There’s a neat symmetry to the fact that
the latest driver to have won an IndyCar title
for Team Penske served an apprenticeship
in sports cars under a guy who remains an
important mentor – and who was also an
open-wheel champ (twice) for Team Penske.
Simon Pagenaud was a 17-year-old kid
racing in his first season of Formula Campus
in France when Gil de Ferran won his second
CART title for Penske in 2001. Seven years
later, they were brought into the same orbit
when de Ferran signed Pagenaud for his
Acura LMP2 squad in the 2008 American
Le Mans Series. The following year, now
racing Acura’s LMP1 car, the duo finished
second in the championship, after which
de Ferran retired and closed his team.
During their two seasons together,
de Ferran was so impressed with his charge
that he envisaged him as his successor.
“When I hired him I had an inkling that
I might like him as a person,” de Ferran says.
“I was impressed with his intelligence; how
analytical he seemed to be. And I was very
impressed that he won a championship in
the very first year he arrived in America
[Champ Car Atlantic, 2006].
THE MASTER’S APPRENTICE
“That’s why I hired him. And, frankly, I
decided not to hold back. I opened myself up
the best that I could, because I thought, ‘what
do I have to lose?’ I had no great aspirations
as a driver anymore. I still wanted to be
competitive, but at the end of the day I was
looking for someone to substitute for me; to
allow me to retire once and for all. Simon
seemed like the perfect candidate.
“As things happened, the team didn’t
continue. But we developed a very good
personal relationship, and a very productive
professional relationship. If things had gone
well [with the team], I’d have retired anyway
and he would have taken a leading role.”
Today, the pair’s relationship is
complicated slightly by de Ferran’s
alignment with Honda, but they remain in
regular contact. “We talk every week,” says
Pagenaud. “But we didn’t talk too much
over the last two races – I think he wanted
to leave me alone and let me do my thing.
“He’s such a big part of my success; he’s
the one who really molded me into who
I am now as a driver. He taught me a lot of
technical things; lots of things about the
mental aspect [of driving]. He’s my Yoda.”
Penske’s newest champion has a secret weapon – who happens to be a former Penske champion himself...
de Ferran and Simon
winning the 2009
ALMS finale at Laguna
Seca – one of five wins
for the master and
Gil de Ferran hired Pagenaud for his ALMS
team, and groomed him as his successor.
Before Penske, Pagenaud and Will Power
were Champ Car teammates in 2007.