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INDYCAR NEWS AND NOTES – May 28, 2014

Today’s IndyCar Series and Mazda Road to Indy headlines:

  1.        Win at Belle Isle was turning point for Pagenaud in breakout season
  2.        KVSH Racing, Jonathan Byrd’s Racing partner for 2015 Indy 500
  3.        Of note

1. Win at Belle Isle was turning point for Pagenaud in breakout season: Simon Pagenaud recalls the final two laps of the 2013 Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans as being the most emotional five miles to date of his motorsports career.

“I kept saying, ‘Keep pushing.’ When I crossed the finish line, it was a sweet moment,” said Pagenaud, who hadn’t finished higher than second in 38 previous Verizon IndyCar Series and Champ Car races.

The 5.6274-second victory in Race 2 of the doubleheader weekend on the 2.36-mile, 13-turn Belle Isle circuit was a turning point for the 30-year-old driver from France and his Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports team, which also earned its maiden Verizon IndyCar Series victory.

“Detroit was huge for us last year; it was definitely a lift and what started it all. It was like a swirl,” Pagenaud said. “For us, as a team, that’s when everybody started to believe we could win every race. That’s when everybody raised their game. It was more focus on us, and I believe everybody at this time thought they were winners.

“The team changed then; I changed. Now we’re going to every race thinking we can win. There’s no reason why we can’t do it again. We have a fast car, the best pit crew, hopefully the best driver, so why not.”

Pagenaud, the 2012 Sunoco Rookie of the Year, went on to record eight top-10 finishes in the final dozen races, including another win on the streets of Baltimore, that led to third place in the driver championship standings.

He’s a contender again this season – winning the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 10 and joining Team Penske’s Will Power as the only drivers to post top-five finishes in the previous three races. Pagenaud started fifth and finished 12th in the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports car in the 98th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race on May 25, and is fourth in the standings heading to Detroit.

“(Belle Isle) is a track I really enjoy,” said Pagenaud, who has third- and 12th-place finishes in his other two starts. “Going to same place is reassuring, but I’ve changed because it was possible to win all of a sudden. All of a sudden you realize, ‘OK, I can do this. I’ve done it once so why not two and three and four.’

“Now it’s about winning the championship, and we know it’s going to take three or four race wins. So it’s not a matter of if it’s going to happen, it’s a matter of when it’s going to happen. That takes a lot of work, but the team is working so hard and so well it’s possible. There are a lot of points available at Detroit and it’s an important part of the season.”

Mike Conway, also a winner this season (Long Beach) and the Race 1 winner in 2013, returns to Belle Isle in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing. Conway led a field-high 47 laps (of 70) in Race 1 and earned the Verizon P1 Award for Race 2.

“The Detroit races really brought me back into the IndyCar Series last year,” said Conway, who placed third in Race 2. “It was exciting to return in grand style and win at a big event like Belle Isle. I’m looking forward to return to Detroit and defending my title.”

2. KVSH Racing, Jonathan Byrd’s Racing partner for 2015 Indy 500: KVSH Racing will partner with Jonathan Byrd’s Racing for an entry in the 2015 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race with driver Bryan Clauson.

Jonathan Byrd’s Racing announced May 16 that Clauson, 24, of Noblesville, Ind., would drive the car in its return to Indy car racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Clauson is a three-time USAC National Drivers champion, two-time USAC National Midget Series champion and two-time USAC National Sprint Car Series champion. He contested the 2012 Indianapolis 500 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing.

“When we first began discussions for this entry with the Byrd family, what came to mind was the campaign the Indianapolis Motor Speedway recently launched: ‘We all have a story,’ ” KVSH Racing partner James “Sulli” Sullivan said. “The Byrd’s have a storied history at the Speedway and we’re pleased to announce they’ll be returning with KVSH Racing to start the next chapter of the Jonathan Byrd’s Racing story.

“I also think it is interesting to note that one of my partners, Jimmy Vasser, was sponsored by Jonathan Byrd for his second Indy 500, so we have come full circle.”

The 2015 race is May 24. This year, Clauson is back in the Tony Stewart Racing No. 20 Sprint Car to defend his USAC National Sprint Car Championship. He’s also driving the No. 63 Joe Dooling-owned Midget for the USAC National Dirt Midget Series as well as select POWRi midget races and Winged Sprint Car races.

“We have a lot of great things happening at Jonathan Byrd’s Racing, and aligning ourselves with KVSH Racing, a team which has competed many times at Indy and won the race, is a big step forward for our program,” Clauson said.

3. Of note: The Formula Smiles Foundation earned a $33,000 donation from Verizon after Juan Pablo Montoya was the top vote-getter in the #WhosGonnaWin social media campaign in which fans made their selections for the 98th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race…Helio Castroneves led 38 laps in the 98th Indianapolis 500 to surpass 5,000 in his Indy car career. Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Michael Andretti are the only other drivers to surpass 5,000 laps led…Tony Kanaan led one lap at Indianapolis to mark his 100th race in which he has led a lap.

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