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.
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.
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.
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||2:04:24.0261|
|2.||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti Autosport Honda||+ 0.8906|
|3.||Hélio Castroneves||Team Penske Chevrolet||+ 1.8244|
|4.||Sébastien Bourdais||KV Racing Technology Honda||+ 2.5406|
|5.||Charlie Kimball||Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet||+ 5.3007|
|6.||Ryan Briscoe||Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet||+ 9.1914|
|7.||Jack Hawksworth||Bryan Herta Autosport Honda||+ 14.6161|
|8.||Will Power||Team Penske Chevrolet||+ 18.5958|
|9.||Takuma Sato||A.J. Foyt Enterprises Honda||+ 20.9721|
|10.||Tony Kanaan||Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet||+ 21.4359|
|11.||Justin Wilson||Dale Coyne Racing Honda||+ 26.4750|
|12.||Oriol Servià||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda||+ 29.6561|
|13.||Carlos Huertas||Dale Coyne Racing Honda||+ 33.0827|
|14.||Marco Andretti||Andretti Autosport Honda||+ 1:04.2370|
|15.||Scott Dixon||Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet||+ 1:08.6263|
|16.||Juan Pablo Montoya||Team Penske Chevrolet||+ 1 lap|
|17.||Josef Newgarden||Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda||+ 2 laps|
|18.||Martin Plowman||A.J. Foyt Enterprises Honda||+ 2 laps|
|DNF.||Mike Conway||Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet||58 laps|
|DNF.||James Hinchcliffe||Andretti Autosport Honda||56 laps|
|DNF.||Graham Rahal||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda||50 laps|
|DNF.||Franck Montagny||KV Racing Technology Honda||47 laps|
|DNF.||Sebastián Saavedra||KV Racing Technology / AFS Racing Honda||0 laps|
|DNF.||Carlos Muñoz||Andretti Autosport Honda||0 laps|
|DNF.||Mikhail Aleshin||Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda||0 laps|
Images via IndyCar Series Media and Motorsport.com