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2016 IndyCar champion Pagenaud: I could not do a 'Rosberg'

While Formula 1 might become somewhat 'Americanised' with US conglomerate Liberty Media now in charge, some European drivers have already crossed the Pond to embrace a professional career Stateside. Among them is 2016 IndyCar champion Simon Pagenaud and F1i's Ziv Knoll caught up with the Frenchman in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he is based.

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So Simon, simply put, why did you leave for the States?

It was a career move after coming at a crossroads earlier in my life. I wanted to do Formula 1 but an opportunity came up to go racing in the Champ Car Atlantic series. That was back in 2006. There was a nice $2m incentive in prize money for the winner that could be used towards a Champ Car graduation. That was pretty much my last shot to become a professional driver and I managed to convince a few partners to follow me in this make-or-break journey.

I wanted to do F1 but an opportunity came up in the US-based Champ Car Atlantic in 2006 with a $2m incentive to get into Champ Car for the winner.

Things worked out pretty well in the end…

Indeed. I won the Atlantic championship and got a drive with Derrick Walker’s Champ Car team. However, the series was not doing great at the time and I was lucky to be able to bounce back in endurance racing, which I had already done in Europe. Together with [two-time CART champion] Gil de Ferran, we competed in the American Le Mans Series [ALMS] for Honda, which opened the doors to IndyCar.

So De Ferran played a big role in your development in America?

Absolutely, he was like my Jedi Master! Gil was a very technical driver and he was totally open book. He groomed me so I would fit perfectly in the team. We won a few races with Honda HPD, which gave me the opportunity to join Peugeot for the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup and Le Mans 24 Hours. [Four-time Champ Car winner and former Toro Rosso F1 driver] Sébastien Bourdais helped me a lot as well, in terms of getting settled in the US and managing the logistics. Gil and Sébastien have been two very important people for my career indeed.

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Simon and his mentor Gil de Ferran, with whom he raced for Honda in ALMS.