PALM SPRINGS, Calif. ā A roundup of nuggets from the opening day of preseason IndyCar Content Days for media that lead into two days of preseason testing Thursday and Friday at The Thermal Club, starting with a playful āfeudā between former teammates Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud:
After making a point to needle Newgarden during the Rolex 24 at Daytona (when he was warned for being deemed to have caused a spin by the car driven by Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), Pagenaud laughed about why he likes poking at his ex-teammate at Team Penske.
āI just love to press the button with Josef,ā Pagenaud said. āI just love it. Iām being very open about it. I think he knows it, too. Itās funny to see him unsettled a little bit. I like when he gets aggressive. I donāt know why. Itās funny.ā
They scrapped a few times as Penske teammates. Pagenaud notably was hot after a 2017 incident at Gateway during Newgardenās first season with the team, but he later backtracked and blamed it on his French blood.
Pagenaud says all is good between now ā though he also admits with a devilish grin that heās taking advantage of the freedom from leaving Penske last year.
āAbsolutely, yeah. I couldnāt do that before,ā he said with a laugh about teasing Newgarden. āI would get in trouble.
āYeah, I can be myself. I can say what I want to say. Nobody is upset about it. I love Josef. Donāt get me wrong. I love the guy.
āDo I love the driver? Not always, but I enjoy pressing the button with him because he seems like such a confident person. Yeah, I like to just go press it a little bit.ā
When he was informed of the sardonic comments (Pagenaud asked reporters to make sure they relayed that he enjoyed passing Newgarden in the race) after his first stint at Daytona last weekend, Newgarden took a shot back.
āHe doesnāt get many opportunities these days, so Iām sure he enjoyed that,ā Newgarden said. āTake them when you can get them. Thereās so much happening I donāt even remember half the stuff that happened when I was out there. Hey, heās a big note-keeper, that guy.ā
Pagenaud, who is winless since 2020, conceded that point Tuesday at IndyCarās media session.
āI will do better this year,ā he said. āBut I got to build my team up, put myself in that situation. We were not there yet. I hope we can be there this year.
āBut certainly not being teammates, you race differently. Now, the driver that he is, I have a huge amount of respect for him. Heās tremendous. I mean, heās one of the best at what he does. So beating him is even a better reward. But I like my rĆ©sumĆ© better than his.ā
For the record, Newgarden has one more IndyCar championship than Pagenaud but is empty in the Indy 500 win column compared to the 2019 winner at the Brickyard.
During his Rolex 24 availability, Pagenaud also took playful aim at the āBus Bros,ā the branded social and digital content that Newgarden and teammate and buddy Scott McLaughlin have been producing for nearly a year.
āApparently they hang out together all the time,ā Pagenaud cracked. āTheyāre āBus Bros.ā Do you guys know what this is, the āBus Brosā thing? Have you watched it? I should start watching it.ā
Newgarden and McLaughlin are scheduled to appear together on the second day of the preseason media event at the Palm Springs Convention Center, so stay tuned for the next round of snark.
Pagenaud is among many drivers enthused to get acclimated to The Thermal Club, which is a $275 million motorsports country club of sorts.
But for the Frenchman, Thermal represents more than just a chance to tune up for the 2023 season. Pagenaud, who made his first visit to the desert track three years ago after winning the Indy 500, is thinking about his long-term future.
āItās actually something Iām really interested in for my future but in another life,ā he said. āI love the concept. Actually before my IndyCar career, I was on a project like that myself in France. I was going to build something similar. I had the backing, I had everything going on, but my career took off. I had to give up on the project.
āBut it is something Iāve always been interested in. My dad used to run my home racetrack. I had access to it, so I could see how that was going.
āI always had a passion for it because itās a way to allow the fans to get closer to the car, allow the sport to be more known to the general public. Thereās so many things that you can do with a racetrack, not only for races, but so many people that can come to bicycle races, you can have runners do a marathon. It doesnāt have to be just racing. It can be events. Iām into that. Iāve always been. Certainly when itās time to stop driving, it will be something that Iām interested in, yes. Thatās maybe 20 years from now.ā
Felix Rosenqvist returns for his third consecutive season at McLaren, the longest stint with one team for the Swede since 2014 in F3.
But he finds himself somewhat in a similar position to last season when his return was uncertain for months during the Alex Palou-Chip Ganassi Racing saga. Palou is back with Ganassi but still expected to join the team in 2024, and with Rossi and OāWard on long-term deals, Rosenqvist would be unable to stay unless the team added a fourth car.
He is taking it all in stride with the same grace in which he managed last seasonās uncertainty.
āI think I handled it probably as good as I could,ā Rosenqvist said of last year. āThatās probably a reason why Iām here this year. I think itās a massive opportunity for me to be back for a third year. I feel like I have all the tools I need to perform, feeling very good with everyone at the car. As I said, thereās so many things happening last year on and off the track. I think as a team, we just really learned a lot from that that we can bring into this season.
āI think weāll be tough this year. We have a lot of things in the bag to try early this season. A couple of things here at Thermal we want to try. Going into the season, we have pinpointed some areas where we feel we were lacking a little bit, like the short ovals, for example. I feel like weāve done the best we can to attack all those areas and bring the best possible package we can.ā
Rosenqvist is winless since his breakthrough victory over OāWard at Road America in 2020. Ending that skid certainly would improve his prospects, but he isnāt worried.
āI donāt know whatās going to happen in the future,ā he said. āThatās a long time until next year. I think itās a great opportunity for me. Iām in a good spot. Iām in a well-performing team. I feel well with everyone around me. I feel like I have a good support from the team. I donāt really think too much about that stuff. I just try to do what I can do, which is go fast forward and try to win races.ā
After being frozen out of remote access to team data last year, Palou said his working relationship at Ganassi is āback to 100% like it was before from both sides.ā The 2021 series champion said he had full privileges restored after he closed the season by winning the finale at Laguna Seca Raceway and then settled on staying with Ganassi a day later.
He is allowed to continue his F1 testing with McLaren, too, though IndyCar will be the priority in-season.
āIt was a tough year,ā said Palou, whose contract dispute lasted for two months. āCould have been a lot worse, for sure, than what we had but also could have been a little bit better if we didnāt have anything around in our minds. Itās a part of racing.
āIām just happy that now we know that even with things in our minds, we were able to be successful. Hopefully, we can be back to 2021 things during this season. Yeah, obviously thereās always some moments (in 2022) where youāre like, āOh, no, my God, this is not going the direction I wanted.ā But there was things that were out of my control, obviously. Some things that I could control, as well. But at the end of the day I had all the information from my side, from other sides. I knew that everything could be settled, and it did.ā
Pato OāWard unplugged from the racing world for six weeks during the offseason, ensuring he was fully recharged when the new year arrived.
āI havenāt had the opportunity to do it in the past few years,ā said OāWard, who tested an F1 car in 2021 and then went right into preparing and racing (then winning) the 2022 Rolex 24 at Daytona. āI said, āI want at least six weeks. Donāt talk to me, donāt text me, I donāt want to hear anything.ā Itās healing. Itās very healing.
āAs much as you love what you do, you need to find a balance of just doing something else. I always tell people, thereās a huge difference between relaxing and recharging. How I recharge is doing things I donāt normally do during the year. Just being at the beach to me is my favorite thing to do after driving race cars. I made sure that I had that kind of time to just enjoy my loved ones. After I was finished with that, I was like, āOK, race cars now.ā ā
Marcus Ericsson is planning on a long future with Chip Ganassi Racing, and the 2022 Indy 500 winner seems well-positioned to become the teamās anchor driver if he can maintain last seasonās consistency.
Jimmie Johnson has been replaced by the Marcus Armstrong-Takuma Sato combination, and Alex Palou is leaving after this year.
Six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon, 42, is Ganassiās unquestioned dean until his retirement, but Ericsson clearly is interested in the mantle after that.
āIām feeling very much at home in the team,ā said Ericsson, the Formula One who is entering his fourth season with CGR. āIām super happy about that. I wish to stay for a very long time, as well. There is some uncertainty with other places maybe in the future, but Dixon seems to be just getting better and better. He might be here for another 10 years or so, who knows.
āBut thatās great. Me and Scott, we work really well together. I can still learn a lot from him. I want to be here for a long time and win races and championships together.ā
The Swede had a droll response when asked if no longer being the only Marcus will get confusing in Ganassi debriefs. āYeah, it is; Iām angry,ā Ericsson deadpanned. āI think weāre OK. He seems like a good kid. He has a good name.ā
Following in the footsteps of Callum Ilott and Christian Lundgaard from F2 to IndyCar, Armstrong is OK with deferring his F1 dreams to run road and street courses as a rookie in 2023. The New Zealander grew up as an IndyCar fan rooting for Dixon, his boyhood idol and fellow countryman.
āIāve been watching him on TV since I was a kid,ā Armstrong, 22, said. āItās cool because IndyCar is massive where Iām from because of him. Iāve always been so attracted to this championship. Of course, I spent my entire life chasing F1. You can never say ānever.ā If Iām honest with you, Iām happy where I am now. Itās a dream come true.ā
Armstrong hopes to move to full time in 2024 and believes being aligned with a powerhouse such as Ganassi will give him an opportunity to post strong results immediately (just as Ilott and Lundgaard had flashes as rookies last year).
āIāve been genuinely impressed by the organization, just the strategic point of view that Chip Ganassi Racing has, itās really quite remarkable,ā he said. āI can understand why theyāve had so much success. I think fundamentally I need to get on it straightaway. I have all the information in the world, really. I just need to hit the ground running, do well immediately.ā
In among the wildest stories of the offseason, rookie Sting Ray Robb revealed he landed his ride at Dale Coyne Racing because he ran into Indy Lights champion Linus Lundqvist at PitFit Training, a physical fitness and performance center used by many drivers in Indianapolis.
Lundqvist was the presumptive favorite for the DCR No. 51 Dallara-Honda, which was the last open seat heading into the 2022 season. Because of his Indy Lights title (since rebranded as āIndyNXTā) with HMD Motorsports, Lundqvist had a six-figure sponsorship to bring to an IndyCar team, and DCR is partnered with HMD.
āThere was a few teams that we were talking to, and Daleās team was not the one that was at the top of the list because we thought they already had a driver,ā Robb said. āObviously with Linus winning the championship, we assumed with the HMD association there that there would be a straight shoe-in for him.
āBut I actually was at PitFit Training one day with Linus and discovered that was not the case. That created an opportunity for us that allowed me to call up my manager, Pieter Rossi, and get him on the phone, and he immediately called Dale and said, āHey, weāre available.ā I think there was a mutual understanding of what availability was for either one of us. Thatās when conversations began. Then we had a really good test in 2023 right at the beginning of January, and I think that was kind of the one that set the tone that allowed me to get in the seat.
āI think thereās been some opportunities that were miraculously created that we couldnāt have done on our own.ā
Robb, who finished second in last yearās Indy Lights standings, hasnāt talked to Lundqvist since their PitFit meeting.
āLinus does deserve a seatā in IndyCar, Robb said. āHis on-track performance was incredible. But it takes more than just a driver to get into IndyCar. Youāve got to have a village around you that supports you, and so I think that that is where my group made a difference. It wasnāt just in my performance, but it was the people around me.
āI feel bad for Linus because as a driver I can feel that way towards him because I could be in that seat if I didnāt have those same people around me. So there you go.ā
IndyCar Preseason, Day 1: Simon Pagenaud on why he likes teasing Josef Newgarden originally appeared on NBCSports.com