On most IndyCar teams, Simon Pagenaud would play the role of mentor. But when the 38-year-old French driver joined Meyer Shank Racing for the 2022 season, he paired with 47-year-old Helio Castroneves—fresh off his record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500 victory—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.
In advance of this weekend’s 106th running of the Indianapolis 500, we spoke with the Meyer Shank duo about drafting dynamics, sports car experience, and the quest to make history.
Ars: You two had immediate success this year in the International Motor Sports Association, winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Helio, what does Simon bring to the table, and what is your dynamic like as teammates?
Castroneves: They should roll out the red carpet every time Simon and I walk in the room since we’re so experienced—we’ve earned the respect. [laughs]
Everyone has strengths, and Simon’s is looking at all the details. I knew he would help me and the entire team reach the next level. Plus, he is a nice guy to work with and a team player. In IndyCar, one day it’ll be my day, another day his. He understands how we need to work together to gain an advantage on 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 have a huge fire still burning. I’ve now been in IndyCar for 12 years, Helio for more than 20, so the key to our success is really all the experience we’ve gathered through 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’ve really enjoyed working with the team.
Ars: Helio, your first Indy 500 was way back in 2001. You’ve seen firsthand how these cars have evolved over the past two decades. What has been the most significant difference from then to now?
Castroneves: Well, first of all, we used to have less degradation on the tires. But probably the most significant change has been the draft and drag. You used to be able to run low downforce if you wanted. It would be a risk, but you could be much faster and pull away from the other guys. The way the cars are now, it’s impossible to truly pull away because [of] the way the drag ratio is related. And the horsepower is now closer and closer between the two manufacturers, so it has completely changed the concept of setting up the car.
The tires will be a bit better this year since they put sealer on the track last year that will help the grip. But the concept of drafting and passing every lap is going to be very similar.
Pagenaud: Yeah, it’s very tricky right now with the aero screen as well 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’ll pass you again, so it’s a different mindset.
Now, which style is better? It depends a bit on who you ask, a purist or a casual fan. I remember some 500s where I’d watch Helio, or Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon, just pull away from the field and lead the entire race with barely any passing. Probably not very interesting to watch for a fan, but as a driver, you are so on the edge and know you truly won it with your own skills. Nowadays, it is all so dependent on drafting. That’s why in practice we spend so much time trying to understand the draft and the timing of it all.
Castroneves: Yeah, it was fun to have a scenario where you could pull away—there was no playing games. Go full power and stay on it as much as you can until the end of the line for your tires. Now it’s a bit trickier. You have to think more about it. And I think when drivers think less, it’s always better.