IndyCar used a standing start for the series' first race on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But Saavedra's car simply didn't go when the lights went out and, after Ryan Hunter-Reay frantically darted around him, Saavedra was clipped by Carlos Munoz and then hit hard from behind by Mikhail Aleshin.
Simon Pagenaud went on to earn his third career IndyCar victory.
"We just followed protocol at the start," Saavedra said. "As soon as I released the clutch, it went from 11,000 rpm to zero. This should not have happened, unfortunately."
The initial hit from Munoz didn't seem too bad, but Aleshin's direct hit sprayed debris all over the track, sending spectators and track workers standing along the wall scrambling for cover.
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, the honorary race starter, was waving the green flag when he was struck near his left elbow and on the left side of his chest by debris, spokesman Marc Lotter said.
Ballard was treated at the scene but did not require stitches, and after treatment he left the track to watch the rest of the race from home, Lotter said.
Ballard took to Twitter to thank the medics who treated him and assure the public he was not badly injured.
Thanks everyone for well wishes & the great #IUHealth & @IMS staff for checking me out. Watching the rest of the race from home.
- Mayor Greg Ballard (@MayorBallard) May 10, 2014Saavedra was seen in his cockpit with his arms in the air anticipating a potential collision as cars tried to weave their way around his stalled KV Racing car. He was visibly upset after the accident as he talked to his team on his pit stand. He had won the first pole of his career -- in part because Hunter-Reay had his two fastest laps disallowed for causing a caution in Friday's qualifying -- and was looking for a strong finish at the famed race track.
"Man, we had an opportunity to be at the front of the pack in this amazing place. We wanted to bring it home in the same place," he said. "To not even get a chance because of a freaking electrical thing ..."
Munoz said he could not avoid clipping his fellow Colombian.
"I was already in fifth gear," Munoz said. "I was really close to the car in front of me, I just saw him go to the right. I just had to go to the left, but I was not fast enough."
Later in the race, James Hinchcliffe suffered a concussion when he was hit in the head with debris..
Hinchcliffe suddenly pulled off the course following a restart and could be seen holding his head with both hands as he exited his car. The Canadian was taken from the track on a stretcher and transported to a hospital.
IndyCar said Saturday night he had been released from the hospital after a CT scan on his head and neck. He must be medically cleared by IndyCar to drive, and the waiting time is usually a minimum of seven days.
IMS opens Sunday for practice for the Indianapolis 500. Qualifications begin next Saturday and the race is May 25. Andretti Autosport said E.J. Viso would be on standby for Hinchcliffe.
"I'm a little stiff and sore and I'd love to be back in the car tomorrow, but I suppose I should probably let the doctors make that decision," Hinchcliffe said in a statement.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.