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Simon Pagenaud still hoping to race in 2024 after scary crash last season

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Even if Meyer Shank Racing had returned to this year's Rolex 24 at Daytona in search of a third consecutive win in the prestigious endurance race, the lineup would not have included Simon Pagenaud.

The Frenchman was part of MSR's back-to-back titles the last two seasons at Daytona International Speedway but has not raced since his terrifying IndyCar crash during practice on July 1 at Mid-Ohio. An IndyCar driver for MSR at the time, Pagenaud's Honda had a brake failure in one of the most dangerous parts of the circuit.

He was driving about 180 mph when his brakes failed and he drove into a downward-sloped grassy runoff that triggered a NASCAR-style barrel roll before he landed in a gravel runoff. Pagenaud's car then came to rest upside down against a tire barrier.

Although he walked away from the car and was initially cleared by IndyCar's safety team to compete, his next-day reevaluation ruled him out of the race. Pagenaud has not been back in a race since and has been replaced on MSR's IndyCar team by Felix Rosenqvist.

He has remained fairly silent about his condition in the six months since, but Pagenaud this week made a video statement to update his fans on his health and the “major progress” he's made.

“My racing was cut short on July 1 when I had a big accident during practice at Mid-Ohio. My car suffered a manufacturer brake failure resulting in my leaving the track with several high-speed rolls at 180 mph,” Pagenaud said. "Due to the accident, I couldn’t continue my season which meant that I only did eight races in 2023.

“Ever since, I have been concentrating on getting my health back to 100 percent. For that, I have been working closely with a great team of doctors and I have been progressing every day. I don’t know yet if I will be back behind a wheel in 2024 nor if I am ready for it. I want to take things slowly to make sure that when I come back, I am at my very best again.”

The 39-year-old seemed to indicate he'd suffered a concussion in describing his health issues.

“Unfortunately, the injuries don’t show on the outside. I actually feel really great, physically, but it’s on the inside, so those are the frustrating injuries, because you don’t get to see them heal,” he said. “Time makes a difference, so I’m having to be very patient and do a lot of rehab. I’m getting stronger every day with that.

“However, it goes up and down, and some days you get better, and some days it’s a regress, but overall, I just wanted to reassure everybody that, as you can see, I’m doing well. It’s just, to be at the top level, you have to be ‘great’, and I’m working on that. I’m working on getting myself back to 100 percent.”

Additionally, those close to Pagenaud have said he took the death of 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner Gil de Ferran on Dec. 19 extremely hard as the two were close friends — to the point Pagenaud has often credited de Ferran's help in establishing his career in the United States.

Pagenaud drove one season in CART in 2007 before de Ferran hired him to drive his sports car program, where he won five races in two seasons. He won the championship the next year driving for another team, de Ferran helped him with his move to IndyCar in 2011, and the two remained close until de Ferran died of a suspected heart attack last month.

Pagenaud's career went on to include seven seasons driving for Team Penske, where he won the Indianapolis 500 and one IndyCar title. He was in his second season driving for MSR when he was injured.

“This is not the end,” Pagenaud said in his video, "as better times are ahead.”

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AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing