A combination of luck and a bold strategic gamble paid off for Simon Pagenaud, with the Frenchman crossing the line on fumes to win the IndyCar Series’ inaugural road course race.

Despite fears that die-hard fans would shun the road course race, a healthy – but hardly huge – crowd hit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and they weren’t going to be disappointed after being delivered a race full of incident.

After coming out on top in a rain-hit qualifying session on Friday, pole-sitter Sebastián Saavedra was unable to showcase what his chances were in the dry weather on Saturday. The Colombian stalled his KV Racing Honda just as the lights went out, triggering mayhem in the opening seconds as the pack swerved to avoid his stricken car.

Unfortunately not all managed the feat, with rookie drivers Carlos Muñoz and then Mikhail Aleshin hitting him – the latter at considerable speed given he started last – scattering debris across the start/finish straight and ending the race for all three on the spot. Aleshin’s SPHM Honda came to a rest on top of Saavedra’s, although thankfully both drivers were able to emerge unhurt from their battered cars.

Saavedra is clobbered on the starting line

Saavedra’s stalled car is hit by Munoz and Aleshin

Ryan Hunter-Reay assumed the lead of the race, but his time at the front proved short-lived when Jack Hawksworth took the lead with a great slipstreaming move on Lap 10. Hunter-Reay was slightly wrong-footed by the pass, and that allowed an opportunistic Pagenaud to force his way by into second just two corners later.

Having qualified inside the top-six on Friday, Hawksworth continued to underline team boss Bryan Herta’s wisdom in signing the British youngster. The rookie driver built a lead of four seconds to Pagenaud and looked a contender for victory.

Just past mid-distance, and the yellow flags were out after Scott Dixon found his Chip Ganassi entry beached in the gravel at Turn 4. The reigning champion – predictably – had been assisted there after yet another run-in with long-time rival Will Power. The incident had started a few corners earlier after the Penske driver made a forceful pass on Dixon at Turn 1, but Dixon arrived at Turn 4 with too much of a head of steam and spun to the outside after trying to retake the lost place.

The full-course caution triggered a round of pit stops for the leaders, and a quicker turn-around from the SPHM crew ensured Pagenaud would leapfrog Hawksworth in pit lane, while Hunter-Reay managed to vault ahead of the pair of them to assume the effective lead.

Two laps after the race was restarted, and there was another full-course caution, this time triggered by a frightening crash between Franck Montagny and Martin Plowman, both of whom were making one-off appearances for Andretti and AJ Foyt Racing. Plowman lost control on the approach to Turn 7, spun and was launched sideways over the apex kerbs at Turn 7, clobbering into the back of the unsuspecting Montagny.

Plowman-Montagny crash

Plowman (by name and nature) hits Montagny at Turn 7

Montagny’s rear wing was ripped off and he was immediately out of the race, while Plowman was incredibly able to continue without major damage.

If that wasn’t enough, the next restart saw another safety car triggered after Juan Pablo Montoya jump the gun and turf Graham Rahal into the wall on the start/finish straight just as the pack was accelerating for the green flag. Rahal was out with broken suspension, while Montoya was slapped with a drive-through penalty.

The race ran green thereon, with the running order chopping and changing as those up the front peeled into the pits for their final stops; Pagenaud and Hunter-Reay worked their way up the timing screens as a result.

With ten laps to go, the new leader and unlikely victor looked like being Oriol Servià, whose part-time outing with the Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan team was paying dividends as he now found himself P1.

But the question on everyone’s lips was fuel, or rather, the lack of it. Neither Servià, Pagenaud nor Hunter-Reay – now running 1-2-3 – had much in the tank, and they were finding themselves increasingly threatened by a fast-closing Hélio Castroneves, who’d pitted much later and could run on a full fuel mix to the end.

Servià was the first to wave the white flag, pulling into the pits and out of the lead for a splash-and-dash with five laps to go. He compounded his misery by stalling in the pits as he tried to leave.

The Grand Prix of Indianapolis winners

The Grand Prix of Indianapolis winners: Pagenaud (centre) flanked by Castroneves and Hunter-Reay.

That left Pagenaud and Hunter-Reay to duke it out front. Both had just enough drops of gas in the tank to keep Castroneves at bay, but ultimately Hunter-Reay couldn’t challenge Pagenaud for victory.

The result sees Hunter-Reay move to within 1 point of championship leader Power in the Drivers’ Championship standings, with Pagenaud third, just six points in arrears.

The field now switches focus to the real ‘month of May’ action, with the first practice session for the Indianapolis 500 getting underway on Sunday. A number of runners will have a long night ahead trying to repair their battered cars for the all-important oval event.

2014 IndyCar Series Grand Prix of Indianapolis – Race Result (82 laps):

Driver Team / Entry Result
1. Simon Pagenaud Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda Honda 2:04:24.0261
2. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti Autosport Honda Honda + 0.8906
3. Hélio Castroneves Team Penske Chevrolet Chevrolet + 1.8244
4. Sébastien Bourdais KV Racing Technology Honda Honda + 2.5406
5. Charlie Kimball Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Chevrolet + 5.3007
6. Ryan Briscoe Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Chevrolet + 9.1914
7. Jack Hawksworth Bryan Herta Autosport Honda Honda + 14.6161
8. Will Power Team Penske Chevrolet Chevrolet + 18.5958
9. Takuma Sato A.J. Foyt Enterprises Honda Honda + 20.9721
10. Tony Kanaan Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Chevrolet + 21.4359
11. Justin Wilson Dale Coyne Racing Honda Honda + 26.4750
12. Oriol Servià es Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda Honda + 29.6561
13. Carlos Huertas Dale Coyne Racing Honda Honda + 33.0827
14. Marco Andretti Andretti Autosport Honda Honda + 1:04.2370
15. Scott Dixon Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Chevrolet + 1:08.6263
16. Juan Pablo Montoya Team Penske Chevrolet Chevrolet + 1 lap
17. Josef Newgarden Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda Honda + 2 laps
18. Martin Plowman A.J. Foyt Enterprises Honda Honda + 2 laps
Not Classified
DNF. Mike Conway Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet Chevrolet 58 laps
DNF. James Hinchcliffe ca Andretti Autosport Honda Honda 56 laps
DNF. Graham Rahal Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda Honda 50 laps
DNF. Franck Montagny KV Racing Technology Honda Honda 47 laps
DNF. Sebastián Saavedra KV Racing Technology / AFS Racing Honda Honda 0 laps
DNF. Carlos Muñoz Andretti Autosport Honda Honda 0 laps
DNF. Mikhail Aleshin Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda Honda 0 laps

Images via IndyCar Series Media and Motorsport.com

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.