Since his debut with de Ferran Motorsports midway through 2008, no one has driven more iterations of Acura or HPD prototypes than Simon Pagenaud.
At Sebring in particular, that’s very apparent.
Pagenaud has driven five different Acura/HPD chassis nomenclatures in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring the last five years.
In each of the last four, he’s come second in either the P1 or P2 class.
So what may it take to come one better in 2014, now driving the No. 2 HPD ARX-03b with the Tequila Patrón-backed car with Ed Brown and Johannes van Overbeek in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship?
Primarily, it takes knowing the difference in cars.
“The biggest thing has been the change in regulations every year,” Pagenaud told Sportscar365. “Cars lose downforce and grip. The cars have been slowed down dramatically. You adapt, but the technology can still improve.”
Pagenaud’s maiden Sebring voyage came in 2009, in de Ferran’s then-new Acura ARX-02a in P1. It was a pioneering prototype as it had bigger front Michelin tires, but was almost too far ahead of its time.
“It was the original concept of the big fronts, and a successful one because everyone’s doing it now,” Pagenaud said. “That P1 car was amazing. But that year the downforce was starting to get taken away.”
The 2010 Sebring race still saw P1 and P2 split, although the rest of that season saw a combined prototype class between the two.
Pagenaud finished second among ALMS P2 teams with co-drivers David Brabham and Marino Franchitti in what was then Highcroft Racing’s HPD ARX-01c, the evolution of the original Acura P2 car. As it was not a fully-fledged factory effort, it was a different dynamic.
Perhaps the biggest lost growth opportunity came the following year, when a late deal saw the trio reunited but in Highcroft’s new-P1 spec car, the HPD ARX-01e.
There was limited testing time during the week but through strategy, pace and determination, a second place overall finish behind the winning ORECA Peugeot 908 HDi FAP.
“That car was very competitive. The drag against downforce was very efficient,” Pagenaud said. “We managed to be in the lap times of the Peugeots. We didn’t work on the car in testing. I wish we had more time with that car, but that was the only time it ever raced.”
Come 2012, it was another new HPD P1 car for Pagenaud, this time the HPD ARX-03a. But this second place was a tough pill to swallow, as a problem with a fuel buckeye issue in the final hour cost the team a class victory with Muscle Milk Pickett Racing.
Pagenaud’s development work shifted into Honda’s new direct injection V6 turbocharged engine for the P2-spec HPD, the ARX-03b.
Last year, with that new P2 engine, Pagenaud’s No. 552 Level 5 Motorsports entry he co-drove with Scott Tucker and Ryan Hunter-Reay was second to the sister car, driven, ironically, by ex-Highcroft teammate Franchitti along with Tucker and Ryan Briscoe.
Come 2014, the engine is more developed and the changes for Pagenaud are twofold.
He’s in the ESM stable, reunited with Brabham (who’s in the sister No. 1 car with Scott Sharp and Ryan Dalziel), and he’s running on Continental tires. Pagenaud spoke highly of the Continentals after a private test he and the ESM team had in February.
Second, for the first time in six years, he’s actually running the same chassis as he did the past year, albeit with the different tires.
The ESM team has been one of the two quickest P2-spec teams in Sebring testing (OAK Racing the other) and given its prior Sebring experience, may be able to pull out a result this week.
Pagenaud enters this week on a high anyway following a win in the Rallye National de la Vienne in France last week.
And the race is important to Patrón Spirits as the title sponsor of the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup, of which Sebring is the second of four rounds this season.