All 82 laps of the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis seemed to have a storyline, including an aborted standing start, crashes and crucial fuel-saving strategy. Simon Pagenaud wrote his page in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway history books along with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (SPM) when he won the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis by .8906 of a second over Ryan Hunter-Reay on Saturday, May 10 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was the third career Verizon IndyCar Series victory for Pagenaud and SPM.
"I have to thank the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team," Pagenaud said. "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."
Pagenaud and SPM found the perfect balance between speed and fuel conservation in the No. 77 Honda-powered car to find victory lane. He took the lead for good on Lap 78 when Oriol Servia dove into the pits for fuel. Pagenaud then stayed out front over the last five laps on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile circuit, holding off Hunter-Reay and hard-charging three-time Indianapolis 500 Helio Castroneves, who had plenty of fuel.
"It became very important in the last stint to save a lot of fuel," Pagenaud said. "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."
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."
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."
Rookie Mikhail Aleshin was eliminated from the Grand Prix of Indianapolis before making it to the Turn 1 on Lap 1. Pole sitter Sebastian Saavedra stalled during the standing start, and rookie Carlos Munoz ran into the back of his car, pushing him directly into Aleshin's path.
"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 damage sustained to the No. 7 SMP Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone prohibited him from returning to the track. He 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."
Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing (SFHR) driver Josef Newgarden persevered through the subplots and misfortune to finish 17th when the checkered flag flew in the first Verizon IndyCar Series road race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
After the crash on the front straight during the standing start of the race, Newgarden made contact on the first restart on Lap 8.
"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."
Newgarden was instructed to save fuel toward the end of the race, which featured a variety of different fuel strategies from teams on the 14-turn, 2.349-mile road course. He ended up two laps down to winner Simon Pagenaud of Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports.
"It was a tough day for everyone," Newgarden said. "It seemed like anything that could go wrong went wrong for us, but we will try and live to fight another day, that's what you have to do in racing sometimes. It was great having Klipsch with us this weekend. They've been an awesome activation for our sport, and I feel bad we couldn't give them a better show. It's great to have another track day right after a tough day like this. The best thing is to get back on track, and hopefully we can start fresh tomorrow."
Pagenaud's Grand Prix of Indianapolis victory celebration will be short but sweet as practice for the 98th Indianapolis 500 began at noon (ET) Sunday, May 11. "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" is scheduled for Sunday, May 25. 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner Jacques Villeneuve joined Pagenaud and Aleshin on the historic, 2.5-mile oval for SPM starting Sunday.
"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."