Pagenaud joins rare pilot club to quit Penske ::


– Simon Pagenaud shared a moment of calm with his wife and toddler son before his last race of the season to reflect on his time with the Penske team.

An IndyCar Championship. The Indianapolis 500 among its 11 victories. Seven seasons at the wheel for Roger Penske.

And yet Pagenaud was getting into his car for the last time. He finished fifth in the IndyCar Final, said goodbye to his crew and walked through the garage with his arm wrapped around his wife’s waist as she carried their helmet-wearing newborn baby, Marley.

He was the second driver this season to leave the Penske team.

Pagenaud was named the No.60 driver for Meyer Shank Racing on Monday, where he will reunite with former Penske teammate Helio Castroneves to drive for this year’s Indy 500 winning organization. He joins Brad Keselowski of the NASCAR team in the rare club of Penske drivers who leave of their own accord.

Keselowski wanted a stake, which Penske couldn’t offer, so he looked elsewhere despite the possibility of extending his contract. Pagenaud could have stayed on as well, and perhaps he would have if Penske hadn’t returned to IMSA sports car racing in 2023.

The last time Penske rebuilt their sports car program, it cost Castroneves his job in IndyCar. Penske transferred the Brazilian in 2018 to IMSA as a key part of this program, and although he has always raced the Indy 500, when the sports car team closed three seasons later, he did not. had not rolled at all. It happened right after Castroneves won his first series championship after two decades of driving for The Captain.

Pagenaud was probably heading that same path if he returned to Penske. But like Castroneves, he wants to be in IndyCar. Castroneves returned this season in a six-race deal with Meyer Shank that catapulted him to his record-breaking fourth Indy 500 victory and a second full-time car widened next season.

When Castroneves won the 500 in May, it looked pretty darn good for Pagenaud. He was already talking to almost every team in the paddock, but the opportunity with MSR only presented itself when Jack Harvey made the surprise decision to leave the team he had helped build.

Ironically, Pagenaud will likely end up driving a sports car. Shank has one of the best teams in IMSA and Pagenaud would be the obvious choice for an expanded Rolex 24 lineup, but more importantly, the chance to race the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“I love the IndyCar and there’s no question that’s where I want to be, this is where I want to race,” Pagenaud told The Associated Press. “My driving time for the Penske team was amazing, but now it’s over and it really felt like the best fit for me. I love working with Helio, we work really well together and saw Meyer Shank really grow up.

“Even before Helio won the Indy, I could see that Jack Harvey was performing really well and that this team was really making great progress. And then when Helio won, it showed the capabilities of the team. It’s very exciting to be able to be a part of it now.

MSR started in 2017 with Harvey and three races, has gradually built its program each year and next season will field two cars with a lineup that now has an IndyCar championship, five Indy 500 wins and 46 wins.

Harvey hasn’t said where he’s going, but it’s widely believed to be Rahal Letterman Langian, who hasn’t named two of his three drivers for next season. Oliver Askew has raced the last three races for what will be a full-time entry next year for a driver who has yet to be identified, and it is not known if two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato, will return or eventually replace Romain Grosjean at Dale Coyne Racing.

There’s a lot more movement expected, with Ryan Hunter-Reay available and the status of several other veterans undetermined. There is a crop of young drivers waiting for Indy Lights promotion, and this IndyCar season has proven to be a real changing of the guard.

The youth movement struck with Alex Palou at 24, the eldest of four young people, new winners. Palou won the season opener and led the Season 12 standings of 16 weeks to become the first Spaniard to win an IndyCar title and his youngest champion since 2003.

Pagenaud isn’t exactly 37 but there are just over two dozen IndyCar races, he doesn’t bring sponsorship and expects to be paid. When No.60 became an option, the excitement of what Shank was able to build put the team at the top of Pagenaud’s list.

The change will probably suit him very well.

Not everyone wants to be the perfect Penske every day – Pagenaud told AP he looks forward to not shaving every morning in his new job – and this has been the worst season of his IndyCar career. His two podiums and 12 laps in the lead were both career-low, and he finished a distant eighth in the standings in his first winless season since 2018.

The move to Meyer Shank puts Pagenaud in a much smaller family organization, but alongside his former teammate in what will be a monster roster that is set to take some victories.

“I think I have a lot of races ahead of me, a lot of wins and I can compete for the championships,” said Pagenaud. “This team will be very capable of doing that, so it’s a very exciting time for me. I feel very lucky to have this opportunity.

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