Race Report: Grand Prix of Indianapolis

INDIANAPOLIS May 10, 2014—“Eventful” was the word that both veteran Takuma Sato and rookie Martin Plowman used to describe the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

That was an understatement.

The race began with a spectacular accident when pole winner Sebastian Saavedra failed to launch in the standing start. Several drivers missed the stalled car but Carlos Munoz hit Saavedra and then Mikhail Aleshin plowed straight into him, sending debris flying everywhere. All drivers escaped injury.

Both Sato and Plowman did masterful jobs avoiding most of the carnage but received damage to their front nose assemblies which were replaced along with tires; Sato’s telemetry was knocked out too. Both drivers received knocks to the helmets from the flying debris – in fact, the debris grazed Sato’s helmet and punched a hole in his headrest!

On the second go round, Sato made a brilliant start picking up about seven spots but he lost them when he thought he had punctured a tire. With no telemetry to confirm air pressure, the crew told him to pit for new tires a lap later.

Both drivers then raced hard, but Sato’s two early stops positioned him to lose a lap about midway through the race. Savvy strategy allowed him to gain the lap back on the full course caution brought about by Plowman on lap 48. Plowman was forced onto the marbles entering Turn 7, went spinning off track and as he re-entered, he hit the curbing which launched him into the air. He landed on Franck Montagny (who wasn’t hurt), and came to a stop on the grass. He was restarted and didn’t lose a lap!

In the two successive pit stops, the crew determined that the car was solid and sent him back into the race.

Employing two different fuel strategies -- Plowman conserving fuel and Sato pitting under green-- both drivers made it back into the top 10. Unfortunately, Plowman’s earlier accident caused a suspension problem which surfaced with four laps to go. He pitted and the crew determined he could finish the race, albeit off pace.

Sato fended off Tony Kanaan for the final 15 laps to finish ninth and climb to 12th in the standings. Plowman came home in 18th.

“What an eventful race!” said Sato. “The initial start was tough because we’ve been having a small issue with the clutch since yesterday. Last night we had a good look at it and tried to solve the problem but there still seems to be an issue so I couldn’t get off the start and I was delayed massively. Maybe that’s why I could avoid the accident on the initial start but some debris knocked out our telemetry and we had to replace the nose because debris lodged in it.

“I could see a big black chunk flying towards me and I couldn’t move over because there was a car next to me and a wall on the other side,” Sato continued. “But I could see it coming and I tried to move my head but it brushed my helmet and then there was a big hole in my headrest. Very close but very fortunate that I missed that debris. We damaged the right mirror and head protector.

“Then I had what I thought was a puncture but because we lost the telemetry at the start, we couldn’t tell if the pressure was going down. So we had to pit and change the tires and we lost a lot of places. But after that we kept on pushing and were able to make up some positions on the restarts. There were many accidents that happened in front of me but I was able to avoid them. We got our lap back in the end and we got a top 10. It was a tough race but it was really good. A big thanks to the whole ABC Supply team—they did a great job.”

Team Director Larry Foyt said, “It was a long day. It’s funny to be this happy with a P9 but we really needed a top-10. We haven’t had much racing luck this year and it looked like it was going to continue at the start. Nobody gave up, we just kept trying and got our lap back and Takuma did a good job to get into the top 10.

“Martin did a good job too,” Foyt added. “I wasn’t able to focus on much of his race because I was calling the race for Takuma but it looked like he was really moving up. It was a shame that he had the incident but he still did a good job to bring it home.”

Plowman explained his race, saying, "That was a very eventful day for the #41 Alfe Heat Treating Car. “The start of the race I had a very good first stint and I managed to pass three or four cars on track. We had a really good pace on the reds. [The engineers] were telling me I was keeping up with the leaders’ times. Then we pitted for black tires and that was not as good. We had a bit of oversteer but were still doing okay.

“We just caught the yellow [on lap 42] which helped us so we were looking really good on the strategy. But on that restart we got bottled up behind Marco and then got a run on him into Turn 7. A car went on my outside to make it three-wide which pushed me further to the inside. Under braking, I got caught out on the debris on the inside, which locked the rears up instantly, and then I was just a passenger. That was a tough break there. I was just flying through the air thinking, 'This is going to hurt really bad.'

“Luckily we came out of it unscathed. The car was in relatively one piece. We got it started again on the lead lap and were still running in the top 15. We had a chance to come back with a gamble at the end. We decided to pit and go onto red tires early. Normally a stint is 22 laps, but with 28 laps to go we decided to gamble and save fuel. So the last 28 laps were in heavy fuel save mode. A couple of leaders pitted and they came back to pass me because we had to stick to our plan of saving fuel.

“At five laps to go [while running 10th], we were almost clear to race until the end when the rear suspension broke. It was a shame because I think we definitely had a chance to be a top 10 car at the end. We learned a lot and we handled a lot of different situations well. I'm not happy with the result, but it was a fun race and the boss is happy. And if he's happy, I'm happy," Plowman concluded.

Simon Pagenaud entered the history books by winning the inaugural event. He was followed across the line by Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves, Sebastien Bourdais and Charlie Kimball. James Hinchcliffe sustained a concussion when he was hit by debris from a local incident in Turn 7 on lap 57. He must be evaluated further before being cleared to drive.

Practice for the May 25th Indianapolis 500 begins Sunday, May 11th with qualifications set for next weekend.