The off-season just got a little more interesting today as Simon Pagenaud signed to race for Team Penske next year.
Though Robin Miller called this a couple weeks ago, this is still quite a surprise. Many assumed that since it was Miller, that it was him speculating and going out on a limb as he has done in the past. There were too many factors for this to be true. Well, Robin Miller knew precisely what he was talking about.
Word had that if Pagenaud went anywhere it would be to Andretti Autosport where it’s been rumored for some time that there is a desire to add a fifth machine. It was either that or he’d replace James Hinchcliffe, whose contract with Andretti is up and who also had a tough season. Some said he’d stay put with Sam Schmidt, both of whom run Honda engines and with whom Pagenaud has close ties.
All of the bench racers and prognosticators (yours truly included) except Miller didn’t seriously think this would happen. Penske has never run four cars for a full season, he runs Chevrolet engines. But here we are.
Going into 2015, Penske has the strongest line-up of driver talent in the paddock. Pagenaud joins defending series champ Will Power, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves and 2000 500 winner Juan Montoya.
The other big teams, Ganassi and Andretti don’t approach this consistently strong level of ability. This signing makes a Penske sweep of the 500 and the Astor Cup a strong possibility.
It also strengthens The Bow Tie’s chances to also get the Manufacturer’s Championship. Chevy powers Penske and Ganassi as well as the strong CFH (the consolidated Ed Carpenter/Sarah Fisher effort). Honda now is down to one driver who’s a consistent threat to win from race to race in the form of Ryan Hunter-Reay. That said even his consistency is inconsistent at times. Honda’s got a lot to figure out before the first race because never in my memory or knowledge has one engine supplier had so disproportionate an amount of talent as Chevy has now.
One question for Honda will be Pagenaud’s replacement. Gabby Chaves and Rocky Moran Jr. are scheduled to conduct testing for Sam Schmidt. Justin Wilson isn’t signed yet, which would be way too early for Dale Coyne’s liking. Wilson isn’t happy with Coyne and he is certainly talented enough to fill the seat Pagenaud has just vacated. Hinchcliffe is also available, but unless Andretti shows no interest in re-signing the personable Canadian I’d say his interest in signing with a team that isn’t the caliber of Andretti is slim. But I also didn’t really think Pagenaud would be driving for The Captain, so take this for what it’s worth.
Now before we give Penske and Chevy the victor’s laurels. There are some questions about this new juggernaut-in-waiting.
Penske has never run four cars over the course of a season. With all of his commitments to IndyCar, NASCAR and his nascent V8 SuperCar effort, will this spread Penske’s efforts too thin? Will it be a matter of too many cars spoiling the season? Can Simon and Will Power get along? They had some run-ins and bad blood last year, can they put those contretemps behind them?
We’ll have to wait and see, those questions can only be answered over the course of a season. Time will tell, but right now this is the biggest news of the offseason and there’s now the potential for dominance unlike we’ve seen in some time.