“I knew I had a race to win, but the whole race was so intense,” Castroneves said. “By the drop of the green flag, it was a fight.”
The first plot of the race came during the opening round of the pit stop starting at Twist Lap 30. Half the region had made their regular stops, while the other half had tried to stretch their fuel economy to the limit. That strategy backfired when Stephen Wilson crashed on Pitt Road, closing it. Those still, like former Indianapolis 500 champions Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi, Tony Kanan, Pagenaud and others, were unable to stop their planned pit – and ran out of fuel. Each of them lost more than a lap before they could resume and refuel, knocking some Preres favorites out of contention, including pole-winner Dixon.
In the next segment, the sport’s destitute youth movement, which has so far taken IndyCar’s strong order this season, set itself in front of the fray: Indiana native Connor Daley, 29, overtakes V.K. Gaya, 20, followed by O’Ward, 22, Herta, 21, and Palau, 24.
However, despite their raw speed, another major factor, fuel mileage, was beginning to trend. 2014 winners, giants such as Ryan Hunter-Ray; Castronaves; Two-time winner Takuma Sato; And Graham Rahal was wisely pulling one or two or more laps out of each tank. Thinking about the end of the race, he expected them to have one less fuel stop than the rabbits ahead. This will save as much as three-quarters of a lap.
In general, it seemed that drivers powered by Honda engines were achieving better mileage than Chevrolet runners. But at the 300-mile mark, fuel mileage was somewhat out of the equation when by that point fuel economy champion Rachel lost her left rear wheel after the pit stopped, causing it to crash; Daly grabbed the loose wheel. It took out a yellow warning flag that flanked the area, messing up the order and neutralizing the best fueling strategies.
“We had them,” a sad Rahal later said. “I mean, we figured it out.”
However, his teammate Sato was still on the same strategy and was hoping to benefit from it. He was leading as he stood on lap 158, meaning he would need only a small splash-and-go fuel stop around lap 190 to win.
Other fuel mileage expected were Dixon, who managed to open himself up during Rahal’s yellowing, and Joseph Newgarden.