Simon Pagenaud made history Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway by winning the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis around the newly designed 14-turn road course for the Verizon IndyCar Series. The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver from France played the right fuel strategy to hold off Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves to collect his third career IndyCar win.
The first IndyCar Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway's road course sure had its crazy moments with two big crashes, an injury to James Hinchcliffe, and the fuel saving run to the finish. Pagenaud was able to conquer through it all setting up momentum heading into Indianapolis 500 qualifying.
"It's pretty cool, it's pretty cool, it feels awesome," Pagenaud said in victory lane about winning at IMS. "I don't like racing off throttle but it worked out for us."
The race was set for 82 laps but a big question mark was how many pit stops would have to be taken for fuel since it was the first race around the track.
Sebastian Saavedra surprised everyone in qualifying yesterday and won the pole which had him on the front row with rookie Jack Hawksworth for the standing start. Unfortunately for Saavedra when the lights went out to signify the start his car never accelerated and he sat in his gird spot as the first seven cars on the inside line behind him maneuvered to miss his car the eighth car of Carlos Munoz tried to swerve to the left but clipped Saavedra's car which sent Saavedra's car right into the path of Mikhail Aleshin where a major impact was made between the two sending debris spraying all over the front stretch. Munoz's car ended up in the outside wall and Mike Conway also got a piece of the inside wall trying to avoid. All the drivers involved in the scary crash were okay and walked away. Also on the standing start Juan Pablo Montoya stalled but no one collected him.
From what was run of the first lap before the caution came out, Ryan Hunter-Reay was scored the leader ahead of Jack Hawksworth for the lap 7 restart. Into Turn 1 on lap 8 Hawksworth made a great pass to take the lead from Hunter-Reay and Pagenaud was also able to get past and into second.
Hawksworth's car was the class of the field early and he led through a round of green flag pit stops and at the halfway lap of 41 he led by 5.2 seconds over Pagenaud.
The second caution flew on lap 42 when defending IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon was passed by Will Power in Turn 1. Dixon tried to fight back and in Turn 4 Power shut the door on a pass and Dixon made a little contact into Power and then spun and stopped in the sand trap.
Hawksworth and Pagenaud pitted under the caution which gave the lead to Hunter-Reay ahead of James Hinchcliffe, Justin Wilson, Carlos Huertas, Helio Castroneves, Oriol Servia, and Charlie Kimball who all stayed out. Pagenaud was eighth and Hawksworth ninth for the restart on lap 48.
The third caution came out on that lap when rookie Martin Plowman lost control into a high-breaking corner and spun. His car jumped a curb into the air and collided with and took the rear wing right off of Franck Montagny's car before landing in the grass on all four wheels. Somehow Plowman's car was still running after while Montagny, who was driving the car Kurt Busch will drive the Indy 500 in, was done for the day.
The race restarted on lap 52 with the top five being Hunter-Reay, Wilson, Huertas, Hinchcliffe, and Castroneves. That restarted resulted in the fourth caution when an accordion effect ended with Juan Pablo Montoya drilling Graham Rahal's car in the rear and putting Rahal hard into the outside wall. Rahal was very critical of the NASCAR style restarts that IndyCar has tried to move to and that they are just too dangerous for the open-wheel cars where the drivers can't see over the rear wings.
Before the caution was thrown for the incident Justin Wilson took the lead from Hunter-Reay. Also before the restart cars pitted and it set up Helio Castroneves in the lead as he stayed out along with Charlie Kimball, Jack Hawksworth, Ryan Briscoe, Sebastian Bourdais, and Takuma Sato. Wilson restarted seventh with Hunter-Reay and Pagenaud behind him after they pitted. That pit stop proved to be the winning move for Pagenaud.
The race restarted clean on lap 57 on the front stretch but on the long straightaway on the back on the road course something odd occurred with James Hinchcliffe's car. Debris was seen in the air and then his car veered to the right and he slowed to a stop off the track. No caution was thrown as his car was out of harms way but awhile later TV cameras caught Hinchcliffe being moved to the infield care center on a gurney. No update has been made as of yet on his condition.
Also on the restart Justin Wilson had contact that forced him to pit to change the nose on his car. On lap 61 Hawksworth pitted for fuel to make it to the finish from the third position. Castroneves continued to lead but it was clear he would have to pit again for fuel, the question was which drivers could make it all the way.
On lap 69 Charlie Kimball pitted from second for fuel and then Castroneves pitted from the lead on lap 70. Sebastian Bourdais was then the leader but pitted for fuel and Briscoe also pitted from second on alp 71. That handed the lead to Oriol Servia but his team was not going to be able to make it either. He pitted with five laps to go on lap 78.
Simon Pagenaud found himself in the lead with what his team thought would be enough fuel to make it. He was 2.1 seconds ahead of Hunter-Reay on lap 80 and Castroneves was flying with no need to save fuel back in third. On the final lap both Hunter-Reay and Castroneves closed on Pagenaud but his fuel held out and he kept a steady car in the final corners to earn the victory.
Joining him on the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis podium were Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves. Finishing fourth was Sebastian Bourdais, Charlie Kimball was fifth, Ryan Briscoe sixth, Jack Hawksworth seventh, Will Power eighth, Takuma Sato ninth, and Tony Kanaan tenth. Justin Wilson was 11th, Oriol Servia 12th, Carlos Huertas 13th, Marco Andretti 14th, and Scott Dixon 15th as the last car on the lead lap. Juan Pablo Montoya was 16th and Josef Newgarden 17th both one lap down. Two laps down in 18th was Martin Plowman. The rest of the drivers ended out of the race. Mike Conway in 19th, James Hinchcliffe 20th, Graham Rahal 21st, Franck Montagny 22nd, Sebastian Saavedra 23rd, Carlos Munoz 24th, and Mikhail Aleshin 25th.
Also on Saturday KV Racing Technolgy announced that James Davison will attempt to make his first Indianapolis 500 start driving the team's No. 33 Always Evolving Racing/KV Racing Technology car. That brings the total number of KV cars to four for the 500 with Bourdais, Saavedra and Townsend Bell now being joined by Davison.
The first practice for the Indianapolis 500 is slated for Sunday at IMS. Qualifying will take place next Saturday and Sunday with the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 25th.Tags: Carlos Munoz, Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Helio Castroneves, IndyCar Series, Jack Hawksworth, James Davison, James Hinchcliffe, KV Racing Technology, Mikhail Aleshin, Motorsports, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Scott Dixon, Sebastian Saavedra, Simon Pagenaud