A huge gamble on a near-impossible fuel strategy propelled Schmidt Peterson Motorsport's James Hinchcliffe to the front of the field late in the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana, and then a dramatic three-car crash in the closing minutes ensured that the popular Canadian emerged with his first victory of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

"When we first decided to stay out, I thought, 'Wouldn't it be funny if we could make this a one-stopper?'" said Hinchcliffe as he celebrated in victory lane. "I just never thought it [could happen]. On one hand, I feel badly that we didn't have more green-flag laps for the fans and everybody here at NOLA, but on the other hand, those guys called it awesome."

CLICK: Full race results from the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana at NOLA Motorsports Park.

IndyCar's gambit of trying to outsmart the weather by starting the race an hour earlier than originally scheduled paid dividends, with the green flag eventually coming out for the first time during a much-needed break in the rain. The 2.74-mile, 13-turn road course was still wet but the track workers had done a good job clearing up the worst of the standing water - although conditions were still treacherous for anyone risking straying from the developing dry line, as Tony Kanaan found out when he tried to go side-by-side with Will Power through the opening corners and ended up momentarily skating off the track.

Kanaan recovered and rejoined the race in sixth place, but that meant Team Penske now had the top four positions all locked up with polesitter Juan Pabo Montoya enjoying the spray-free view at the front ahead of Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud with KVSH Racing's Sebastien Bourdais in fifth in front of Kanaan.

Light contact on the back of his team mate Charlie Kimball's car sent Ganassi's Sage Karam into the pits at the end of lap 4 for a new front wing, but otherwise the drivers were commendably careful and the race continued to run incident-free despite the tricky conditions, to the point where drivers were soon confident enough to eye up a change to slick tyres. The first to take the gamble were Kanaan and Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay at the end of lap 12, and next time around there were more takers in the form of Stefano Coletti, Simona de Silvestro and Marco Andretti, with Bourdais in the lap after that.

Despite the newly slick-shod Kanaan promptly sliding off the track again at turn 12 and thereafter struggling to find enough traction on the sodden grass to rejoin, the die was by now well and truly cast meaning that the leaders were in next time around to complete the change from the wet weather tyres. The order at the front was unchanged with the exception of Kanaan who had tumbled to 16th place as a result of his latest off, which had promoted Hunter-Reay into the top six as the highest placed of the Honda cars. Seconds after the pit stops were completed the first caution came out on lap 16 for Gabby Chaves stalling the #98 Bryan Herta Autosport car in turn 4, despite having got a push back on track from a lone brave marshall after spinning off onto the grass.

A restart attempt on lap 21 proved something of a mess, James Jakes spinning in the final corner before he could even take the green flag, and AJ Foyt Racing's Jack Hawksworth forced to drive nose-first into the tyre wall to avoid the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports car. At the other end of the main straightaway, an attempt by Helio Castroneves to pass the lapped Dale Coyne Racing car of Francesco Dracone ended up with the Penske suffering damage to the left front element of the #3's front wing, and also spun Dracone around in the run-off area causing mild panic among the rest of the field as they worked to avoid running into him. Castroneves was forced to pit for a new wing dropping him to the back of field, while the damage to Hawksworth's car was too serious to allow the Englishman to continue making him the first retiree of the day. Dracone was also in for repairs, but he then spun as he tried to leave his damp pit stall and in the process sent DCR chief mechanic Todd Phillips flying, leading to a delay in resuming the race while the medical team attended and removed Phillips to the in-field medical centre for further treatment for a cut to the lower right leg.

With Castroneves temporarily out of the picture at the front, the remaining triumvirate of Montoya, Power and Pagenaud had control of the next restart attempt on lap 28 ahead of Bourdais, Graham Rahal and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Luca Filippi was displaying his experience with wet weather racing in GP2 in seventh place just ahead of de Silvestro, who had climbed ten places to eighth with some canny driving and crucially by staying out of trouble. Unfortunately Stefano Coletti's own GP2 experience proved to be no help to him at all when the green flags came out and his left wheels went through standing water on the main straight, resulting in the KV Racing Technology car aquaplaning without warning. It snapped hard to the right, sending Coletti into a hard rear-first hit with the Armco on inside of the track to bring out another full course caution. Remarkably Coletti was able to get going again and limp round the track and back to pit road, albeit with extensive rear wing damage that took some time to repair before he could rejoin the race three laps down.

"On the restart I tried to pass on the straight but found a big puddle," he confirmed after the race. "This caused me to spin and hit the barrier hard and I had to return to the pits to change the rear wing.

"The crew did a great job because the studs on the gearbox that mount the new rear wing had broken off, so they had to fixed that first and in the end managed to get me going, but three laps down. The rest of the race was pretty much under yellow and there was nothing I could really do to catch up."

With the weather starting to close in again and the numerous cautions meaning that the race was certain to be timed out before the full 75-lap scheduled distance, the team strategists were busy reacting with updated tactical plans. A number of drivers including de Silvestro, Kanaan and Castroneves opted to pit at this point but Montoya, Power and Pagenaud all stayed out and were still in charge of the restart ahead of Hunter-Reay, Rahal and Bourdais when the green flags came out on lap 31. Once again the race didn't get very far before a new full course caution was shown when Sage Karam went off and beached the #8 in the gravel in turn 5, the rookie finding NOLA a very hard first taste of IndyCar road course racing. Also sliding off on the wet grass and broadsiding the Armco barrier under the ensuing safety car was DCR's Carlos Huertas. Both drivers were able to rejoin the race, but were off the lead lap.

The strategists were now signalling that the cars were within range of making it to the end of the race whenever that might prove to be, and so the leaders all pitted on lap 33 leaving James Hinchcliffe minding the store in the SPM #5 ahead of Castroneves, Jakes, Kanaan and de Silvestro. The pit stops dropped Penske team mates Montoya, Power and Pagenaud to sixth, seventh and eighth ahead of the next successful green flag on lap 40, but they still looking in prime position to sweep the podium once the various strategies played out. That is, unless heavy rain arrived earlier than expected, or something untoward happened in the meantime.

At this point Hinchcliffe had run 27 laps since his last visit to pit lane, but many of those had been under fuel-saving cautions. With less than quarter of an hour remaining on the clock, what the Canadian needed was even more caution periods to help eke out his gas to the finish - and his prayers were answered when Karam promptly triggered yet another caution with a spin in the final corner. Even so, there were eight and a half minutes still on the clock when the green flags came back out and not nearly enough fuel left in Hinch's tank to last that long at racing speed.

Hinchcliffe jumped away at the front, while de Sivestro thought about a lunge on Castroneves and Jakes down the inside into turn 1 but wisely pulled out of the attempt in time. Meanwhile, eighth-placed Pagenaud found himself running on the outside of Hunter-Reay through the turn 2 left-hander which resulted in contact between the pair that bounced the #22 off the track and onto the soaked grass. At that point the Penske car was entirely out of control and duly slid back onto the track at the next apex, slamming into Hunter-Reay who in turn was propelled into a nasty contact with Bourdais who was minding his own business on the other side only to nearly end up with Hunter-Reay's rear wheel in his cockpit for his troubles. All three wound up in the tyre wall with heavy damage to their cars, but fortunately all three drivers were soon climbing out and having animated discussions among themselves, Pagenaud accusing Hunter-Reay of running him out of room and Hunter-Reay snapping back that there had been no room for Pagenaud to make the move in the first place.

"On the last restart I was on the inside and Ryan came up and made it three wide with Simon," reported Bourdais of what he had seen of the incident. "Ryan pushed Simon into the grass, he then came back on track with no control and could not avoid collecting me ending our race. It was never going to be a good day, but now with the damage to the car it is a shame because this was going to be my Indy 500 car."

With three wrecked cars to clear up and a tyre wall to check over, there was no chance of getting the race back underway before the clock counted down to zero. Hinchcliffe nursed his remaining fuel fumes all the way to the chequered flag at the end of lap 47 to chalk up his fourth race win in the IndyCar Series, his maiden victory for Schmidt Peterson Motorsport and his first since Iowa in 2013. Emphasising just what a knife-edge gamble his win had relied on, Hinchcliffe then came to a halt on the cool-down lap and had to be retrieved and pushed into victory lane, having ultimately stretched his fuel for a mighty 34 laps.

"The car was unbelievable on the [soft option] reds," he said. "We pulled away from a couple of Penskes on those restarts. If we had gone green, I think we could've held them off at the end as long as we had the fuel. I'm just so happy."

In second place, Castroneves successfully held off a determined challenge from Hinchcliffe's SPM team mate James Jakes who took third place ahead of de Silvestro. Long-time leader Juan Pablo Montoya was able to get the jump on Tony Kanaan for fifth place, while Will Power crossed the line in seventh ahead of Graham Rahal, Josef Newgarden and Luca Filippi.

A strangely lacklustre Scott Dixon missed out on the top ten and finished in 11th ahead of Andretti Autosport pair Carlos Munoz and Marco Andretti. Charlie Kimball was the last driver shown on the lead lap, and six drivers were classified as having retired before the finish.

In the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series championship, Juan Pablo Montoya retains the lead in the standings by ten points over his team mate Helio Castroneves, with defending champion Will Power just four points further back in third ahead of James Hinchcliffe and Tony Kanaan. Simona de Silvestro is up to sixth place in the standings despite not having a full time ride in this year's championship; her next outing is due to be at Indianapolis in May, unless the Andretti team decide to re-up on the opportunity that her early success has presented them as she's currently their highest-scoring driver in the series.

The teams won't have long before they're back in action again, with the third round of the season at Long Beach due in just seven days. To everyone's relief, the weather for next weekend is California at its sunniest and driest best, and headaches involving thunderstorms will already be the stuff of distant nightmares when the green flags come back out.

See full race results from the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana at NOLA Motorsports Park.