Pagenaud's IndyCar exploits could be just part of his program for 2014. (Marshall Pruett photos)
Simon Pagenaud's career trajectory has been anything but linear and could take another turn next year.
The 29-year-old Frenchman cut his teeth on the European open-wheel circuit before moving to America in 2006 to contest the Champ Car Atlantic Series. With the Atlantic championship and a $2 million advancement prize in hand, he graduated to Champ Car in 2007, but found himself without a ride when the series collapsed in early 2008.
A move to sports car racing with Gil de Ferran's new Acura ALMS team established Pagenaud as a star in his new discipline, and with stirring drives at Le Mans with the factory Peugeot team, not to mention an ALMS P1 championship in 2010 with Highcroft Racing, the door to open-wheel, which had been slammed shut due to a lack of finances, began to slowly open.
More star performances in one-off IndyCar Series races in 2011 led to Pagenaud earning a full-time drive with Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports last year where he finished fifth in the standings and claimed Rookie of the Year honors.
His sophomore IndyCar season with Schmidt has been even more remarkable, thanks to a pair of wins in the No. 77 HP Honda and holding third in the championship with three rounds remaining. Pagenaud has a chance at winning the title in only his second full season in the series, and with his stock on the rise, he tells RACER a return to compete in non-conflicting sports car events is also in the works.
“It's funny; when I was in the ALMS, I wanted to also be in IndyCar, and now that I'm in IndyCar, I also want to race in the new [TUDOR United SportsCar Championship] series,” he explained. “I've always said how much I love sports car racing and how much it has helped me to become a better driver, so there are some good opportunities I am discussing at the moment for next year that would be perfect for me to do between the IndyCar races.”
Pagenaud raced at the Rolex 24 at Daytona this year with the Team Sahlen Daytona Prototype program (RIGHT, LAT photo) and also added a win to his resume at Elkhart Lake with the Level 5 Motorsports ALMS P2 effort. With his deep ties to Honda, it wouldn't he hard to assume Pagenaud's familiar red helmet would be seen behind the wheel of a Honda-powered Level 5 or Extreme Speed Motorsports P2 chassis in 2014, and it's also believed at least one DP team is interested in his services.
“I cannot say who I am speaking with, but I can say all of the big races like Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen, Petit Le Mans, if they are not on IndyCar weekends, is what is being discussed,” Pagenaud confirmed. “Until we see the IndyCar schedule, it's hard to know how many events I can do, but some of the early ones should not have any conflicts. Once we know the [IndyCar] schedule, it will be easier to make plans on how many I could do.”
If his combined IndyCar and USCC plans come to fruition, look for Pagenaud to fill his calendar with similar dual series programs while he's in his prime.
“Maybe it sounds kind of silly to say this, but I love to race,” he exclaimed. “I would race every weekend if I could. This is the perfect time in my career and in my life to drive in both series, and if I can, I'd like to keep doing this every year.
“IndyCar is such a competitive series; it takes everything you have to run at the front, and with the [USCC], it's a perfect combination of both [sports car] series with a lot of excitement and positive energy. I don't want to miss out on being part of it and hope to become a regular driver there. I'm a very lucky guy to have the chance to race in both places that I love!”