It wasn’t pretty, but James Hinchcliffe got Sam Schmidt his first win of the season today, in just his second race with the SPM team. Much like the previous two days, the action was somewhat spoiled by Mother Nature. Heavy storms blanketed the newly designed NOLA Motorsports Park, but the Verizon IndyCar Series managed to get the race in on Sunday.
After qualifying was cancelled due to lightning yesterday, the field was set by entry points, which put Juan Montoya on the pole. He and his Penske running mate Will Power kept everyone in check at the beginning of the race, but it was only a matter of time before the first yellow flag was displayed. The old saying goes, “cautions breed cautions” and today was a prime example. After the first caution came out, there was minimal green flag racing after that, due to the tricky conditions on the track.
Hinchcliffe’s team decided to gamble by not pitting when most everyone else did. That moved him to the front of the field, after he started in 15th position. From there, it was essentially just following the pace car around and watching the clock (timed race) tick down. After a massive crash involving Simon Pagenaud, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Sebastien Bourdais, the yellow and checkered flags were waved together.
The race was scheduled to be 75 laps in length, but only 47 were completed due to the time limit. Helio Castroneves finished in second, after a trying weekend for the veteran driver. Joining them on the podium was James Jakes, which made the day extra special for Schmidt. Simona de Silvestro and Montoya rounded out the top five. Three of those drivers started 16th or worse (Hinchcliffe 16th, Jakes 22nd, de Silvestro 18th). There were six cautions, for a total of 26 laps on Sunday. Only three drivers led a lap, and the average speed of the race was 71.995 mph.
There were plenty of wild, hair-raising moments on Sunday, but none bigger than the incident between the three drivers near the end of the race. It began when Pagenaud and Hunter-Reay were battling for real estate in turn four. Simon ran out of room, went sailing through the wet grass, and collected the others in the next turn. Watch the incident unfold below.
The other heart pounding moment came when Stefano Coletti hydroplaned at top speed on the front straightaway. The Rookie was okay, and actually rebounded to finish the race in 17th spot. The clip of his scary ride is below.
Tony Kanaan was fast all weekend, but had his fair share of spins as well. He managed to finish sixth on Sunday, in what was another shaky day for the Ganassi team. The defending series champion, Power, came home in seventh after a typical strong showing early in the race. Graham Rahal had a very good run on Sunday, and brought his Mi-Jack RLL Racing Honda home in eighth. CFHR drivers Josef Newgarden and Luca Filippi had quiet afternoons, but both managed a top ten finish in NOLA. Scott Dixon finished 11th.
As Paul Tracy said, it wasn’t the best race IndyCar has ever had, but there was plenty of drama this weekend. Others, like driver Marco Andretti, were a little more blunt about the race.
The next race on the schedule is the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 19. NBC Sports Network will provide coverage for the event, which begins at 4 PM ET on Sunday.
Below are highlights from Sunday’s race.
Sebastien Bourdais: “It was a weird race obviously. We held our own throughout the race getting as high as fourth. The Mistic-Circle K car ran good in the wet and ran good as the track transitioned. Then the race just became a succession of cautions with restarts after restarts during which I made a couple of spots and lost a couple of spots. Because of all the cautions there were different strategies and as they played out we ended up having to pit when everybody behind us had already done so. The guys in back cycled to the front and we cycled to the back with the leaders. Then with all the cautions, the guys in back were able to stretch their fuel and on the last restart I was on the inside and Ryan (Hunter-Reay) came up and made it three wide with Simon (Pagenaud). Ryan pushed Simon into the grass. He then came back on track with no control and could not avoid collecting me, ending our race. It was never going to be a good day, but now with the damage to the car it is a shame because this was going to be my Indy 500 car.”
Helio Castroneves: “First of all, I have to give congratulations to the entire track, and the entire Verizon IndyCar Series to keep pushing to have another round here. And congrats to the fans. I want to thank all the fans for the first race here at NOLA and we have to keep going. The track conditions were really difficult because there were areas where there was a stream of water on the race track and it was very difficult for us to keep the cars on there. Now talking about the Hitachi boys, man, you guys are awesome. We had a little bit of a misunderstanding because the guy I hit, I thought he was two laps down. I knew he wasn’t battling for the lead and unfortunately, when I got the nose chopped, the information was a little bit iffy. But at the end of the day, Roger, Jonathan and everybody never gave up. I never gave up and at the end of the day to be taking second place – it’s a very happy day.”
Scott Dixon: “It’s a shame we didn’t get much green-flag racing in today here at NOLA. I wish we could have gotten more racing in with the dry conditions after the start. Our Brita car was really fast in the last dry practice session of the weekend so we were optimistic for the race. It’s just one of those things where you spend a lot of time under the yellow flag.”
James Hinchcliffe: “When we first decided to stay out, I thought, wouldn’t it be funny if we could make this a one-stopper. I just never thought it (would happen). On one hand, I feel badly that we didn’t have more green-flag laps for the fans and everybody here at NOLA, but on the other hand, those guys called it awesome. The car was unbelievable on the (Firestone) reds. We pulled away from a couple of Penskes on those restarts. If we had gone green, I think we could’ve held them off at the end as long as we had the fuel. I’m just so happy.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay: “We had a great race going, had some good clean racing there with (Graham) Rahal, (Will) Power – even (Simon) Pagenaud, we went side by side through Turn 10 there. It was some good racing. Then we got down to Turn 3… I’m pedaling the car all the way out, it’s loose, there’s just no more room for (Pagenaud) to be out there. (Sebastien) Bourdais, is on my left, I don’t know where to go at that point. I’m using my regular racing line – (Pagenaud) stuck his nose out there (and was off the racing line)… And just cleans us all out. I’m happy all three of us are uninjured. (Pagenaud) said I ran him out of room, but there just was no room in the first place. I don’t know what to say to that – it’s certainly a racing incident but there wasn’t a whole lot of room there to begin with. Disappointing way to end the day, we were looking for a strong finish with the DHL Honda.”
James Jakes: “We had the pace this weekend, it was just being patient. Yesterday, we had the speed to get in the (Firestone) Fast Six, but qualifying was canceled. It was frustrating, but it paid off today. We needed that after St. Pete. We haven’t had the pace from the start of the year. It’s not all our fault, but hopefully this is the first of many.”
Tony Kanaan: “NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing started the race really strong and I was running up in the top five quite a bit there at the beginning. We were one of the first cars to change to slicks and I just came into a corner a little too fast with cold tires and ended up in the grass. We lost some spots there, but it allowed the team to use my position to our benefit and we were able to get a lot of fuel on the yellows and run as hard as we could when it went green. I think I was running all the way back in 19th at one point. So it just shows how much the team and my engineers and strategists came together to get the No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet a sixth-place finish.”
Juan Montoya: “We definitely had a fast Verizon Chevy today and it’s good to come away from NOLA with a top five. I think it’s one of those deals where we kind of caught a break yesterday starting on pole with the weather but our luck went the other way today. The cool thing is two races in a row to start the season Team Penske has had the fastest cars and I am very excited about that. I’m looking forward to getting back to Long Beach next week. Hopefully we can keep the ball rolling there.”
Simon Pagenaud: “Really too bad about the finish because the Penske Truck Rental Chevy was really fast. It handled great in traffic and we looked like we were heading toward a good result. I’m not sure what Hunter-Reay was thinking there. He just drove us off the track and I’m just glad everyone is OK. I want to thank the fans for staying with us this weekend despite the weather. I think the No. 22 Chevy team will be able to come back strong at Long Beach.”
Graham Rahal: “In the wet, the car was really good and I was able to move my way up quickly and get a good spot to contend the rest of the day. I had a couple of good restarts, picked off a couple more spots but unfortunately, in the end, the guys up front got lucky with the yellows and strategy. We played it right but unfortunately it just didn’t stay green. There was nothing we could do about that. I thought we had a car that was pretty capable today, particularly in the wet. We just didn’t get to see it through though the way the race played out.”
Simona de Silvestro: “It was huge to get the race like this. Honestly we struggled the whole weekend. We weren’t where we wanted to be. The race, you know, the car was pretty good and the tricky conditions kind of played in our way and the team made a great call to come in at one point. It’s really cool. You know, especially to be back here in IndyCar and especially with Andretti. It’s my second race with the team and finishing fourth. It’s great. It’s a great accomplishment.”
Race Photos via IndyCar