball Novo Nordisk CGR No. 83, with those two the only ones over $100,000 earned, combined.
The Jakes/DCR No. 19 and Sato/RLLR No. 15 lead the two Lotus entries in the “outside six” – Katherine Legge's Dragon Racing and Alex Tagliani's Team Barracuda-BHA entries – which have each had engine riddles that they've had yet to solve, and rank at the bottom of the standings.