Remarkably, not only did the first corner not claim a victim until the second pass, but the race also failed to produce a retirement until half of the field had decided to make its opening stop. The unlucky man was Pedro de la Rosa, who had fallen behind both Minardis early on, before pulling off with a smoking Cosworth. To compound his injury, the Spaniard then took a tumble over the barriers as he was ushered away by the efficient marshals.
The nature of the Indianapolis circuit gave most teams the option of making one or two stops, and much of the mid-race interest lay in discovering who was running what plan. Olivier Panis was the first to show his hand, stopping on lap 21, with team-mate Villeneuve interrupting his pursuit of Trulli to follow suit four laps later.
Ferrari's 2001 event had featured a split decision, with Schumacher stopping once and Barrichello twice, but this time around, both men opted for three short stints. Identical eight second stops punctuated the trade of lap records, but Barrichello, who had lost almost a second while lapping Eddie Irvine and Allan McNish, banged in the quickest lap of the race on his in-lap to ensure he resumed right in his team leader's tracks.
It was also touch and go whether either man would make it out before Coulthard arrived on the scene but, in both cases, a nigh-on 25-second advantage ensured that the Scot remained in third place.
The order further down the field was left more disrupted by the pit-stop window, with Montoya up into fourth when Trulli pitted on lap 29, ahead of Raikkonen and Fisichella. Button, recovering from a poor qualifying session, was on the fringe of a top six place but soon to stop, while Trulli - who was making an early single stop, now had Villeneuve bearing down on him again.
The Villeneuve-Trulli battle was soon the one to recapture the crowd's attention, with the Canadian making a first attempt to pass at turn one only to follow the Sato route to turn three. Three laps to regather himself, and the 1997 world champion tried again, belying his suggestion that his car was not good enough for the race by making the move stick this time around.
The retirement list remained stubbornly at one until the race passed into its second phase, but was quickly populated by both Minardi drivers. While Mark Webber's exit was relatively quiet, the Australian pulling into the pits with disconcerting steering after a race-long battle with Eddie Irvine, team-mate Alex Yoong made a more dramatic statement by obscuring much of the approach to turn one in white smoke, following a comprehensive engine blow-up. To that point, the Malaysian had enjoyed perhaps his best showing in an F1 car, harassing de la Rosa until the Spaniard's retirement and running in close company with his team-mate thereafter.
The last remnants of Asiatech smoke heralded the next round of pit-calls, with the majority of those opting for one stop coming in between laps 42 and 45. Coulthard was the first to stop, dropping momentarily behind team-mate Raikkonen, who continued to plug away despite a down on power Mercedes. When the Finn stopped, DC was promoted back to the final podium position, and his tenure was again eased when the second McLaren expired shortly afterwards.
Prior to his stop, Coulthard had latched onto the tail of the Ferrari train, closing in through the twisty infield section of the circuit where the Scuderia cars were expected to excel over their rivals. his stop interrupted what could have been a fascinating battle, however, and, when both Ferraris stopped just before lap 50, they had enough of an advantage to easily regain the lead.
With the race seemingly in their pocket, Schumacher and Barrichello cut the pace, allowing DC to close again slowly. The man on the move, however, was Montoya, who really had the bit between his teeth as he ran down a podium position he felt would have been his by right had it not been for his team-mate. The Colombian's increased pace, in turn, caused Coulthard to up his, and the gap to the leading pair shrank perhaps a little more than either Ferrarista had anticipated.