Simon Pagenaud: From the supermarket to 2016 IndyCar Series Champion

French native Simon Pagenaud grew up working in his family’s supermarket. After attending business school, he left his ventures as a grocer to pursue his dreams of racing. In 2002, he began competing in the French Formula Renault and Formula Renault Eurocup series. Four years later, he came to America to continue his racing career. Pagenaud made the leap to the Champ Car Atlantic Series and American Le Mans Series, before switching to racing solely in the IndyCar Series in 2011. Pagenaud joined Team Penske in 2015. Just one year later, he was being crowned the 2016 Indy Car Champion.

We caught up with Pagenaud to talk about his career, and find out what he’s doing when he’s not on the racetrack.

You grew up working in the family supermarket, and went to school for business. How did you get your start in racing?
Cars always fascinated me when I was young. I played with them all the time. It was a bit of a stretch getting into the sport because my family wasn’t in the racing business. The supermarket business was plan B. I went to school for that, but my passion was racing. My father helped me get started in karting and I was able to continue with it.

How did it feel to win your first career IndyCar Championship?
It was such a relief, actually. It was a lifelong goal and to be able to accomplish it was fantastic. A big weight was lifted off my shoulders. That’s how much it meant to me.

What has helped you achieve such success?
I think consistency was critical. We didn’t make any major mistakes as a team. My crew was unbelievable, they were always there when I needed them. We got tremendous support from all of our technical partners, especially Chevrolet. The engine program was on point throughout the year. 

Who’s made the biggest impact on your racing career?
Former IndyCar Series driver Gil de Ferran. He helped me understand how to approach the sport and my driving – to be more in tune with my car and myself at the same time. We talk a lot. He’s definitely been my mentor – my Yoda.

Just a few, fun questions:
Do you have any pre-race rituals?
I have a whole routine before the race, which includes a massage, stretching and visualization to try and foresee all of the different situations I could have to deal with. Anything to mentally put myself in the zone.

What would you be doing if you weren’t racing?
If I weren’t racing I’d be involved in some form of stock trading. Also, maybe some business with cars, perhaps race cars. I’ve always been interested in performance so, regardless of either, I’d try to get performance out of numbers in the business world, or the cars I’d work with.

What errand or hobby would fans be surprised to learn you do?
I’m not sure how surprising it is, but I like wine. I like trying to find great bottles at a great price. I’m also never far from my passion for cars. I’m looking at cars online practically every day. I like to look for cars from my childhood – ones that have significance to me. That ties into my love for playing video games, especially Grand Theft Auto.

What’s your favorite race, and track to race?
I have two favorites, the big races – the Indianapolis 500 and Le Mans. I’m drawn to the legendary events. The races that draw attention and the ones where the crowd is electric. To me, those events are special. My favorite track is Spa in Belgium. I love that track.

If you could race against anyone who would it be and why?
I would have loved to race against Ayrton Senna. Michael Schumacher would have been another. I would have loved to see just what made them so special, and how I would stack up against them. On the current landscape, I’ve raced against Lewis Hamilton in the past. I wouldn’t mind racing against him now to see how I compare.

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