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PAGENAUD WINS INAUGURAL GRAND PRIX OF INDIANAPOLIS IN DRAMATIC FASHION
Author: Mark W. Theisen
photo: BroncosPitstop.com/Brady Whitesel
photo: BroncosPitstop.com/Brady Whitesel
May 10th 2014 -
     INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA May 10, 2014:  "Pretty Cool, Pretty Cool” oozed from the mouth of Frenchman Simon Pagenaud as he stood in victory lane today after winning the first Verizon Indy Car Series event on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

      Pretty cool, indeed!  A race that started with a horrendous accident that eventually evolved into a fuel mileage race between the major teams in the business and one still building on its credibility, saw David slay Goliath as Schmidt Peterson Motorsport out calculated Andretti Autosport and Team Penske and came away with the prestigious first time win at Indy.

     "It was a total team effort,” said Pagenaud, "I don’t like fuel mileage races but you do what you have to do to win and today it was conserve fuel at the end and hope the figures coming from the pits were spot on and they were.  It was nerve-wrecking.”





     The first running of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis featured a standing start and perhaps that decision will be reversed after a horrendous accident at the start.

      After the parade laps the cars came to a stop at the start/finish line and waited for the light tree to signal the start.  When the red went out the cars put it in gear and smoked the tires off the line but for pole sitter Sebastian Saavedra it was entirely different.

     When he let the clutch out the engine died and cars swerved every which way to avoid him but Mikhail Aleshin and Carlos Munoz were not as fortunate.  They struck the disabled race car with such force that debris was strewn across the front stretch.

    So much debris everywhere that even Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard was struck by a piece and sustained a minor soft tissue injury.  He was evaluated and treated at the track and went home to rest

     Mike Conway drove his car through the debris and headed to the garage for repairs that took over 20 laps to repair.  The three drivers in the crash were unhurt but sidelined from the event.  Juan Pablo Montoya also suffered a mechanical woe on the start but was able to pull out of the way until he got his car back into gear.

      "It was very sad,” said a disappointed Saavedra.  "The team worked so hard, we were so well prepared and this.  We have to see what happened.  This should not have happened.”

     Ryan Hunter-Reay made a terrific move at the start and pulled to the lead as the caution was placed on the field immediately.  The opening seven laps were used to clean up the debris and get the front stretch ready for racing again as the race cars drove through the pits to record the laps rather than red flag the race at the start.

      Rookie and outside pole sitter Jack Hawksworth made a bold move at the end of the ninth lap or second lap under green and passed Hunter-Reay for the lead and the driver for the one car Bryan Herta Motorsport team began to pull away from the field as the rest of the drivers began to find their racing groove.

     Verizon Indy Car rules for road and street courses feature a two-tire rule.  Teams must use a black compound Firestone tire and a red compound Firestone in each race.  A minimum of two laps must be used with each compound.  The black tire is harder than the red and thus not as fast as the softer red.  Teams play a strategy game from the outset; some wanting to get the black out of the way first, others need the red to get track position at the outset.

     Hawksworth was on red at the start and was able to build an early lead over Pagenaud, Hunter-Reay, Scott Dixon and Will Power.

     The first round of pit stops began on lap 27 with Pagenaud in for his black tires and then Hawksworth came in and remained on red and when the sequence of stops was over Hawksworth was back in front and once again pulling out to a substantial lead.

     Hunter-Reay led lap 28 before his stop while Justin Wilson, who made a pit stop during the initial caution then led two laps before his stop.

     The race came under its second caution on lap 26 when Dixon and Power made contact in the third turn as Dixon was attempting to pass the current series point leader.
The contact sent Dixon into the infield while Power continued on.  Dixon needed to towed out of the sand and lost a lap to the race leaders and was never a factor in the race again.

     Hawksworth pitted under the caution for this accident and switched to the black compound tires and the change never really out for him and his car as he was in the middle of the pack as several other cars choose not to stop at this point in the race.

     Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Wilson, Carolos Huertas, Helio Castroneves, Oriol Servia and Charlie Kimball stayed on the track so when the raced restarted Pagenaud was in 9th and Hawksworth in 10th.

      The difference between Hawksworth and Pagenaud was that Pagenaud’s stint with the black was over and he had the right down-force package on his car to move forward while Hawksworth was stuck mid-pack.

     Two laps into the restart Frank Mantagny and Martin Plowman made contact in the 7th turn that actually lifted Plowman’s car off the ground, coming back down hard on his suspension but incredibly he drove away from the accident, shook the car down to make sure it was all right, made a pit stop and finished 18th at the end of the race.

     Mantagny’s Andretti Autosport car suffered significant damage and it could factor into Kurt Busch’s practice time for the 500 as it was the car he was scheduled to drive in the 500.  The car will have to be rebuilt before Busch can practice with it.

     On the ensuing restart Montoya made contact with Graham Rahal on the front stretch and the contact ended Rahal’s day as drivers continued to struggle with the difficult restart on the course that features clockwise racing rather that counter-clockwise that is the norm at Indy.

     With this 4th caution strategy was now going to way in on the finish of the race if it went the rest of the distance under green.  To that end Castroneves, Kimball, Hawksworth, Ryan Briscoe, Sebastien Bourdais and Takumo Sato stayed on the track to play the odds.

      As the laps ticked off it was apparent that the caution they needed would not appear and then began making pit stops.  

     Castroneves after leading 15 laps was the first to make a stop and his team owner Roger Penske figured he calculated correctly bring his driver in at this juncture in the race so he would have enough fuel at the end to win while the rest would have to stop.

     One by one the cars stopped with Servia taking the lead when Bourdais made his stop on lap 70.  As Servia’s Rahal, Letterman, Lannigan Racing team struggled with the figures it was apparent that Servia could not make it to the end so he stopped on lap 78 giving the lead to Pagenaud, whose team had also warned him that he needed to conserve fuel.

     Now between Pagenaud whose fuel supply was iffy and Castroneves, who could run wide open with enough fuel, was Hunter-Reay in an Andretti Autosport cars who was also on a fuel conservation strategy that did not please him at all and he said so over the radio but he was assured by doing what the team said he would finish on the podium.

     Now the Pagenaud watch was on, you could clearly see that Castroneves was making up ground but with four laps left his only chance was for the two in front of him to run-out and they did not.

     Pagenaud crossed the finish line 0.8906 seconds ahead of Hunter-Reay with Castroneves third; Bourdais, fourth; and Kimball, fifth.

     In open wheel racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsport is a growing entity.  A powerhouse when it comes to Indy Lights, they won their first two Verizon IndyCar races last year with Pagenaud driving after fielding cars in the series since 2001.

     Team owner, Sam Schmidt became a quadriplegic in 2000 due to injuries suffered in a practice race crash in Orlando, Florida.  Inspired by Formula One team owner, Frank Williams, also a wheel chair quadriplegic and with his master’s degree in finance to fall back on he started his fledgling race team and it is inspiring to see how it is all coming together for this terrific person.

     To see this team win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in an IndyCar race was well received up and down the pit road.

     "Fuel mileage races is not my cup of tea,” said Hunter-Reay.  "I know they are a part of it but I just don’t like it for the fans, they come to see us race.  This has been a good start to the year for us and although I would have like P1 (first place) it is a good start for us this month and the bigger (the 500) is what were after.”

     "The team made a great call,” said Castroneves on his early pit stop.  "I’m happy for Simon (Pagenaud), but I thought it would work for us.  We had a very fast Verizon car today and tomorrow we switch to Pennzoil for the 500.  Actually it will be very different tomorrow when we now race the traditional way around this place.  It was a fun race; I hope the fans enjoyed it.”

     Hinchcliffe suffered a freak accident on the 56th lap of the race right after the final caution period ended.  Parts from a car in front of him fell off hit the track bounced high in the air coming down in the cars cockpit striking his helmet and hand forcing him to pull off the race track.  Safety crews had to remove him from the car and the dazed driver was taken to Methodist Hospital for tests.  He was admitted with a CTC scan preformed indicating a concussion.  He was discharged but will need a medical clearance before being allowed to get back in his race car and practice and qualify for the Indy 500.

     Briscoe; Hawksworth, who led for the first time in his Verizon IndyCar career at a race high 31 laps; Power, Sato and Tony Kanaan rounded out the top five.

     Power came into the race with an 18 point lead over Hunter-Reay and saw that dwindle to just one going into the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500.  Pagenaud is now 6 points behind Power but that all can change quickly as the 500 carries double points and with qualifying points increased for the 500 even those drivers off the early pace could make up significant ground in a short time at the 500.

     Great weather enabled a huge walkup crowd and that attributed to smiles all around when it comes to management at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as they attempt to rebuild excitement all around at the track and throughout the month of May.

     I thought the crowd to be "Pretty Cool” as well.

     Qualifying for the 500 commences next Saturday and we’ll be there.        
    
  CELEBRATION OF AUTOMBILES:

     For the fourth year in a row the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has presented the Celebration of Automobiles, a concours, invitation only car show that is now attracting classic cars that are usually seen at prestigious shows around the United States such as Amelia Island and Pebble Beach.

      This year’s show attracted a record 1,000 entries of which 200 were selected to represent various classes of show cars such as the Brass Era, Touring, and Vintage Racing Cars.

     The show was divided into over 16 classes and awards will be presented later this evening at an awards Banquet.

     From vintage Packards, Auburns, Cords and Jaguars to the exceptionally rare Cunningham and Streyer this show had it all and it can only get better as the stature of winning of an event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway gains importance throughout the car collector hobby.

      The winning entries will be reported my next story as the Month of May unfolds here.


GRAND PRIX OF INDIANAPOLIS SUPPORT RACES:

     Adrian Starrantino took the lead on lap 11 of today’s USF2000 race and went on to score a 0.3394 victory over Florian Latorre in the 18 lap race on the 2.439 mile road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 

     Starrantino avenged a disappointing 17th place finish in yesterdays USF2000 race piloting his Jay Motorsports entry to post a career resume building victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

     Victor Franzoni, Clark Toppe and Henrik Furuseth rounded out the top five.  Yesterday’s winner, Will Owen finished 9th never establishing the dominance that he had in yesterday’s race.

     Austin Cindric brought out the only caution in the race when he went off course in the fourth turn on lap 3.  He was able to correct his Pabst Racing entry and was running at the finish two laps off the pace of the leaders after finishing 8th in the race yesterday.
     
     Scott Hargrove completed a sweep of the Pro Mazda races this weekend leading all the way in today’s 20 lap race despite the race being slowed three times for cautions.

     The race was not a lap old when multiple cars went off the course in turn one that two laps to clear up.  Then on lap 12 Neil Alberico and Shelby Blackstock touched in the seventh turn with Alberico recovering to finish second in the race, while Blackstock was unable to continue.

     The final caution came on lap 15 when Spencer Pigot and Nicolas Costa made contact in the first turn.

     Hargrove finished 2.7058 seconds ahead of Alberico with Jose Gutierrez, Garett Grist and Kyle Kaiser occupying the top five finishing spots.

     After finishing second to Matthew Brabham in yesterdays Indy Lights race Luiz Razia came back strong driving his Schmdit Peterson Motorsports to a 0.6164 second win over Jack Harvey, who finished third yesterday.

     Alex Baron finished third followed by Brabham, who was not as strong today in his Andretti Autosport entry as he was yesterday.

     Gabby Chaves, who suffered mechanical woes yesterday, made contact late in today’s race that cost him a fourth place finish.  Scott Anderson finished fifth in the today.

     For Razia it was his first series win after coming to Indy Lights from Pro Mazda last year.

     Indy Lights returns to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Freedom 100 on Friday May 23rd in an event that is run on the 2.5 oval rather than the road course.

     These three series were designed as stepping stones to the Verizon IndyCar series that has Josef Newgarden, Sage Karam, Jack Hawksworth as examples who have used the various series to establish their names and earn a shot at the big series.  The wins by the drivers the past two days, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are hoped to be part of their process in advancing their careers not to mention the prestige of winning event at the "Greatest Race Course in the World”, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway!