Pagenaud Fumes to Indy GP Win

2014 Indianapolis Grand Prix, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, May 8-10, 2014

story (with texts from press releases) and photos by Tim Hailey

Simon Pagenaud salutes the crowd after making all the right moves on the Indy road course

Frenchman Simon Pagenaud became the fourth different Verizon IndyCar Series winner in as many races Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as the Honda-powered driver combined both speed and fuel mileage to claim his first victory of 2014 at the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

Eatmyink’s media center neighbor Brian Groce of Naptown Buzz caught this awesome sequence of the standing start carnage. Polesitter Sebastian Saavedra stalled and was pounded first by Carlo Munoz and finally by last place starter Mikhail Aleshin. Click here for the whole sequence!

Crash video

Starting fourth, Pagenaud successfully avoided a multi-car crash at the standing start that eliminated his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate, Mikail Aleshin, and fellow Honda driver Carlos Munoz, when pole-qualifier Sebastian Saavedra stalled at the line, resulting in a eight-lap caution period to begin the race. Hell, even Indianapolis mayor Greg Ballard was injured as he ceremonially waved the gree flag by what seemed like a safe distance away in the pit lane.

“I had a good start, but when I saw the cars coming together in front of me, I couldn’t do anything,” Aleshin said. “It was just too late. I was in the start of fifth gear going 70 mph. At that speed, when you don’t see the car until it’s 10 feet in front of you, there’s not much you can do. I was just preparing myself for the impact at that point.” Aleshin was not injured in the incident, but his Dallara was all smashed up and was credited with 25th place.

“We had bad luck yesterday with a penalty and then even worse luck today with that incident,” Aleshin said. “That’s racing, though – this sport is about ups and downs. We had a low moment today, but we’ll be back here tomorrow practicing for the Indianapolis 500. We’re not staying down long.”

Josef Newgarden struggled after lap 8 restart contact. MORE INDYGP PHOTOS

Once the green flag flew on Lap 8, Josef Newgarden made on the restart. “The first restart of the race was unbelievable,” Newgarden said. “Everyone stopped and then went again, stopped and then went again. I got caught out by the accordion effect and ended up damaging the right side of the front wing, which was a shame.”

Newgarden, who started the race 15th, fell back to 21st after the pit crew worked to make a fast front wing change on the No. 67 Klipsch Dallara/Honda/Firestone car. “We finally got everything going again, and then it just seemed like it was one thing after another to hit us after that,” Newgarden said. “We didn’t have any radio communication, so it was difficult to try and talk to the team. It was very intermittent what we could hear between each other, so we were trying to guess everything that we were doing today.”

Another impressive performance from rookie Jack Hawksworth saw the Honda-powered Bryan Herta Autosport driver pass early race leader Ryan Hunter-Reay in Turn One, with Pagenaud following through into second. The trio continued to lead the way for much of the 82-lap event, losing the advantage only when multiple cautions led the field to split into two separate pit-stop strategies.

Early race leader Jack Hawksworth hops the curb and dives into turn 1 under Will Power

Hawksworth’s chance for victory faded on Lap 61, however, when a communication miscue resulted in him staying on track when others on the same strategy pitted. That moved Pagenaud and Hunter-Reay to the front of “their” group, while Helio Castroneves led a group of four Chevrolet-powered cars on the alternative pit strategy. One by one, the Castroneves-led group was forced to pit, starting on Lap 69, as Pagenaud and Hunter-Reay moved to the front, and then held off their challengers to the Lap 84 checkers.

Great spectator views of close racing was—along with contact—the theme of the day

Aggressive Martin Plowman couldn’t get any closer to Marco Andretti at the head of the backstretch

Fan in the stands video of Plowman and Franck Montagny crash

“I don’t like having to save fuel, but I did exactly as my team told me to do,” said Pagenaud. “I just kept working my [fuel] mileage and working my lap times and, thanks to Honda, I think we may have been ‘making’ fuel at the end! Definitely, I think we are now in the hunt for the championship. But at this moment, all I can think about is being at the Pagoda, in Victory Circle. It truly is something special that I will never forget.”

Pagenaud’s gentle demeanor hides his aggressive style behind the wheel. MORE PHOTOS

“I have to thank the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team. There’s no way I could have done that alone today. They gave me a really, really good package this weekend. We were fast in every session. I knew going into the race that we really had a shot at a win, starting fourth.

“It became very important in the last stint to save a lot of fuel. That’s a huge hat’s off to Honda for an engine that could be that fast and save that much fuel. The last 15 laps were really stressful because the team was telling me to achieve an unseen fuel number, and I didn’t think I could hold on. I didn’t know exactly what the other strategies were, so I didn’t know who was going to be my competition. I knew Hunter-Reay was on the same fuel-saving mode. But I was very worried about Helio (Castroneves).”

Pagenaud has finished in the top five in all four Verizon IndyCar Series races this season. That consistency has placed him third in the championship standings, just six points behind leader Will Power. “We’ve truly proven that this team is a championship contender,” Pagenaud said. “It’s fair to say that we are where we want to be, fighting for wins every race weekend. This team excels because the people working on it are very dedicated and very smart. The group on the No. 77 car is very strong, and we’re extracting 100 percent of what we have to give right now.”

Pagenaud may need a bigger house for the massive Indy GP trophy/birdbath. PHOTOS

The novelty of winning an inaugural race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was not lost on Pagenaud. “Two really special things happened today,” Pagenaud said. “The first was that Mario Andretti gave me the Grand Prix trophy this afternoon in Victory Circle. I obviously look up to Mario, and this is definitely the biggest trophy in my collection now. It’s also a huge honor to be the first to win the Grand Prix of Indianapolis.”

Pagenaud’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis victory celebration will be short but sweet as practice for the 98th Indianapolis 500 begins at noon (ET) Sunday, May 11. “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” is scheduled for Sunday, May 25. “Winning today gives me a lot of confidence,” Pagenaud said. “That’s very important before going to the Indy 500. It’s a good dynamic for the team, for myself and for my confidence level. God knows how confident you have to be around here on the oval.”

1995 Indianapolis 500 winner and ’97 F1 champion Jacques Villeneuve will team with Pagenaud and Aleshin on the historic, 2.5-mile oval for SPM starting Sunday.

Honda video team report

Birthday Boy Helio Castroneves seemed pleased with his third place finish. MORE PHOTOS

Castroneves led the way for the Chevrolet IndyCar V6 contingent in his No. 3 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet with a podium finish on his birthday, matching his best finish thus far in 2014 with a third-place effort. “”Sometimes you’re just there and you’re going for it,” said Castroneves. “I guess you just didn’t want to take a chance with the fuel. But at the end of the day, I’m happy with the result.”

Sebastien Bourdais finished fourth. MORE INDYGP PHOTOS

“I knew this race was going to be a bit of a crash fest and sure enough it turned into one, but I am sure it was exciting to watch,” said fourth place finisher Sebastien Bourdais. “It was one of those days when you feel you have the pace, if you can just keep your front wing on and not get hit you can usually have a good day, a good result and earn strong points and that is what we did. I am really proud of the Mistic E-Cigs crew. They did awesome pit stops and the car was strong. We faded a bit at the end on new tires, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a strong finish and that was what we were shooting for this weekend.”

Video highlights from IndyCar

Tony Kanaan. MORE INDYGP PHOTOS

“Not the day we wanted today but the restarts were really tough and people needed to pay more attention,” said tenth place finisher Tony Kanaan. “I think our cars are improving but now it’s time to turn the page with the Lexar car here for the grand prix and starts having some fun getting ready for the 500.”

Charlie Kimball. MORE INDYGP PHOTOS

“This is a great day for Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing,” said fifth place Charlie Kimball. “My engineer, Brad Goldberg, and my team manager, Tom Wurtz, gave me the right pit stops at the right times and just let me go race the car. There were so many different strategies going on and all of those yellows made it challenging for our strategy because we had to run hard towards the end just to get back up into the top five after that last stop. I think without that last yellow at the end we might not have had to fight as hard to get back into the top five and could’ve possibly finished even higher. Overall, I’m just really happy with the guys. We needed this result, especially with the Indianapolis 500 coming up.”

The famous Blue Crown Special was part of the Celebration of Automobiles. PHOTOS

Fans enjoyed a day of great racing featuring the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Mazda Road to Indy developmental racing series, placing a singular spotlight on all levels of North American open-wheel racing at the Racing Capital of the World. A popular feature for fans at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis was the fourth annual Celebration of Automobiles on Pagoda Plaza showcasing an amazing collection of 130 classic and vintage cars from 1910-1970. Vintage car owners and automotive enthusiasts from around North America have flocked to IMS since 2011 for the Celebration of Automobiles, which pays homage to the rich heritage of automotive development at the track.

The Motor City! MORE INDYGP PHOTOS

INDYCAR later announcedpost-event infractions from the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, which was held May 10 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

· INDYCAR officials have fined engine manufacturer Chevrolet $20,000 and penalized it 10 engine manufacturer’s points for violations of the engine regulations. Chevrolet was found to have violated Rule 11.2 (Torque Control) and 12.1 (Traction Control) of the Verizon IndyCar Series Engine Regulations.

· INDYCAR officials have fined Schmidt Peterson Motorsports $1,000 for a technical violation on its No. 77 Verizon IndyCar Series entry driven by Simon Pagenaud. The entrant was found to have violated Rule 14.6.7.7 (Underwing splitter) of the Verizon IndyCar Series rulebook.

· INDYCAR officials have fined Penske Racing $1,000 for a technical violation on its No. 3 Verizon IndyCar Series entry driven by Helio Castroneves. The entrant was found to have violated Rule 14.15.7 (Differential assembly) of the Verizon IndyCar Series rulebook.

The member may contest the imposition of the penalty pursuant to the procedures and timelines detailed in the review and appeal procedures of the Verizon IndyCar Series rulebook.

With the completion of the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, the focus of Indy car drivers and teams now turns to the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500.

EARLIER: Columbian Saavedra on Pole for Indy GP

Ryan Hunter-Reay splashes down the back stretch shortly before…

….crashing on the final turn

Drivers negotiated rain and sunshine within the span of three short qualifying rounds Friday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to set the field for the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, with Columbian Sebastian Saavedra coming out on top. With a very wet but slowly drying track in the final knock-out, the Firestone Fast Six round, Saavedra was the last car across the line before Ryan Hunter-Reay crashed exiting the final turn behind him.

Sebastion Saavedra capitalized on being the last man across the line before RH-R’s crash

But during round 1, Simon Pagenaud posted a track-record lap of 1 minute, 9.6716 seconds, 126.026 mph on the newish 2.439-mile Grand Prix road course at IMS. The red flag for Hunter-Reay’s crash prevented Pagenaud from completing another flying lap on new tires. “There were a lot of changes in weather conditions during qualifying today,” Pagenaud said. “We started dry and knew we had a fantastic package for the car’s setup, so I went out straightaway in round 1 with the red Firestone tires. We posted the fastest lap of qualifying in that first session, which also happens to be a track record for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. We’re really proud of that!”

Simon Pagenaud at speed in the rain. MORE INDYGP PHOTOS

Rain started falling during Round 2, and Pagenaud transferred the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda to the Firestone Fast Six with a lap of 1 minute, 24.2156 seconds, 104.261 mph. Heavy rain caused a slight delay for the start of the Firestone Fast Six, but the sun came out again before the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers took the track for their final qualifying round.

“SPM devised a great strategy using two sets of rain tires,” Pagenaud said. “The first set we had used briefly in Round 2, and the second set was brand new so that we could gun for the pole. Unfortunately, there was a red flag on our first lap with those new tires, so we didn’t get a chance to finish our flying lap. That’s racing, though, and starting fourth is a very good position to be in. The team has done a fantastic job preparing for this race, and I’m looking forward to being aggressive at the start to see if we can gain ground right off the bat.”

Impressive Russian driver Mikhail Aleshin was penalized in Q2 and dropped to last place

Rookie Mikhail Aleshin posted the third-quickest lap of his qualifying group for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, but he was issued a penalty from Verizon IndyCar Series Race Control for interference. He lost his two fastest laps of the session, which dropped him to the 25th starting position. “My car had great speed today,” Aleshin said. “It’s hard to find the appropriate words to express how disappointed I am that we were penalized. I’m very happy for the team, though, because our car was fast enough for third during the first round of qualifying.”

Despite starting last in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Aleshin is confident the setup prepared by his No. 7 SMP Racing crew will enable him to advance through the field. “There is always opportunity for passing, especially at this track with the big straightaways,” Aleshin said. “I’m very sure that we’ll have a good car during the race, so I just need to make my way through cleanly tomorrow. I’ll move forward and fight for every position and every point I can possibly get for the team.”

Rookie rainmeister Jack Hawksworth qualified 2nd. MORE INDYGP PHOTOS


Pagenaud and IndyCar champ Scott Dixon were all smiles after Thursday’s practice

Like Pagenaud, Dixon had pitted (actually was in the pits at the time) for fresh banzai rubber at the time of Hunter-Reay’s crash

Current posterboy Josef Newgarden was eliminated in round 1 of qualifying, one-tenth of a second short of advancing to round 2. “It’s a really close field; IndyCar is just really tight all around,” Newgarden said. “With everyone being incredibly good and close, if you miss it by a little bit, you can be off. It’s a shame we didn’t get through to the next round. I think we were close to a top-five car, but we will be working hard tomorrow and try to run up front.

“It’s been back and forth all weekend trying to figure out the rain and dry conditions. We’ve been chasing it quite a bit, but that’s all part of the learning experience. We have a lot of data to pour through for tomorrow, and we will figure out the setup we need for Saturday.”

Tune in to ABC to watch the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis at 3:30 p.m. (ET) on Saturday, May 10 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Arie Luyendyk and Oriol Servia at the Rev benefit gala. I told Luyendyk that the year he won his first Indy 500 (1990, the fastest 500 for 23 years), he was too fast and didn’t give my friends and I time to drink enough. He laughed, and I turned to Sevia and said “I work the races now and can’t drink during them, but I wish you the same result this year.” More photos from the Rev party soon.