Twelve years after his last participation with Peugeot, Simon Pagenaud is making a comeback at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The French driver, who has never hidden his desire to return to Sarthe in recent years, is the third man in the crew of the No. 47 COOL Racing Oreca 07 LMP2, alongside the young drivers Reshad de Gerus and Vladislav Lomko.
Absent for the Test Day this Sunday June 4 given the IndyCar race which was held in Detroit, in the United States, Simon Pagenaud jumped on the first plane for Paris, then climbed into a TGV to finally arrive at the Le Mans around 3 p.m. « I don’t even feel tired because I think the adrenaline of being at Le Mans is strong, » the Frenchman told us on Monday. “It already gives me enormous pleasure to walk through the front door, to arrive at Le Mans, to find a place that has marked me in my career. I was an ELF shuttlecock winner here and without the ACO and the ELF shuttlecock I wouldn’t have had this career. So it started for me here and it’s clear that I dream of winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans one day. Like many riders here and like many people around the world, but I’m delighted to be here for the centenary. It’s going to be an amazing party. »
His arrival at COOL Racing, Nicolas Lapierre’s team, is clearly not a coincidence. “It’s funny because in fact, Nico and I have known each other since we started in car racing. I remember he was in Formula Renault and Grand Prix Racing. I arrived at Grand Prix Racing just after. And then he did Formula 3 with Philippe Sinault and Signature. So, we’ve always followed each other a little bit and then we’ve always seen each other on the circuits since a very young age. And I have a lot of respect for Nico because he’s a very calm person, someone very composed, someone who doesn’t make noise, but who works hard behind the scenes. When I learned that he was setting up his team, it’s true that it was something that really interested me. And then I went to see Nico, I said “Listen Nico, I’m trying to come back to Le Mans, if you ever get a place, I’m here. We talked about it the next day and things were done. »
The 24 Hours of Le Mans Circuit is like cycling, you can’t forget it. Simon Pagenaud will however have to make up for his absence on Sunday during free practice, on Wednesday, to regain his bearings at the wheel of the LMP2. “I trained a lot on the simulator. I spent many hours driving in the LMP2 on the simulator and the Le Mans circuit is extraordinarily well recreated which helped me very, very much to be able to keep the muscle memory of each corner and the pace of the track . Of course, that’s not all, you have to be on the track and I can’t wait to be in the car. »
What’s more here, in Le Mans… “It’s one of my favorite circuits. We have a sensation at night that is just extraordinary and it’s sensations that I can’t wait to find again, but yes, I’m going to have to adapt, that’s clear. The driving position is different from my IndyCar. It’s not much different from the GTP I drove with Acura at Daytona. And then the chassis is quite common since it’s the same chassis as the Acura of the last DPi years. So we’ll see. Obviously, we will have to get used to the power, the brakes, the aerodynamics of the car. But I have very fast little team-mates who will already give a lot of advice and I think there will be no problem. »
For a competitor at heart, the pleasure of returning to Le Mans obviously comes with the desire to win, even if the level of competition will be higher than ever in LMP2. » Of course. Last year it was the second fastest car. Now, it’s not necessarily the fastest car that won. That obviously means that the 24 Hours of Le Mans is an endurance race. You have to have all the little details put together and that’s what you’re going to have to do. There is a lot of work. There’s speed, that’s already it, but we’ll have to work on everything else. God knows there is a lot of work to be done and a lot of things that have to come into play for us. »
Even if his return to Le Mans is at the wheel of an LMP2, make no mistake, Simon Pagenaud’s ambition is indeed to be in contention in the premier category in 2024. “It is clear that if I am here, it is not by chance. I have an objective which is clear and I have announced it, it is to return to Le Mans in good conditions to hope to fight for victory one day. It means premier class and it means being with the right manufacturer. We’ll see who it will be and if there’s an opportunity, but that’s the reason I’m here, is to remember that I just won the 24 Hours of Daytona two years in a row and that in endurance , it’s working well and that’s one of my career goals. »
Impossible to conclude this interview without mentioning the 500 Miles of Indianapolis of which he was the winner in 2019 and which he disputed once again two weeks ago. “What I remember is that this year is a big year for me since I had the chance to do the 24 Hours of Daytona, which we won. At the Indianapolis 500 Miles, we were in the top 10 until the last lap and unfortunately, we got hit under a yellow flag. It’s like that. It would have been nice to finish in the top 10, then go to Detroit last weekend and then finally Le Mans. But for me, what is extraordinary is to do these three major motorsport races in the same season. I will try to do it again as often as possible, since the main thing in life is to be happy and it makes me happy to be here. It’s a marathon, something that had to be worked on in terms of physical preparation, sleep, hydration, etc. This is something that I paid a lot of attention to. I lost some weight for the race here, since the weight of the pilots matters. This is a preparation that began in January. »