James Hinchcliffe made a one stop strategy work to emerge victorious from a chaotic, caution-filled and time-shortened inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana at NOLA Motorsports Park in New Orleans.
Out of the 105 minutes of allowed racing, only 31 of them were completed under green flag conditions.
The race ended under its sixth and final full-course caution of the day, with Hinchcliffe finishing ahead of Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves, the second SPM entry of James Jakes, Andretti’s Simona de Silvestro and pole sitter from Penske Juan Pablo Montoya. This is Hinchcliffe’s fourth career victory and first since Iowa in 2013.
Hinchcliffe took a gamble with an off-sequence strategy and it worked to perfection in his number 5 Arrow/Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda entry after starting 16th on the grid, having pitted on Lap 13.
Penske’s Montoya led most of the opening stint, but wasn’t the dominant story.
On off-sequence strategies, the Canadian Hinchcliffe led Carlos Huertas, Castroneves, Jakes, Kanaan and de Silvestro as of Lap 35 in the originally scheduled 75-lap race.
But time was an issue and the major storyline throughout the race. The race was set for 75 laps distance or 105 minutes. The halfway mark came at Lap 38, and the 53 minute mark.
After the opening 15 laps, full-course cautions were constant from Lap 16.
The first yellow came when Gabby Chaves spun at turn 4 and got stuck, then got pushed back onto the track by a corner marshal. Chaves promptly stopped on track shortly after.
Shortly after the first restart more carnage came when AJ Foyt’s Jack Hawksworth crashed in Turn 13 trying to avoid a spinning James Jakes. Contact also occurred between Castroneves and Francesco Dracone.
“I was right behind him, he was really struggling. He spun on the last corner and I had nowhere to go,” Hawksworth told NBCSN’s Robin Miller. “What can you do? There’s nothing to say about that, other than wrong place, wrong time.”
Things got worse during the caution when Dracone spun in the pits and made contact with his own pit crew member. Crew chief Todd Phillips was treated in the care centre for a cut to his lower right leg.
The next restart occurred on Lap 28, but another yellow flag came almost immediately when Stefano Coletti had a massive spin and shunt on the front straight. Coletti smacked an armco barrier just past an opening but somehow, despite ruining a rear wing assembly, managed to keep going.
The yellows continued with Ganassi’s Sage Karam causing two in a row, the first on Lap 32 being stuck in the gravel at Turn 5, and the second on Lap 41 when he stopped on the circuit at turn 13.
In-between the two incidents, a restart got delayed again when Huertas spun exiting turn 13 while running in second place.
The final caution occurred following a multiple car accident on Lap 43, following another restart, when Andretti’s Ryan Hunter-Reay squeezed Simon Pagenaud off track entering turn 4. Pagenaud then skidded across the road into Hunter-Reay and Sebastien Bourdais.
“We had a great race going. Really clean racing,” Hunter-Reay told NBCSN’s Kevin Lee. “Then we got down to Turn 3 and 4. I’m peddling the car all the way out, there’s no room for him to be out there. What do you want me to do? Bourdais on my left, Pagenaud on the right, I’m on regular racing line, he’s off racing line now. There’s no more room, I don’t know where he was going.”
“We were side by side in the corner,” Pagenaud told NBCSN’s Kelli Stavast. “It seems like it’s his track, so he runs me off, really dangerous. Sebastien didn’t deserve to be involved. Not a professional move.”
“(Pagenaud) just made sure I was OK,” Bourdais told Lee. “(The car) just missed my head by a couple inches; tub is broken, big hit.”
Image via Indy Car Series
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