NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Grand Prix of Indianapolis: Pagenaud ekes one out after a rough start to the race

Grand Prix of Indianapolis

In a Nutshell: Simon Pagenaud and his team worked fuel and pit strategy better than any other team. After the wreck to start the race (more on that below), the race passed by in an orderly fashion until the first caution at Lap 42, which lead to three more yellows by Lap 55. The differing decisions of when to pit during that stretch led to the final finishing order. Ryan Hunter-Reay managed to conserve enough fuel to take second, who was followed by Helio Castroneves who stopped late and tried to charge forward to no avail. Sebastian Bourdais and Charlie Kimball rounded out the top 5.

Key Moment:
On Lap 42, Will Power challenged Scott Dixon for the forth position. The two drivers drove wheel to wheel through a couple of turns with Dixon bouncing off of Power and spinning into the kitty litter. This incident brought out the race’s second caution, which would then lead to 3 more over the next 13 laps. These cautions caused the divergent strategies of when drivers would pit for fuel and who could run wide open or who had to conserve. Pagenuad’s team played it best as drivers in front of him came to pit road to splash and go.

Pagenaud celebrating after making the most of is fuel mileage.
Pagenaud celebrating after making the most of is fuel mileage.

*Highlight Reel: *
-Call this first one the Lowlight Reel. Last season IndyCar adopted standing starts for some of its road/street races. The GP of Indy featured another indictment of this choice when pole-sitter Sebastian Saavedgra failed to get going. With the other 24 drivers eager to rip laps…boom. Carlos Munoz andMikhail Aleshin both plowed into the idle Saavedra and the explosion sent shrapnel flying. Mike Conway, in his attempt to avoid the mess, also bounced off the wall and, in essence, ruined his day.

Ed Carpenter, both an owner and a driver, stated his dislike of standing starts by saying that he felt like only two of them had worked out since they became part of the series. While his comment seems somewhat apt, it also raises the question of why teams haven’t invested more emphasis on ensuring they get it right. s

– Pagenaud’s win means that IndyCar has now had 4 different winners to start the season. It also shows that there is a modicum of parity in the series as that’s now two wins by teams that aren’t Penske, Ganassi, or Andretti. One final note it also placed him third in the overall points.

– Rookie driver Jack Hawksworth led for 31 laps and looked like he would pace the field. The mid-race cautions shuffled him back and he managed only to get back to 7th. Still It’s a strong result for the driver who was on his way to becoming a trainer before team owner Brian Herta gave him a call for a tryout.

– *Graham Rahal*’s season, which seemed promising after offseason changes to the Rahal-Letterman Racing team, continues to spiral off the track. He was running well and looked poised to finally get a decent finish this season when Juan Pablo Montoya punted him on a restart. Rahal seems like he’s enduring another season to forget.

– Not be outdone, *James Hinchcliffe*’s miserable season continues as well. The affable driver was running a solid race, and then, game over. Parts of another car, who’s was never mentioned, flew up the track and apparently nailed Hinchliffe on the helmet. The TV coverage showed him being transported on a gurney as he held his head. Later reports indicated that he had a concussion and that he’ll have to be re-evaluated and cleared to race. First, positive thoughts should be sent his way. Second, it’s another reminder of how dangerous motorsports are.

– From a racing standpoint, it looks like Hinchcliffe’s season is about to be a wash. With only one top 10 in the first three races, Hinchtown is looking like he’ll become the test car for Andretti. This week’s race may have cemented that notion.

– How about a bit of a golf clap for Takuma Sato. He’s another driver having a bit of a rough season. Starting in 19th position, he was able to work his way up to a 9th place finish, giving him his second top 10 of the year.

– As if the standing start wasn’t problematic enough, the restarts also were an area of concern. Rahal may have blamed Montoya for ruining his day but he also stated that IndyCar’s desire to make their restarts more like NASCAR’s are the real culprit. This problem showed up at the opening race and looks like it isn’t going away. The question that arises is whether or not IndyCar will make any in-season changes.

– The race on the road course looks like it was a success as the stands that were open for the event looked filled. As long as transitioning the track back to its oval format goes smoothly, it looks good for the race to remain on the schedule.

– The ride that Kurt Busch will be driving was damaged during the GP when Martin Plowman popped off the curbing and landed on Franck Montagny’s car – the one for Busch. Just something to add to the intrigue of Busch doing the double.

Notable Driver: Ryan Briscoe. His teammates, Tony Kanaan and defending champion Scott Dixon, may be the ones from Ganassi who get most of the attention, but Briscoe earned a sixth place finish at Indy. He’s had a quiet year so far but outrunning his two cohorts is sure to give him a boost as the teams now shift their focus to the 500. After running a partial schedule last year, Briscoe needs finishes like this one to show that the team made the right move in bringing him in full time.

From Simon Pagenaud: This trophy is my biggest trophy now. I’m very proud to be the second Frenchman to win in Indianapolis in history and the first to win the Indy Grand Prix.
It’s incredible to be near the pagoda. I can’t even think what it could be with the Indy 500.

What’s Next:
Something called the Indianapolis 500. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Practice begins on May 11th, with qualifying the following weekend on the 18th. The race itself will be on Sunday, May 25, with coverage beginning on ABC at 11 est. Tony Kanaan is the defending race winner.

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About Ava Ladner

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As an editor, Ava works through some of the site’s biggest columns while writing one of her own on F1 each week. “Stranded” on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, the aspiring college professor also helps anchor other coverage while coordinating Pace Laps, our multi-series news update.