It was with some interest I read the news yesterday that Simon Pagenaud will be contesting Sebring for Pickett Racing in the American Le Mans Series this year. The 2010 ALMS champ will be adding sports cars to a resume that will already include being the primary driver for Sam Schmidt Motorsports' IZOD IndyCar Series program.
As a racer that's continually been high on the list for Honda Performance Development (HPD), it will come as no surprise to you that Pickett Racing and Sam Schmidt Motorsports both fall under the Honda umbrella. As he prepares for this year's IndyCar campaign, the feeling seems to be he could make some definite waves.
Pagenaud will technically be a rookie this season, but of course he has a season of ChampCar under his belt already. Additionally, in taking over for an injured Ana Beatriz in the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama last year, he did an excellent job in finishing P8, with a performance that made a lot of fans and teams excited about his future in the Series.
Honestly, there simply aren't many fans with a negative opinion of Pagenaud. But how will he do this year?
There's a very good likelihood Pagenaud will see himself paired with a hodgepodge of drivers at various races for Sam Schmidt in 2012; like last season, the 2nd car for that team will likely be a whirlwind of one-offs and multi-race deals with different faces along the way. While that's not ideal when you're chasing Sunoco Rookie of the Year, Pagenaud isn't exactly your typical rookie fresh out of Formula Renault. Fellow rookie Josef Newgarden also won't have a full-time teammate this season, though Dragon Racing's Katherine Legge will in her initial IZOD IndyCar Series season. Although that will be big for Legge, there's still a sense of anticipation about Pags' potential for this year that might give him the early odds for those Rookie of the Year honors.
Another big question is how Pagenaud will do on ovals, since he's coming in without any real experience in that category. When the Indianapolis 500 will be your first major open wheel oval event, the learning curve could be high indeed. How he responds at tracks such as Indy and Texas will be an interesting portion of his rookie campaign, but for a driver that's accustomed to finding success in different driving disciplines and formulas over the years, you have to like his chances of figuring it out.
Of course, nothing is settled. We need to see how each engine will do, how the various teams shape up, and who comes into St. Petersburg with a good grasp of the new car. But in a year where Sebastien Bourdais is likely the most well-known French driver in INDYCAR, don't forget about the other French driver who will finally be getting the chance to show what he can do in this Series.