Pagenaud Survives Brutal Indy Grand Prix

Ryan Hunter-Reay (1) leads early during Saturday's Grand Prix of Indianapolis. (Al Steinberg Photo)
Ryan Hunter-Reay (1) leads early during Saturday’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis. (Al Steinberg Photo)

Castroneves made a late fuel stop that allowed him to drive at full throttle, which allowed him to close the gap on the leader. But Pagenaud had the winning strategy.

There were numerous crashes but none bigger than at the start of the race.

As the 25-car field was awaiting the lights to go out for the first-ever standing start of an IndyCar race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Saavedra’s car stalled. Cars sped past him as IndyCar officials kept the green light on with some of the cars squeezing to the inside of Saavedra’s Dallara/Chevrolet and the pit retaining wall at very high speed. Some made it but Carlos Munoz drilled the back of Saavedra, ripping the rear assembly from the car.

“Everything happened really fast,” Munoz said. “I was really in the back. I was already in fifth gear. I was really close to the car in front of me. I just saw him go to the right. I just saw him go to the right. I had to go to the left but was not nearly fast enough. I wasn’t OK to go a little to the left side and not crash him just in front and not crash him with my rear front.

“Everything went wrong. When you’re qualifying so bad in the rear you can expect these kind of things. Not to forget tomorrow starts another race so we’ll just concentrate on tomorrow and move on.”

Aleshin, a rookie driver from Russia, ran into the back of the Saavedra’s car and landed on top of crumpled vehicle. The front stretch of Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a debris field with a rear wheel and suspension laying on the track.

Despite taking two hard impacts, Saavedra was able to climb from the wreckage unhurt. All three drivers were checked and released from the IU Health Infield Care Center at Indianapolis Motor Speedway without injuries.

Mayor Ballard was hit by the debris and had to be taken to the Infield Care Center.

“At the start of the race, Mayor Greg Ballard was struck by a piece of debris that resulted from the accident at the start of the race and had a minor soft tissue injury,” said Indianapolis Motor Speedway Medical Director Dr. Geoffrey Billows. “He was evaluated and treated here, and we sent him home to rest, so he is fine.”

Pagenaud made his final pit stop along with rookie driver Jack Hawksworth on lap 44. Pagenaud was able to save enough fuel to win the race while Hawksworth drove too hard and had to make a final pit stop. The rookie from England finished seventh.

“It was a shame,” Hawksworth said. “We had the race under such good control in the beginning. The car was perfect. We got lost in that yellow and then we got shuffled back. It cost us some points. It’s disappointing because we could have won the race. It was and IndyCar race and anything can happen. We just have to move on to the next race. The car was okay late, I pushed so hard on the rights. We did our best. I feel good about the oval; it will be a different challenge. We will be back with a good car as usual.”

Juan Pablo Montoya made his IndyCar Series return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time since winning the 2000 Indianapolis 500. But he also stalled at the start of the race and was later involved in an incident with Graham Rahal during a restart that stuffed Rahal’s Dallara/Honda into the turn 14 wall.

“I just got punted,” Rahal said. “I mean Montoya is a lap down and he almost hit me actually the restart before when he tried to dive-bomb me into turn seven. I mean, the guy is a lap down. I don’t know what he is trying to do playing with the leaders but it just ruined our day.”

Montoya entered the race thinking he had a legitimate chance of winning instead of finishing 16th.

“We had a winning Verizon Chevrolet today, to be honest,” Montoya said. “It was very frustrating to have all the problems we had. We got off on the wrong foot at the start. We did what we normally do on a standing start; I dropped the clutch and it just stopped.

“From there we were behind, but even then we were catching everyone. The lead pack knew we were coming. I really thought we were going to win the race. Then we had the problem in the right rear and lost a lap. That was it. We had a good run but just weren’t able to finish were we should.”