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Pagenaud Magnifique In Historic Indianapolis Road Race

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 11 2014

Simon Pagenaud celebrates his victory in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis like a true Frenchman. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

There may come a day when Simon Pagenaud is held in the same reverential esteem at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as Ray Harroun, winner of the first Indianapolis 500.

After his victory in Saturday’s inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Pagenaud certainly can be mentioned in the same sentence as fellow French-born racers Jules Goux, Rene Thomas, Gaston Chevrolet and Gil de Ferran. Goux (1913), Thomas (1914), Chevrolet (1920) and de Ferran (2003) are the only French natives to have won the Indy 500, which dates to Pennsylvanian Harroun’s victory in 1911.

Pagenaud held off Ryan Hunter-Reay by 0.8906-seconds to score his third career Verizon IndyCar Series victory in an event serving as a lead-in to the Month of May and 98th running of the Indy 500 on May 25.

“It feels like a dream come true for me,” said Pagenaud, who started fourth in the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Dallara/Honda. “It’s amazing to be racing guys like (Juan Pablo) Montoya. I used to look up and never thought I could be as fast as him because I never thought I could be a race car driver.

“Jacques Villeneuve, for me he’s the ‘97 Formula One World Champion (and 1995 Indy 500 winner). I met him (Friday). It was kind of a funny feeling. As a race fan, it was a funny feeling. As a racer, I’m going to race against him and I’m excited about that.  There’s one side of me that it’s a special moment. You get to meet the people that you look up to when you’re a kid. That’s very special. That’s kind of a fragile feeling. Then you get to race against them and then you see blood, so that’s different.”

Like Pagenaud, Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 DHL Dallara/Honda was starved for fuel as the race on the 2.439-mile/14-turn layout incorporating the oval and infield portions of IMS reached its 82-lap conclusion. Helio Castroneves, who started 10th in the No. 3 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet, had plenty of fuel and was narrowing the gap to the leaders in the final laps, but couldn’t get around Hunter-Reay.

Castroneves finished third, followed by Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais in the No. 11 Mistic KVSH Racing Dallara/Chevrolet and Charlie Kimball in the No. 83 NovoLog FlexPen Dallara/Chevrolet fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing.

Veteran Oriol Servia, driver of the No. 16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Dallara/Honda, was leading with five laps to go but was forced to pit for fuel. That handed the lead to Pagenaud, who also was at risk of running short of ethanol.

“It was a bit stressful in the end, I’ve got to tell you,” said Pagenaud, a native of Montmorillon, France, who will turn 30 next Sunday at IMS. “The last 15 laps they were telling me to achieve an unseen fuel

The first GP of Indy got off to a scary start.

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. When we came out of the pits, we were a little bit slower than him, so it worked out really good for us.

“I’m really proud. Two things – Mario Andretti gave me the trophy. Mario, obviously I always look up to. This trophy is my biggest trophy now. I’m very proud to be the second (actually fifth) Frenchman to win in Indianapolis in history and the first to win the Indy Grand Prix.  It’s incredible to be near The Pagoda (tower). I can’t even think what it could be with the Indy 500.”

Former IndyCar Series driver and current team-owner Sarah Fisher of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing will wave the green flag as honorary starter when oval practice opens at noon (ET) Sunday. The track will be open for practice until 6 p.m.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s standing start was marred by a massive crash when pole-sitter Sebastian Saavedra stalled in his right-side grid box, with the cars pointed to what is Turn 4 of the 2.5-mile oval and the road-course’s Turn 1 right-hander. Saavedra’s No. 17 AFS KV AFS Dallara/Chevrolet was hit hard in the left rear by the cars driven by rookies Carlos Munoz and Mikhail Aleshin.

Munoz continued across the track and hit the outside wall on the front stretch. All three drivers climbed from their cars without assistance as a full-course yellow was displayed. Hunter-Reay inherited the lead followed by rookie Jack Hawksworth and Pagenaud.

Meanwhile, Mike Conway – winner on the Streets of Long Beach on April 13 in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Dallara/Chevrolet fielded by owner/driver Ed Carpenter – suffered damage after hitting the inside pit wall. Additionally, Montoya’s No. 2 Team Penske Dallara/Chevy rejoined the event after being restarted.

Saavedra, a first-time IndyCar Series pole-sitter, blamed his stall on an electrical glitch. “We just followed protocol of the start,” said Saavedra, a 23-year-old native of Bogota, Colombia. “I don’t know if it was …or what. As soon as I released the clutch you went from 11,000 RPMs to 0, you know? Very sad because we

Simon Pagenaud on the Indy road course.

did an amazing job (during a wet qualifying session on Friday). Everybody did, the team had very high expectations and I’m really very disappointed. We have to see what happened. This should not have happened.”

Following an incident with flying debris on Lap 56, James Hinchcliffe of Andretti Autosport was transported by ground to IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, where he was diagnosed with a concussion. Hinchcliffe was discharged after undergoing a CT scan of his head and neck. Hinchcliffe will be re-evaluated by Dr. Michael Olinger, INDYCAR medical director, and series medical consultants before being cleared for Indy 500 practice. If Hinchcliffe is not cleared, his No. 27 United Fiber & Data Dallara/Honda will be driven by former Andretti Autosport regular E.J. Viso.

“I’m a little stiff and sore and I’d love to be back in the car (Sunday), but I suppose I should probably let the doctors make that decision,” Hinchcliffe said in a statement.

The race produced 12 lead changes, with Pagenaud taking the point for the duration on Lap 78 when Servia pitted for fuel. Pagenaud led Hunter-Reay by 2.8-seconds on Lap 80 and managed to navigate the final two circuits without incident or stalling.

“We were saving the same amount of fuel lap after lap, then they gave me the green light to go,” said Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion for Andretti Autosport and winner of the road-course event at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., on April 26. “I was catching him (Pagenaud) a bit. When you’re saving fuel so much, it’s tough when you go back to 110 percent to hit all your marks. We were catching him.

“It was a strange race today. The rhythm was off at times. Guys were on three-stoppers, two-stoppers, different tire strategies. It was a busy day, that’s for sure.”

Hunter-Reay also suggested that sanctioning body INDYCAR should decide on either rolling or standing starts for its road/street-course events.

“Either we do it or we don’t. Let’s not try to do two things,” RHR said. “The fans seem to like it (F1-style standing start). It poses a problem when we get to the really tight street circuits. To try to do a standing start, avoid a stalled car on a street circuit is almost impossible. This is a nice wide straightaway here, we had the room to avoid it, and look what happened. It’s not like Formula One where we have these massive tracks to do standing starts on.”

Castroneves said drivers still are trying to figure out the standing start. “Right now it’s very difficult,” said Castroneves, who turned 39 on Saturday. “Actually, again, this is the better place to keep most of the people behind. I think everybody is trying to work together. Right now, yes, there is some areas that maybe needs to be fixed. In the end of the day we’re still working on it. Everybody is working together and hopefully we find a solution.”

Hunter-Reay acknowledged the inherent difficulty but added, “It does have to do with the drivers in the back trying to get a run on the guy in front. If everybody got under the guy’s gearbox in front of them, there wouldn’t be an issue, I don’t think.

“Since we did karting, we had restarts one way, maybe until a couple years ago, when we started doing restart zones and stuff like that. The leader should be able to pick where he restarts. Other than that he’s a sitting duck.”

Castroneves:  “Why don’t you tell them that in the meetings?”

RHR: “I told them that plenty of times. It’s like beating a dead horse.”

Pagenaud’s previous win came on the Streets of Baltimore last summer. Pagenaud has finished in the top-five in all four races this season for popular team-owner Sam Schmidt. Hunter-Reay posted his third podium finish in four starts this season. Castroneves’ third-place run was the Brazilian’s second podium of the season after also finishing third in the season-opener on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 30.

Both Hunter-Reay and Pagenaud gained on championship point leader Will Power, winner on the Streets of St. Pete who started fifth at IMS in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet and placed a season-low eighth.

Power (149) leads Hunter-Reay by one point and Pagenaud by six heading into the Indy 500. Hawksworth, who finished seventh in the No. 98 Charter/Castrol Edge Dallara/Honda fielded by Bryan Herta Autosport/BBM with Curb-Agajanian, led his first 31 laps in the IndyCar Series. Those also were the most laps-led in race.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

Results Saturday of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 2.439-mile/14-turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis/engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (4) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara/Honda, 82, Running

2. (3) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara/Honda, 82, Running

3. (10) Helio Castroneves, Dallara/Chevy, 82, Running

4. (7) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara/Chevy, 82, Running

5. (23) Charlie Kimball, Dallara/Chevy, 82, Running

6. (14) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara/Chevy, 82, Running

7. (2) Jack Hawksworth, Dallara/Honda, 82, Running

8. (5) Will Power, Dallara/Chevy, 82, Running

9. (16) Takuma Sato, Dallara/Honda, 82, Running

10. (9) Tony Kanaan, Dallara/Chevy, 82, Running

11. (18) Justin Wilson, Dallara/Honda, 82, Running

12. (22) Oriol Servia, Dallara/Honda, 82, Running

13. (17) Carlos Huertas, Dallara/Honda, 82, Running

14. (13) Marco Andretti, Dallara/Honda, 82, Running

15. (6) Scott Dixon, Dallara/Chevy, 82, Running

16. (8) Juan Pablo Montoya, Dallara/Chevy, 81, Running

17. (15) Josef Newgarden, Dallara/Honda, 80, Running

18. (20) Martin Plowman, Dallara/Honda, 80, Running

19. (24) Mike Conway, Dallara/Chevy, 58, Mechanical

20. (11) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara/Honda, 56, Contact

21. (12) Graham Rahal, Dallara/Honda, 50, Contact

22. (21) Franck Montagny, Dallara/Honda, 47, Contact

23. (19) Carlos Munoz, Dallara/Honda, 0, Contact

24. (1) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara/Chevy, 0, Contact

25. (25) Mikhail Aleshin, Dallara/Honda, 0, Contact

Race Statistics _ Winner’s average speed: 96.462 mph. Time of Race: 02:04:24.0261. Margin of victory: 0.8906-seconds. Cautions: 4 for 19 laps. Lead changes: 12 among 8 drivers.

Lap Leaders _ Hunter-Reay 1-9,  Hawksworth 10-27, Hunter-Reay 28, Wilson 29 – 30, Hawksworth 31 – 43, Pagenaud 44, Hunter-Reay 45 -51. Wilson 52 – 53, Hunter-Reay 54, Castroneves 55 – 69, Bourdais 70, Servia 71 – 77, Pagenaud 78 – 82.

Point Standings _ Power 149, Hunter-Reay 148, Pagenaud 143, Castroneves 102, Dixon 102, Conway 93, Andretti 89, Wison 87, Kanaan 82, Bourdais 80.

SUNOCO Rookie of the Year Point Standings _ Hawksworth 71, Huertas 63, Munoz 61, Aleshin 49, Plowman 12.

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 11 2014
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