In his 10 previous starts at Honda Indy Toronto, Simon Pagenaud has had a mixed bag of results.
His runner-up finish last year marks his best result at the 11-turn, 1.786-mile street circuit, but that’s his only podium and he has only finished in the Top 5 four times.
He hopes to change that on Sunday, as the Frenchman continued his weekend dominance by capturing the pole for the 85-lap race, his second pole here in Toronto (2017) and the 12th of his career. This is also his second pole of the season, having takenboth the pole and the win at the Indianapolis 500.
Pagenaud’s car has been fast since its wheels touched the ground for the first time this weekend, as he was fastest through the first two sessions on Friday, then came back Saturday morning and did it again. He was up to the task once more time in qualifying, posting a lap time of 58.429 seconds to beat out Scott Dixon by .1655 seconds.
“Yeah, the DXC Technology car has been phenomenal all weekend, and it was a matter of just extracting the best out of it, getting the tires going, putting myself in a good rhythm,” Pagenaud said. “We had pace all weekend. We had a bit of a margin on everybody all weekend, but at the end qualifying, everybody goes out to the maximum limit, so obviously the lap time gets closer and closer and closer.
“The last lap was definitely a little bit here, there, everywhere to try to extract the maximum amount out of the tires, and the engine was purring really well down Lakeshore, and quite frankly it was one of my best laps in qualifying.”
Felix Rosenqvist, Alexander Rossi, Josef Newgarden and Ed Jones also made the Firestone Fast Six and will start third through sixth, respectively. A lot can happen in Toronto, and usually does, but the rest of the field will certainly need to pay attention to a driver whose confidence couldn’t be higher.
After an understandable lull after winning both the Indy GP and the 500 and then finishing P13 and P14 the next weekend in Detroit, Pagenaud feels he is back to his Month of May form.
“I’m here, and I dominated the Month of May,” Pagenaud said, “and when I’m in a position of domination, like this weekend, it’s really hard to catch me.”
Beyond Toronto, there is an NTT IndyCar Series championship left to fight for too. Entering the weekend, Pagenaud sits third in the standings with 341 points, just 61 points behind leader Newgarden and 54 behind Alexander Rossi, who sits in second. He feels with seven races to go that the final push to the finale at Laguna Seca in September starts now.
“The championship is about building your strength through the entire season,” he said. “It’s not about bursts of speed and then crashing, it’s about consistently being there and that’s what we’ve done. We are third in the championship and this weekend, the goal is to win the race and mark our territory for the championship.
“I think it’s weekends like this that starts it all.”
A win here and a stumble by Newgarden or Rossi brings Pagenaud directly into the championship discussion, a discussion where he has been curiously missing from as much of the media’s time over the last few weeks has been the possibility of a head-to-head battle between two young and emerging superstars in Newgarden and Rossi.
That’s a bit of a surprise given how Pagenaud falls into the “superstar” category himself. He rolled to an IndyCar championship in 2016 — where he won five times and finished 127 points ahead of Will Power — and bolsters the rest of his resume with an Indy 500 win and 13 total victories to go along with 12 poles in his career, which qualifies him one of the best drivers in the sport.
But here we are.
Pagenaud seems OK with that, because he feels like he gets plenty of attention anyway as the Indy 500 winner, but letting the rest of the IndyCar field know what time it is, well, that’s a different story.
“We have to kick in high gear and start sprinting,” said Pagenaud, making a reference to the Tour de France. “It’s time to attack and time to shine. I’ve been saying all weekend that it’s now that it’s important to start scoring wins and pole positions and it’s time to remind the competitors, not the journalists, but the competitors, that you are here and they are going to have to beat you if they want to win the championship.”
Photo credit: Shawn Gritzmacher/IndyCar Media