Pagenaud prevails in inaugural GP of Indianapolis
Indianapolis, IN (SportsNetwork.com) - Simon Pagenaud gambled on fuel late in the race and then held off Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves in the final laps to win Saturday's inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis.
This was the first time the IndyCar Series competed on Indianapolis Motor Speedway's 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course.
Pagenaud, who drives the No. 77 car Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports, made his last pit stop with 28 laps remaining. He grabbed the lead with five laps to go when then leader Oriol Servia was forced to pit for fuel. Pagenaud beat Hunter-Reay, the 2012 IndyCar champion, to the finish line by just 0.8906 seconds for his third career victory in the series.
"This car was unbelievable," Pagenaud said. "The fuel we're saving is amazing. With the pace, it was nerve-wracking. I've got to tell you, I was worried about Helio [Castroneves] coming back, and I didn't know what [Ryan] Hunter- Reay was doing either, so I just kept working."
Hunter-Reay, who won the most recent race two weeks ago at Barber Motorsports Park, last pitted at the same time Pagenaud did.
"Everybody was doing different strategies, but it was a lot of fun," Hunter- Reay said. "I would rather not have saved fuel at the end. But the team put us on the right strategy, so thanks to them."
Helio Castroneves, who celebrated his 39th birthday on Saturday, had to pit with 10 laps left, dropping him to 17th, but Castroneves charged through the field and ended up finishing third, just 1.8244 seconds behind Pagenaud.
"Sometimes you're just there and you're going for it, but I guess we just didn't want to take a chance with the fuel," Castroneves said. "But at the end of the day, I'm happy with the result."
Sebastien Bourdais and Charlie Kimball rounded out the top-five.
The start of this 82-lap race was marred by a horrifying accident involving pole sitter Sebastian Saavedra as well as rookies Carlos Munoz and Mikhail Aleshin.
Saavedra stalled from his grid position when the lights went out for the standing start.
Most of the 25-car field avoided hitting Saavedra, but Munoz, who started 19th, plowed into the left rear of Saavedra's car before Mikhail Aleshin slammed right into the back of the pole sitter. Aleshin started last in this race.
Aleshin's car went on top of Saavedra's vehicle, as it spun around before coming to a rest on the front straightaway. Debris from all three cars littered the track, and some of it flew into the pit area.
"We just followed protocol for the start," Saavedra said. "As soon as I released the clutch, I went from 11,000 rpm to zero. I'm very sad because we did an amazing job, everybody did. The team had very high expectations. This should not have happened."
Saavedra, Munoz and Aleshin were not injured, as they climb out of their cars under their own power.
"Everything happened really fast," Munoz said. "I was already in fifth gear. I was really close to the car in front of me. I just saw him go to the right. I had to go to the left but was not fast enough. I wasn't okay to go a little to the left side and not to crash him."
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, who waved the green flag as the honorary race starter, suffered a soft tissue injury on his left arm and chest from flying debris. Ballard was treated and released from the speedway's infield medical care center before he returned to his home to watch the end of the race.
"Thanks everyone for well wishes and the great #IUHealth and @IMS staff for checking me out. Watching the rest of the race from home," Mayor Ballard posted on his Twitter account.
Another frightening crash occurred on lap 48 when rookie Martin Plowman spun out and then made contact with Franck Montagny. Plowman's car went slightly airborne and rolled on top of Montagny's vehicle. Montagny drove back to the pit area before retiring from the event, while Plowman continued to race.
Several laps later during the restart, Juan Pablo Montoya hit Graham Rahal from behind and put Rahal into the wall.
James Hinchcliffe suffered a concussion when he was hit in the head by debris. Hinchcliffe spun out on lap 57. Shortly after his incident, the Andretti Autosport driver was taken by stretcher to the infield care center and then later transported to a nearby hospital where he underwent a CT scan of his head and neck.
Hinchcliffe was discharged from the hospital late Saturday. He will be re- evaluated next week before he is medically cleared to resume his driving duties.
With the road-course race now completed, preparations for the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 have begun. The 2.5-mile oval opens for the initial Indy 500 practice session on Sunday. Qualifying is scheduled for next weekend, and the 500-mile race at IMS runs on May 25.
"I'm a little stiff and sore, and I'd love to be back in the car tomorrow, but I suppose I should probably let the doctors make that decision," Hinchcliffe said in a team statement.
Ryan Briscoe finished sixth, while rookie Jack Hawksworth crossed the line in seventh. Hawksworth led 31 of the first 43 laps but faded from there.
Will Power, the current points leader, took the eighth spot, followed by Takuma Sato and Tony Kanaan.
Hunter-Reay is only one point behind Power, while Pagenaud trails by just six points. Castroneves and Scott Dixon, who finished 15th, are both 47 markers out of the lead. Dixon spun out onto the gravel while he was battling Power for position at the halfway point.
05/10 21:24:59 ET