May 10, 2014, 6:07 PM EDT
Simon Pagenaud has scored his third career Verizon IndyCar Series victory, to take the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis after saving enough fuel to go the last 29 laps in the 82-lap race.
Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay were gambling, trying to save fuel after the middle portion of the race was peppered with yellows and accidents. Meanwhile Helio Castroneves, who had fuel in hand, nearly ran the pair down.
“Man I didn’t know what we were asking for, but we made fuel,” Pagenaud said in Victory Lane. “The fuel saving was amazing. It was nerve wracking. I was worried about RHR coming back, and I didn’t know what Helio was doing here. I don’t like racing off throttle!”
Behind the podium finishers, Sebastien Bourdais and Charlie Kimball completed the top five. For both drivers, it was their first top-10, and by default, top-five finish of the season.
The initial accident on the start took pole sitter Sebastian Saavedra, Carlos Munoz and Mikhail Aleshin out of the race, and also caused damage to Mike Conway.
The race settled into a rhythm with Jack Hawksworth leading from Laps 10 to 27, and again from 41 to 43 (twice for a total of a race-high 31 laps), but past the 41-lap halfway mark, we had our Whiskey Tango Foxtrot emergence of the race.
On Lap 42, there was contact between Scott Dixon and Will Power, which left Dixon beached at Turn 3. After that restart, the third full-course caution of the race flew when on Lap 48, Martin Plowman lost control entering Turn 7 and slid up over the rear wing and engine cowling of fellow first-time 2014 starter Franck Montagny, which took the luckless Frenchman out of the race. Plowman, surprisingly, was able to restart after the aerial display and return to the track.
But even after that restart there was more chaos. On Lap 52, Juan Pablo Montoya contacted Graham Rahal, which left the National Guard Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver stranded on the front straight. That yellow lasted four laps.
On Lap 57, Castroneves led before he needed to pit later in the cycle. Meanwhile James Hinchcliffe stopped on course past Turn 7, apparently hit with debris although visual replays were not clear to determine what exactly happened.
The race could settle into a final rhythm from there. Hawksworth fell out of win contention as he’d pitted on the wrong cycle; meanwhile Castroneves and Bourdais eventually peeled off from the lead and the door opened for Oriol Servia to lead in the second RLL car. The Catalan nearly stole the victory but needed a final splash of fuel on Lap 78, shifting the lead back to Pagenaud.
Pagenaud held on from there, on fumes, to secure the win from Hunter-Reay and Castroneves, who could afford to run flat chat to the finish but never had the opportunity to make the move for either first or second.
Power, who ended eighth, leads Hunter-Reay by one point – 149-148 – with Pagenaud lurking in third at only six points back with 143. There’s a further 41 markers back to Castroneves and Dixon, tied for fourth, heading into the rest of the month of May.