So with the Dallara DW12, although some of IndyCar's old guard (the Franchittis, Dixons, Castroneveses of the world) had prior experience in sorting out new IndyCars, Pagenaud had the most recent. He qualified sixth on debut in St. Petersburg, although the spot was nullified with a 10-spot grid penalty – the first of many, it turned out, for series competitors this year for unapproved engine changes. Yet from 16th he'd charged back to sixth by the flag.
Fifth at Barber followed, and then Pagenaud put on a clinic at Long Beach in making a three-stop strategy work to his main rivals' two. He finished second, but could have easily won given another lap or two in the race.
“At Long Beach when we committed to the strategy we were on, we were basically asking him to drive full on if you like,” Edwards notes. “To do that, around that type of track, I thought was a fantastic effort.”
Edwards also praised Pagenaud's drives at Texas and Iowa – his second and fourth ever oval races, respectively, where he twice came back from a lap down at Texas to finish sixth and at Iowa where he came from last on the grid to fifth. Schmidt says although he didn't expect quite the magnitude of results, he wasn't anticipating it to be a struggle, either.
“I don't want to say the results are completely expected, but we had high expectations based on his ability to adapt and finish races with his endurance racing background,” Schmidt admits. “The biggest comfort Davey and I can give him is that we raced almost exclusively on ovals.
“We know ovals. There's a process with the strategy, timing side of it. People think it looks easy, but a lot of it comes with time. And Simon doesn't do anything without processing, learning and trying his best.”
Edwards discussed Pagenaud's quick learning and maturation on the ovals.
“I'd like to say I'm not surprised, and I don't want that to sound as though ‘we expected him to do great,' but anyone who knows Simon, his personality and strengths as a driver just needs to look at how he's approached the ovals. He took it as another challenge, and jumped into it trying to learn as much as possible.
“He's had great people to lean on. He has Sam and Davey, and I believe still has a relationship with Gil, so that's a big help to him. It's his nature of diving into a situation and extracting every bit of knowledge to do as good a job as he's doing.”
By official IndyCar standards, Pagenaud was labeled a rookie for 2012 – but that designation has almost made mincemeat of his competition. At sixth and on 246 points, Pagenaud is 17 positions and 140 points clear of Josef Newgarden for IndyCar Rookie of the Year honors. That will be the least of what he's accomplished, because the goals after the fast start to 2012 only will increase from here.
With two podiums, Pagenaud's one of the top candidates to end the streak of winners from Penske, Ganassi and Andretti, who have won every road and street course race in the series since Watkins Glen 2009, when Justin Wilson and Dale Coyne Racing broke through. That's a stretch of 28 straight races.
In the meantime, with this first year of success between the two parties, it would not be a surprise to see Pagenaud take his and the team's results to a higher level in 2013 and move into full-on title contention. They've done plenty to lay the groundwork in 2012.