It’s one of the toughest situations a race car driver can face when he or she is fighting for a win: Having to save fuel just to make it to the checkered flag.
In the closing laps of today’s inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay both had to face that battle while third-place Helio Castroneves was charging toward them after pitting with 12 laps to go in the 82-lap race.
But just as Pagenaud’s fuel load held out and enabled him to win, Hunter-Reay’s fuel load did the same and he was able to pick up a second-place result to begin his Month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“Honda just gave us a great amount of power with the mileage that we needed to do what we did today,” the American driver said. “We were saving the same amount of fuel lap after lap and then they gave me the green light to go. I was catching him a bit and when you’re saving fuel so much, it’s tough when you go right back to 110 percent and hit all your marks, but we were catching him.”
After a crash in the waning moments of qualifying yesterday cost him the pole, Hunter-Reay started third for today’s race, which began with a bad crash off the standing start as pole sitter Sebastian Saavedra stalled and was then hit from behind.
Hunter-Reay gridded up directly behind Saavedra, but was able to get himself to the inside of Saavedra and past Jack Hawksworth to take the lead before the caution came out as Carlos Munoz and Mikhail Aleshin plowed into the Colombian.
“The start was a bit nuts,” Hunter-Reay said. “For some reason, I told myself before the race, ‘Expect something strange to happen on the front row.’ I was ready for it when it happened. I still had a good start to boot, so I was pretty happy with the way that went.
“I threaded the needle between them and I was just hoping another car wasn’t already coming into that spot.”
On the lap after the restart at Lap 8, both Hawksworth and Pagenaud got by him and Hunter-Reay hovered around the second/third place range for the remainder.
Today’s race was a strange one in Hunter-Reay’s eyes as various strategies, both in pitting and in tires, played out during the afternoon.
“The rhythm was off at times,” he said. “You didn’t know who you were racing or where the strategy was going. Guys were on three-stoppers, guys were on two-stoppers, different tire strategies.
“It was a busy day, that’s for sure.”
But ultimately, it was a rewarding one.
Hunter-Reay now sits just one point behind eighth-place finisher Will Power for the Verizon IndyCar Series championship lead as preparations for the 98th Indianapolis 500 begin tomorrow on the Indy oval.