FONTANA, Calif. — And then there is Simon Pagenaud, the forgotten driver in this year’s Verizon IndyCar Series championship who enters Saturday night’s race 81 points behind points leader Will Power.
Much of the attention this week has been focused on Team Penske teammates Power and Helio Castroneves, who is 51 points out of the lead (50 counting the bonus point for winning the pole on Friday night). Pagenaud has been treated as merely a mathematical afterthought because a scenario of things has to happen for the Honda driver from France to win the championship.
Simply put, Pagenaud has to win the race while Power has to finish 21st or worse and Castroneves has to finish fourth or worse.
Pagenaud qualified 13th for Saturday night’s race while Castroneves won the pole and Power qualified way back in 21st just to prove that anything is possible.
"What am I going to do? I can’t control what Helio and Will do I can only control what I do," Pagenaud said. "I can either win the championship or still be in the top five so it’s still been a good year. I feel like I have a good chance so I need to go for the win.
"I’m having fun. It’s the last race of the season and we’ve had a tremendous season for Honda. We’ve been strong and won races and it has been a season where we are fighting for the championship. It’s down to the wire in the last race, a long 500-mile race, and we have a good race car so I’m exciting. I didn’t expect to be strong in qualifying but I’m excited.
"It’s time to go for it."
Starting in the middle of the pack in a 22-car field, Pagenaud is confident there will be lots of opportunities to pass and advance toward the front of the field.
"It’s a good track for passing, good racing here, certainly personally it’s one of my favorite for that reason, this track," he said. "It allows you to be creative with your mind and understand what your tires are doing and understanding the option to run this lane, inside lane, outside lane, and also looking at the overall competition when you’re running up behind them, it’s easier to do what you want to do, pass them."
Pagenaud has developed into one of IndyCar’s star drivers. He won three races this season including the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis. A fourth win this season could be his biggest yet if it allows him to make up the significant points deficit to win the title.
It may also be Pagenaud’s final race for Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports, the team that took a chance on Pagenaud when he was a young sports car driver and developed him into an IndyCar star. Pagenaud is being courted by team owner Michael Andretti to join Andretti Autosport – a team that could provide the driver a better chance at championships and Indianapolis 500 victories.
"I feel very proud of the team and how the whole team developed and how I developed and working with Honda; it’s been an incredible three years," Pagenaud said. "It’s funny because if you look at the improvements we showed up as a one-car team in 2012 and finished fifth and won rookie of the year and then we have been fighting for the championship two years in a row."
Pagenaud said he would make his decision on which team he drives for in the next two weeks.
"It’s always a difficult decision because you have to take the pros and the cons and understand what is going to be good for the future," Pagenaud said. "It’s about a career. It’s about my whole life. If I have 12 more years in IndyCar I have to make the right decisions for myself. We’ll see.
"But right now, it’s a championship focus."
Be sure to catch Bruce Martin’s Honda IndyCar Report on RACEDAY on FOX Sports Radio every Sunday from 6-8 a.m. ET.