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Setting up dynamics and good tactics: how to win the Indianapolis 500

Setting up dynamics and good tactics: how to win the Indianapolis 500
enlarge Simon Pagenaud of Meyer Shank Racing Honda during testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Meyer Shank Racing

Simon Pagenaud would play the role of mentor on most IndyCar teams. But when the 38-year-old French driver joined Meyer Shank Racing for the 2022 season, he teamed up with 47-year-old Helio Castroneves – fresh off his record-binding fourth Indianapolis 500 win – to form one of the most experienced duos on the grid.

“I definitely feel like the young guy, that’s for sure!” Pagenaud told us.

Ahead of the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500 this weekend, we spoke with the Meyer Shank duo about crafting dynamics, sports car experience and the quest to make history.

Ars: You two had immediate success in the International Motor Sports Association this year, winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Helio, what brings Simon to the table, and how are your dynamics as teammates?

Castroneves: They should roll out the red carpet every time Simon and I walk into the room because we’re so experienced – we’ve earned the respect. [laughs]

Everyone has strengths and Simon’s looks at all the details. I knew he would help me and the whole team to reach the next level. Moreover, he is a nice guy to work with and a team player. In IndyCar, one day it’s my day, the next it’s his. He understands how we have to work together to gain an advantage over the rest of the field.

pagenaud: As Helio often says, age is just a number, and it’s all about the fire you have inside. And I still have a huge fire. I’ve been in IndyCar for 12 years now and more than 20 years with Helio, so the key to our success is really all the experience we’ve gained over the years. Now we want to help Meyer Shank become the team it wants to be, and if Helio can win his fifth here, it would be a historic time for the series, for all of Indianapolis. I really enjoyed working with the team.

Ars: Helio, your first Indy 500 was way back in 2001. You’ve seen first-hand how these cars have evolved over the past two decades. What has been the main difference from then to now?

Castroneves: First, we used to have less tire degradation. But probably the most significant change has been the design and resistance. You used to be able to run with little downforce if you wanted to. It would be a risk, but you could be much faster and drive away from the other guys. As the cars are now, it’s impossible to actually drive away because [of] the way air resistance is related. And the horsepower is now getting closer and closer between the two manufacturers, so it completely changed the concept of setting up the car.

The tires will be a bit better this year as they put sealer on the track last year which will help grip. But the concept of drafting and passing each round will be very similar.

pagenaud: Yeah, it’s really tricky with the aero screen now too, because you can’t get away – you have to find a way to pass the guy right in front of you on the last lap at the right time. If you pass him too early, he will pass you again, so it’s a different mindset.

Which style is better now? It kind of depends on who you ask, a purist or a casual fan. I remember about 500s where I would just pull Helio, or Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon, off the field and lead the whole race with barely any strides. Probably not very interesting to watch for a fan, but as a driver you are So on the brink and know that you really won with your own skills. Nowadays it all depends so much on drafting. That’s why, in practice, we spend so much time trying to understand the concept and timing of it all.

Castroneves: Yes, it was nice to have a scenario where you could retreat – there were no games. Go full throttle and stay on it until the end of the line for your tires. Now it’s a bit more difficult. You need to think about it more. And I think if drivers think less, it’s always better.