SPEEDWAY – Chaos at the start, yellow flags in the middle, and fuel issues at the finish.
But in the end, Simon Pagenaud got past all of it to make history.
The Sam Schmidt Motorsports driver was able to conserve enough fuel down the stretch to pick up the win in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis that featured a huge crash to start and a battle conservation in the end.
For Pagenaud it’s his first win of the season and arguably his biggest of his Verizon IndyCar Career.
“This car was unbelievable,” said Pagenaud after the win in the inaugural Grand Prix. “The engine. 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.”
He did that by first avoiding a near catastrophe literally five seconds into the race. Pole sitter Sebastian Saavedra stalled during the standing start of the race and forced those behind him to maneuver quickly to miss him. Carlos Munoz wasn’t so lucky as he first struck the No. 17 machine in the back before Mikhail Aleshin wiped out his and Saavedra’s car with a big hit that spread debris on-and-off the track.
All of the drivers incredibly escaped injury during the wreck but eight laps were lost due to the lenghthy time needed to clean up the significant debris.
Because of that the team’s original fuel strategies were scrapped, forcing teams to plan differently as they approached the end of the race.
“My lap time was saving fuel, being off throttle,” said Pagenaud of his strategy down the stretch. “I don’t like racing off throttle. But it worked out, thanks to the whole (Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports) team. I think it’s amazing. The car that they provided me this weekend was definitely the fastest.”
In the end, though, he would have to stay patient. In the final 12 laps their were four lead changes as teams saw their fuel window close quickly. Helio Castroneves had to dip into the pits for fuel with 12 laps to go which gave Sebastien Bourdais the lead. But a lap later he would come in for fuel which gave the lead to Oriol Servia.
Pagenaud got his chance at the lead with five laps left when Servia needed fuel and then the race was on. With Castroneves and Hunter-Reay closing in, Pagenaud managed to conserve just enough fuel to get to the finish for a historic win.
“It’s pretty cool. It’s awesome,” said Pagenaud of the victory. “Obviously we work for this every weekend and… this year we’re in the hunt for the Championship. But here looking at the the Pagoda, it’s very emotional. Very happy. My dad’s here and he never comes here so it’s amazing.”