Story Credit: Jared DePouw
Photo Credit: INDYCAR Photo
The sixth annual INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway began under a literal cloud of uncertainty. Given the cold weather during qualifying on Friday, and mostly sunny conditions during morning warm-up, nobody had any clue what the weather would look like at the start of the race. The race would start with very light sprinkles being reported around the track.
Once the green flag dropped, Patricio O’Ward would get a great jump on the start. However he would run into the back of Alexander Rossi, causing Rossi to hit the wall and break his right-rear toe link. O’Ward would receive a drive-thru penalty for avoidable contact.
Meanwhile at the front of the field, Jack Harvey would get the jump on Scott Dixon to take second place after the first corner. Polesitter Felix Rosenqvist would hold onto the lead, and after three laps would lead Harvey by 1.27 seconds.
Lap 10 would see the first full course caution as Marcus Ericsson would spin in Turn 14 and make hard contact with the wall in the oval Turn 1.
“We were struggling a bit to get close on the straights, so we were trying to get as close as possible through (Turn) 14” said Ericsson. “I think I just got a bit too close and lost a bit of front downforce, understeer then snapped into oversteer and I just couldn’t catch it.”
The restart on Lap 15 would see Dixon pass both Harvey and Rosenqvist for the lead, but the green wouldn’t last long as Harvey contacted Colton Herta in Turn 1. Further back James Hinchcliffe would lock up his right-front tire for a long ways, running into the back of Ryan Hunter-Reay also in Turn 1 bringing out the second full course caution. Hinchcliffe would receive a drive-thru penalty for avoidable contact for his actions.
Lap 20 would see the next restart, with reports of intensifying rain around the track. Dixon would lead until Lap 27 when Dixon & teammate Rosenqvist would pit for the first time, handing the lead over to a group of cars who pitted during the first caution period led by Josef Newgarden. Newgarden would hold the lead until Lap 39 when he would pit for the second time, returning the lead back to Dixon.
Lap 45 would see a scary moment as Rosenqvist’s car would catch fire as he pulled out of his pit stall. Fortunately driving away put out the fire on the car, while his crew would put out a fire on the pavement. A couple laps later on Lap 47, the top 3 cars of Dixon/Harvey/Pagenaud would all pit in a line with Rahal retaking the lead. Pagenaud would pass Harvey in the race off pit lane. Rahal would hold the lead until Lap 50 when he would pit. Sebastien Bourdais inherited the lead for a lap until his next stop. With Newgarden back in the lead, he would start to pull away from O’Ward and Hinchcliffe.
Lap 55 would see Tony Kanaan become the first car to put on rain tires, despite the rain still being relatively light. On Lap 59 Helio Castroneves would stop to put on rain tires. Unfortunately for Castroneves, he would spin in Turn 1 exiting the pits and stall trying to reenter the track bringing out the third full course caution.
During the caution, all cars would pit and make the switch to rain tires. Rosenqvist would see his car catch fire again during his stop and Newgarden would have an issue on his stop as the right-front tire that came off began rolling across pit lane. Newgarden would be sent to the back of the field for the restart due to his incident.
Going back to green with 17 laps remaining would see Dixon leading, followed by Harvey. While Dixon would check out on the field, Pagenaud would demonstrate his rain prowess as he climbed up to third place on Lap 75. Pagenaud would use his last three seconds of Push-to-Pass at the start of Lap 79 to pass Harvey for second place.
With clear track, Pagenaud would knock an average of 1.5 seconds per lap off Dixon’s lead, catching up to Dixon with three laps remaining. With only two laps remaining, Pagenaud would finally get his opportunity to lead, passing Dixon in Turn 7 to take the lead and the race win. This is Pagenaud’s third victory at the Indy GP, and 12th career victory.
“It was amazing, the whole race. I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ I thought everybody was saving fuel. We were just so fast” said Pagenaud about his win. “Slowly and surely, we got there.”
For Dixon, it would be his third consecutive runner-up finish at the Indy GP and the 43rd of his career.
“I knew from the get-go that we would be struggling with the front end, and I don’t know why it was balanced that way” said Dixon. “I thought maybe we could hold the gap. But the harder I pushed, the worse it got and just blitzed the front tires off the car.”
Rounding out the podium was Harvey, his best finish so far in his young NTT IndyCar Series career.
“It wasn’t an easy race, being half dry and half wet, but we put on a great show for everybody at AutoNation and SiriusXM” said Harvey. “You can see how happy these guys are at getting a podium. Can you imagine how happy we’re going to be when we get a win? That’s where we’re going.”
The next NTT IndyCar Series race is the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on May 26 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race will be televised at 11 a.m. (ET) by NBC and broadcast by the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network affiliates, including Sirius 113, XM 214, IndyCar.com and the IndyCar Mobile powered by NTT DATA app.