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IndyCar’s Simon Pagenaud doubles down in IndyCar iRacing Challenge

Simon Pagenaud has won half of the four races during the IndyCar iRacing Challenge, and he has Team Penske race engineer Ben Bretzman to largely thank for his strategy and impressive performance so far.

Team Penske IndyCar driver Simon Pagenaud is the first to win two races in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge. The 2016 NTT IndyCar Series champion and 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner, doubled down on his effort with back-to-back wins.

Pagenaud won the April 11 Chevrolet 275 at virtual Michigan International Speedway. He backed up that oval win with Saturday’s triumph in the Firestone 175 at virtual Twin Ring Motegi.

He credited Team Penske race engineer Ben Bretzman for his impressive performance in the sim racing series that has kept IndyCar in public view during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) shutdown.

“I’m working with Ben my racing engineer on the strategy,” Pagenaud said after his virtual Motegi triumph. “We get to talk on the radio like we would on a race weekend. I think it’s just keeping the communication alive. It feels like we’ve raced a few times this year already. I think when racing gets going, we’re not going to be rusty. That’s important.

“iRacing has been a great support for us. That has been important for everybody at Team Penske, as well. We represent our sponsors. They need some love right now. DXC Technology, Chevy, Menards.”

Many NTT IndyCar drivers are going to great lengths for success in the virtual racing series. The competition is increasing the amount of time in the sim rig.

“I put in a lot of hours to be at the level of people like Will Power, for example,” Pagenaud said. “They are very fast on iRacing, very competitive.

“But today was a lot about tire saving, the right strategy once again. At the end, it got a bit crazy.”

As the IndyCar iRacing Challenge has progressed, experienced gamers still have an advantage, but drivers with real world racing success are showing tremendous improvement.

Saturday’s podium included the elite of IndyCar including Pagenaud, five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion and 2008 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon. Finishing third was Team Penske teammate Will Power, a 2014 IndyCar Series champion and 2018 Indy 500 winner.

“That’s fun to me,” Pagenaud said. “It’s actually that you’re racing the exact same guys as usual, exact same moves as you would in real life. You keep turning your wheels in your head.

“Right now, we’re not racing, so we’re racing on the weekend. That gives me a lot of joy. The adrenaline was definitely at the maximum level at the end of the race.”

2020 NTT IndyCar Series Testing

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Getty Images

Pagenaud is the full package when it comes to IndyCar. He is fast on the track, both real and virtual. The driver from France has an engaging personality yet isn’t afraid to say what is on his mind. And, he understands the importance of his sponsors.

“Well, I’m racing with my race suit to give some love to DXC Technology and Chevy,” Pagenaud said. “It’s a good day when you’re beating Scott Dixon and Will Power. It’s an awesome day. I enjoy it so much. Will is going to be upset all week long, that’s so much better, makes me even happier.

“I feel great right now, super happy.

“It’s pretty cool that we have the whole team behind us. I’m getting more messages than usual for a race win, so it’s pretty amazing to see the whole team following the races and being able to represent them so well. It’s awesome for the guys. It gives them a lot of hope for the season to start.”

Pagenaud’s passion for racing, real or virtual, is quite obvious. His fiercest competitors recognize that trait.

“Simon did a hell of a job,” Dixon said after finishing second. “That’s what it takes at the end to win, is you got to take risks. Kudos to them. It was fun to be a part of it and fun to watch.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500