Pagenaud mirroring de Ferran with McLaughlin mentor role

We haven’t seen Simon Pagenaud on track for almost a year, but that doesn’t mean we’ve missed his influence being applied to NTT IndyCar Series.

As the Frenchman continues to recover from the frightening crash last year at Mid-Ohio, the 2016 IndyCar Series champion and 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner has found a second calling as a performance advisor and mentor to Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin.

It’s a homecoming for Pagenaud, who earned his greatest achievements in the sport with Penske and race engineer Ben Bretzman. With his departure from Team Penske at the end of 2021 – after spending the season with McLaughlin during his rookie campaign – Pagenaud has come back at the request of the New Zealander, who has Bretzman on his side with No. 3 Chevy which they fired into pole position for Sunday’s great race.


“It’s been a lot of fun; obviously my activity on track has been a lot less and my love for the Speedway and being a student of it is the same,” Pagenaud told RACER. “What I love the most about the Speedway is the details of it all, and I think Ben and Scott really knew that.

“Scott contacted me at the end of January and said he was wanting to improve his craft. I thought, ‘You know, the guy’s a champion, and a multiple champion with Penske in V8 Supercars, and it is very unusual for a guy of his achievements to want to get some advice at this level.’

“I was baffled by it. That’s so rare. He basically came up and said, ‘Listen, I need to improve my craft. I want to win Indy so bad. I’ll do anything. Can you help me?’”

The late Gil de Ferran mentored Simon Pagenaud. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

Known for his highly analytical ways, and a complementary Zen-like approach to the sport, Pagenaud is a mirror image of his late friend and mentor Gil de Ferran, who won two CART IndyCar Series championships and the 2003 Indy 500 while driving for Penske. Given his first chance to share his unique views and methods to navigating the month of May at Indy with McLaughlin, Pagenaud had strong feelings on how such a relationship might work with the Kiwi.

“When he asked if it’s possible, I said ‘I don’t know,’” Pagenaud added. “I’m not gonna be a driver coach and I don’t want to be a coach. That’s not my thing. But I said, working with the elites like you, that’s a much different story that I would enjoy.

“But I said, ‘I’m not gonna be out there on the turns with a camera and tell you to do this and do that. I’m going to guide you and give you the tools for you to use because you don’t need me to tell you what to do. You just need to learn the manual.’

“We raced the 500 together as teammates one year, we got to see each other’s work, and I always really liked him. I love the way that he is as a person as a driver. So I said to him, ‘Unfortunately, nobody gave you the manual. So I will do that. So we started working together.”

The Indy 500 will see the culmination of their work in recent months as Pagenaud’s model for how to execute the event – which he crafted with Bretzman for so many years – has been further applied to McLaughlin.

“Obviously, the [Indy] Open Test (which was hit with rain) was a bit short in April but we already had started with the approach of it,” Pagenaud continued. “And a lot of it has been to help him manage his very large intensity…he’s very intense about winning. And help him with that understanding of when it’s time to do what and when it’s time to focus on these different things.

“One day, you focus on downforce. One day, you focus on pit lane work. One day, you focus on what tools you can use in the race and how to interact all these tools together with the downforce and your mechanical setup.

“And with him, it’s about understanding exactly the criss-cross between all those tiny little details and how those details make a better driver. So the funny thing with him is he’s infusing himself in the manual and it’s really working for him.

“It’s really not me. I’d hate for people to think that it is. It’s just the work that he’s putting in that’s making him better.”

McLaughlin has benefitted from Pagenaud’s winning experience. Photo by Geoffrey Miller/Motorsport Images

McLaughlin is an unabashed Pagenaud fan.

“He’s a very keen observer of many things, a note taker, and we’ve been exchanging notes all week,” he said. “I asked him to do this [in] like January or February, and we’ve been analyzing a lot of things since. But at the same time, he’s always been a Team Penske member. He’s won the 500 for us, and at the end of the day, we all just want him to be okay. So this is for me an opportunity for me to work with him but also an opportunity for me to help maybe bring him back to the race and get his name back involved.

“Whether that’s not driving a race car, at least he’s involved, and he gets that feeling of being at the 500 again. I’m sure it’s so hard for him right now. It’s his first 500 he’s missed in a long time. He’s a 500 winner, and he’s at a point in his career where he could easily keep going for many, many years.

“He’s just a nice guy. I’ve always got along with him from Penske, and he’s been a lot of help. Yeah, there’s definitely a lot of things I’ve used this week that have helped, but at the same time, we’ve had great car speed, which has made it a lot easier. But just leaning on him has been nice.”

Pagenaud will take part in pre-race meetings on Sunday morning with Chevrolet and Team Penske as part of the effort to help McLaughlin try and win his first 500.

There’s no timeline for the married father of two to make his own attempts to return and try to win again at the Speedway, but being here and being involved as a performance advisor has been helpful for Pagenaud, who likes the idea of continuing in the role after he’s retired from driving at some point in the future.

Working with McLaughlin has given Pagenaud a glimpse of what a post-driving career could look like. Simon Pagenaud

“It is something that has an interest for me to do while I’m getting better now, and more later in my life,” he said. “It’s providing guidance more so than anything and just giving the tools to a driver like Scott. That’s what Gil de Ferran did with me. All these hours of talking about everything, how to do things the best way, and I’m trying to transfer the knowledge to a guy that’s willing to learn, a guy that respects this place, and a guy that respects the game.

“And to me, the game is sacred. And there is a real game to play by here. The Speedway is very, very, very special, and it is very specific game you have to play and understand and to quest to perfecting that game. It is fascinating to me and I have the chance to live through Scott as well this year.

“I am glad I can help him. I’m very honored, actually, that he asked me. As drivers, we can have huge egos and never want to ask anybody for help, but Scott is not this way. That’s part of what makes him an amazing driver, and why it’s such an honor to be asked. And it’s also great to be able to help Team Penske, who’s done so much for me.”

Story originally appeared on Racer