INDIANAPOLIS – After a season that saw Simon Pagenaud take the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series championship, the first of his career, on the heels of five wins, 10 top fives and 12 top 10’s in 16 races, you would think that there’s not much of an area to where the Frenchman could improve upon. I mean, how do you honestly get much better than that?
But, for Pagenaud, he still feels there’s plenty of areas to where he can be better in 2017.
“You can always improve. It’s about being curious and exploring different ways,” the defending champion said during today’s media availability during IndyCar’s Media Day. “I’m basically the quarterback of my team. It’s looking at every practice, qualifying and race and how we can do better.”
One area that he thinks that his team can be better at is during the oval races of the season. None of Pagenaud’s five wins from 2016 came on an oval, as Honda’s had a clear-cut advantage on the three superspeedways from a year ago.
In fact, Honda drivers led 487 of the 648 superspeedway laps in 2016 and took two of the three wins at these type of tracks. Pagenaud’s teammate Will Power won the other, which is why Pagenaud thinks that improvement in this area could make or break a repeat championship performance in 2017.
“I believe there’s not much room for improvement on street or road courses next year,” Pagenaud said. “We’re putting our focus on ovals.”
That’s a good decision in my mind. Honda teams only led 116 laps away from superspeedways a year ago, and with an aerokit freeze, it’s likely that the Chevy teams will be dominant in the 14 other races again in 2017. With Chip Ganassi Racing moving to Honda, Pagenaud will only have his three teammates to contend with, as well as the two AJ Foyt Racing and J.R. Hildebrand with Ed Carpenter Racing to really compete with on the road/street courses and short ovals. With Pagenaud being an excellent road/street course driver, improving on ovals makes the most sense.
It’s more of a level playing field in the three superspeedways and three short ovals for Pagenaud, so why not spend your focus on improving there first?
In the five ovals a year ago, Pagenaud finished, second, 19th, fourth, 18th and fourth respectively. In 2015, he was 10th, 11th, ninth, ninth, 14th and seventh respectively.
With that being an area of improvement, expect to see the No. 1 Chevrolet up front more at Phoenix, Iowa, Indy, Texas, Pocono and Gateway.