INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - Roger Penske had heard the ‘scuttlebutt’ and surely Simon Pagenaud must have heard the whispers that his job was on the line in the run up to Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.
The Frenchman put an emphatic end to the rumors, sending a clear message that he is not just a member of the powerhouse Team Penske but at the moment its top driver after winning “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”.
The victory, which gave Penske his 18th Indy 500 win, followed up a win at the Indianapolis Grand Prix two weeks ago, capping a perfect May by the 35-year-old Frenchman.
“That’s pretty much my trait, that’s my character I never give up until it’s over,” said Pagenaud, recalling how one year he found 350 sponsors to keep racing. “That’s what saved me, saved my career at one point.
“That’s what always helped me and I always believed.
“If you really believe it, believe it hard, and if you work hard enough, anything can happen.”
Having worked so hard to earn a spot on IndyCar’s top outfit, Pagenaud was not going to give it up without a fight.
The son of a grocer, the lessons of his youth in Montmorillon have served Pagenaud well as he climbed the motor racing ladder to the top North American open wheel series.
“It’s been tough to get to the top level of racing,” said Pagenaud. “Especially when you come from a non-racing family.
“I had nobody in racing. I had to learn it all on my own. But actually I think it’s an advantage because I had no choice, it was either going to work or I was done.”
Following the race Penske made it clear his team, which includes Australian Will Power and American Josef Newgarden, is not finished with Pagenaud and he will be back in one of his cars next season.
“What do you think? Absolutely,” said Penske, when asked if Pagenaud would be back. “He’s on our team. He’s one of our drivers.”
The IndyCar Series moves next week to Detroit for a doubleheader of races with Pagenaud leading the driver standings.
On top one week, a philosophical Pagenaud understands he might find himself on the bottom the next but believes results are not always a reflection of ability.
“Obviously in racing you need a little bit of luck on your side,” said Pagenaud. “You need everything to go your way.
“It did today. I could do nothing wrong, quite frankly. And sometimes I can’t do anything right.
“That doesn’t mean I lost my talent, that doesn’t mean my team is not doing a good job.
“It’s just you have to accept that there’s a little bit of mystery out there that you can’t control.
“All you can do is the best you can.”
Editing by Greg Stutchbury