» BACK TO CRASH.NET

Crash.Net IndyCar News

Pagenaud ekes out fuel to win inaugural Indy road race

10 May 2014

Full race results and championship standings.

It was a race that featured an explosive start and went on to see more than its fair share of tough, brawling racing over the ensuring two hours. Ultimately it came down to who could make their fuel stretch the distance, and Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsport's Simon Paganeud came up trumps to pip Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves to a historic first win in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis road course race at the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

With blue skies peppered by fluffy white clouds and temperatures higher than expected, it was hard to believe that just 24 hours earlier storm fronts had rolled through the area and created havoc during qualifying for the race. Sebastian Saavedra and Jack Hawksworth had been the chief beneficiaries of the chaos, but now as the lights went out for a standing start the pressure was on them to convert that front row to a solid race performance and scoop up some championship points in the process. Could they deliver?

Unfortunately the answer was immediate, dramatic and entirely in the negative for the polesitter. When the lights went out, Saavedra's car jerked forward and then the engine promptly died with an electrical issue, leaving him a sitting duck right on the inside line. Ryan Hunter-Reay managed to clear him by inches as he steered around, but it was inevitable that someone from further back - unsighted by the traffic ahead - would sooner or later run into the back of the motionless #17 KV-AFS Racing car.

It turned out to be Andretti Autosport's Carlos Munoz who draw the short straw, realising too late what had happened. He tried turning away but he made emphatic contact with the left rear of Saavedra's car, sending out a cloud of debris along the frontstraight as his own front right suspension disintegrated; seconds later, Mikhail Aleshin arrived on scene form the back of the grid and the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports #7 ran straight into the back of Saavedra's already demolished car.

Fortunately all the drivers involved were unhurt, albeit understandably winded and shaken. Unrelated but also stalled on the grid was Juan Pablo Montoya who was on the outside line having had just enough momentum to allow him to stay out of trouble and await a safety crew to re-fire his engine, while Mike Conway's car suffered damage from flying debris that sent him for an extended visit to the Ed Carpenter Racing pit box and eventually into early retirement.

“We just followed protocol of the start - as soon as I released the clutch you went from eleven thousand RPMs to zero," Saavedra explained later. "Very sad because we did an amazing job. The team had very high expectations. When you have the opportunity to be in the front of the pack in this amazing place you want to bring it home. To not even get a chance because of an electrical thing or something [is frustrating]."

The safety car has been immediately deployed and it was lap 8 before the race resumed with a single file rolling restart, Hunter-Reay now in charge after Hawksworth's own initial start had been on the sluggish side. Simon Paganeud was in third place, ahead of Will Power, Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves, and there was plenty of jostling and some hard contact throughout the field in the first full lap of the afternoon - Josef Newgarden and Takuma Sato both ended up having to duck into pit lane for repairs as a consequence - but nothing serious enough to warrant another caution.

Hunter-Reay initially kept the lead from Hawksworth, but on their second full speed run down into turn 1 it was clear than the Andretti Autosport car didn't have the raw speed to hold off the rookie, and Hawksworth duly executed a nice move down the inside and quickly started to pull away. Hunter-Reay didn't have enough time to close the door before Pagenaud went through as well, but he was finally able to steady the ship and ward off Dixon's attempt to get past at the same spot next lap by.

The race settled down after that with Hawksworth consolidating his lead over Pagenaud at the front. Castroneves was the first driver in for a scheduled pit stop on lap 20, but most teams wanted to extend the first stint as long as possible to keep their fuel strategy options open. Pagenaud and Dixon stretched it to the end of lap 27, and Hawksworth, Hunter-Reay and Power were in next time by. That briefly handed the lead to Justin Wilson, until it was time for the Dale Coyne Racing car's own service at the end of lap 31, clearly indicating an attempt for a two-stop strategy.

The race settled into a calm groove for the next dozen laps with Hawksworth once again back in the lead and displaying a calm assurance belying his rookie status as he continued to stay out of reach of Pagenaud. However his lead evaporated on lap 41 when the second caution of the day came out as a result of a clash between Will Power and Scott Dixon; Power had just managed to squeeze past the #9 for fourth place but then an uncharacteristic red mist seemed to descend on Dixon who tried too hard and too soon to retake the position, ending up spinning out into the gravel at turn 3 where he went a lap down waiting for the safety crew to arrive and get him going again.

There was a split decision among the drivers as to whether to take the opportunity to pit: leaders Hawksworth, Pagenaud and Power all came in, but Hunter-Reay stayed out along with half a dozen other drivers. The race restarted on lap 47, but was quickly back under yellow again when Martin Plowman overcooked his approach into turn 7. Trying to avoid running into the cars in front he instead cut the corner and promptly got twisted around by the kerbing, before getting launched in the air over the top of Franck Montagny's car, doing major damage to the #26 in the process - posing a major headache to the Andretti Autosport team who need it for Kurt Busch's first Indy 500 practice session on Sunday morning. Unsurprisingly, Plowman was the only taker for pit lane this time as the AJ Foyt Racing crew called him in for a checkover.

The next restart on lap 51 didn't even make it to the green flag before the fun started all over again, with Graham Rahal re-ended by the lapped car of Juan Pablo Montoya on the frontstraight. Before the full course caution was thrown, Justin Wilson managed to get the jump on Hunter-Reay, and that put him in the ideal position to win the race off pit lane as the majority of cars - especially those that hadn't just recently stopped - took the chance to do so now with the realistic hope of making it to the finish without further stops.

The cars opting to stay out were birthday boy Helio Castroneves and Charlie Kimball, along with Hawksworth (who had received the call to pit too late), Ryan Briscoe, Sebastien Bourdais and Takuma Sato. Wilson rejoined the race in seventh ahead of Hunter-Reay and Pagenaud with Hinchcliffe rounding out the top ten. However once the green flag came out on lap 56, Hinchcliffe was quickly eliminated from the running as he pulled into the run-off zone at turn 7 with an apparent injury; fortunately this resulted in only local waved yellows and did not delay the resumption of racing.

Also no longer in contention fo the race win was Will Power, who was penalised for running over pit lane equipment in a previous pit stop. He was joined in his pit lane drive-thru by the already-lapped Montoya, who was penalised for having previously rear-ended Rahal.

While Castroneves enjoyed leading the race, the reality was that he was well short on fuel after not having taken the chance to pit under yellow. He finally came in on lap 70 a lap later than Kimball and with just 12 laps remaining in the race. Soon all those that had stayed out under the preceding caution had been forced to cycle through pit lane, dropping them down the running order. That left Oriol Servia out in front ahead of Pagenaud and Hunter-Reay, all three having made their last stops under caution on lap 64 leaving them on a knife edge regarding whether or not they could still make it the full 82 laps without a caution to help them. If they couldn't, then Castroneves, Bourdais and Kimball would be right back in the frame to step up onto the podium: they were on fresh tyres and with fuel to burn compared with those trying to eke their way to the finish ahead of them up the road.

Servia was forced to call it a day with four laps still to go, handing the lead to Pagenaud who like Hunter-Reay was determined to see this gamble through to the bitter end, even if meant running dry within sight of the chequered flag. It was a nailbiting final few minutes, but Pagenaud's luck held and he was able to cross the famous yard of bricks to claim victory in the inaugural Indianapolis road race before the tank ran dry on the cool down lap. Hunter-Reay - who was told at one point that he was three laps short - also made it to the finish and with enough pace to hold off Castroneves' spirited run, further testament to the Honda's superior fuel conservation over the Chevrolets.

"The fuel we're saving is amazing," said Pagenaud afterwards. "With the pace it was nerve-racking. I was worried about Helio coming back and I didn't know what Hunter-Reay was doing either, so I just kept working. My lap time was saving fuel, being off throttle. I don't like racing off throttle. But it worked out."

In pulling it off, Pagenaud had got the best possible start to the Month of May for himself, the team and for team owner Sam Schmidt. In championship terms it means that the top three drivers Power, Hunter-Reay and Pagenaud - are now covered by just six points after four of the 18 races of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series championship, with a long drop of over 40 points back to Castroneves and Dixon tied on fourth.

While the victory ensures that Pagenaud has sealed himself a place in the history books as the first Indy road race winner at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, that distinct honour nonetheless pales into insignificance compared with what comes next - the Indianapolis 500 itself, which starts with the opening practice session less than 18 hours later on Sunday morning.

Full race results and championship standings.


» BACK TO CRASH.NET