St. Petersburg Race Recap: Oh, Canada!


2013 St. Petersburg StartIt had been 190 days since the IZOD IndyCar Series went dark for the long, cold winter when the engines fired once again for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to open the 2013 campaign for the series title.  Will Power started from the Pole Position after winning the inaugural Verizon Pole Award on Saturday.  Power set sail early leaving the field looking small in his mirrors.  Things changed on lap 19 when Dario Franchitti, exiting the pits, found his way to the wall on cold black primary tires.  Tires would become a central story as the race unfolded.

The ensuing restart saw Power’s Team Penske teammate grab the lead on a brilliant outside pass, a move that Power questioned Race Control about in a post-race interview.  Nonetheless, Castroneves’ pass was legal and Helio set sail in clean air looking much like his teammate did in the first stint leading the most laps through the middle portions of the race.  Then things got crazy.

Sebastien Saavedra brought out the caution flag when his No. 6 Dragon Racing entry found its way into the tire barrier at the exit of turn 10 bringing out the full course caution flag.  The leaders ducked into pit lane for fuel and tires for the final stint of the race.  The exchange of pit stops saw JR Hildebrand pass Simona de Silvestro under the caution flag putting the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing car behind the Verizon machine of Will Power.  Coming to the restart, Hildebrand, apparently distracted, drove over the right rear tire of the car directly in front of him which, unfortunately, all but ended the day for the race’s polesitter.  Power’s car was repaired and he rejoined the fight, but he would find the tire barrier in the wining stages of the race saddling him with a disappointing 16th place result to begin his campaign.

Helio Castroneves made his only mistake of the day on the following restart when he was a fraction of a second late getting on the brakes getting into turn 1 locking the right front tire and opening the door for James Hinchcliffe to claim the lead.  While Castroneves attempted to chase Hinchcliffe down, the battle behind them was the thing to watch in the closing stages of the race.

Simona de Silvestro began her final stint on a used set of the red alternate tires which, according to teams, began losing their grip after as few as four laps at speed.  Chasing her first career podium, de Silvestro was holding on for dear life to keep third position but was unable to hold off a hard charging Marco Andretti who passed her coming to take the race’s white flag signalling the final lap.  Teammate Tony Kanaan followed Andretti through but it was far from over for the de Silvestro as she had to try to fend off Scott Dixon and EJ Viso in a crazy three wide finish back in the pack while James Hinchcliffe captured his first win in the IZOD IndyCar Series.  De Silvestro would bring it home in 6th which is a major turnaround from the 2012 she endured.

UP NEXT:

The IZOD IndyCar Series takes a week off for the Easter holiday after which they load into the Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama for the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama.  Will Power looks for his third consecutive win at the facility where he came from 9th place on the starting grid to win the 2012 race.

IZOD INDYCAR SERIES POINTS STANDINGS (FOLLOWING ST. PETERSBURG):

1. James Hinchcliffe (Leader)

2. Helio Castroneves (-8)

3. Marco Andretti (-16)

4. Tony Kanaan (-19)

5. Scott Dixon (-21)

6. Simona de Silvestro (-23)

7. EJ Viso (-25)

8. Takuma Sato (-27)

9. Justin Wilson (-29)

10. Alex Tagliani (-31)

14. Will Power (-35)

18. Ryan Hunter-Reay (-39)

25. Dario Franchitti (-46)

CONGRATULATIONS TO JAMES HINCHCLIFFE AND ANDRETT AUTOSPORT

WINNERS OF THE HONDA GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERSBURG

James Hinchcliffe 2013 St. Pete Victory Lane

St. Pete Recap: Team Penske, Chevrolet Make A Statement


As the IZOD IndyCar Series kicked off their first weekend of competition in 2012, it was difficult to predict what was to come.  New drivers, engines, and cars enhanced all the drama that the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is known for.  Which engine manufacturer was going to take the first step toward dominance?  Would attrition be a factor?  What kind of weird stuff would happen?  On March 25, we got our answers…sort of.

The dynamic of this race weekend that was of the most importance was remembering fallen champion Dan Wheldon as the 2012 season kicked of in the city Wheldon called “home”.  Each of the 26 entered drivers carried a little bit of Dan with them on the weekend because Wheldon was charged with all the initial development on the 2012 IndyCar, now named “DW12” in his honor.  Turn 10 of the 11 turn road course is now named “Dan Wheldon Way” where Wheldon completed the pass in 2005 giving him the win in the event’s inaugural race.  The IndyCar family, and auto racing in general, has been healing and remembering since October 16, 2011 and it is apparent that the wounds are still open.  Alas, they must return to the best medicine for this situation which is racing.  Wheldon would have wanted that.

Practice commenced on Friday ushering the debut of the DW12 in competition and the heavy hitters were out in full force with the top six filled with cars from Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske but the question of reliability appeared in the first practice session when Rubens Barrichello saw limited track time due to a gearbox issue.  In Practice 2, Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports and driver Simon Pagenaud were forced to change engines costing them ten positions on the starting grid after he would, eventually, qualify in the top six.

Qualifying on Saturday saw much of the same results from 2011 when Verizon Team Penske driver Will Power captured the pole position eclipsing his own track record from 2010.  Surprises from qualifying were that Chip Ganassi Racing was shut out of the Firestone Fast Six with Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti qualifying 7th and 10th respectively.  Chevrolet captured the top-5 starting positions with Briscoe joining his teammate on the front row followed by Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe of Andretti Autosport with Helio Castroneves of Team Penske rounding out the top 5.  Dixon would start in the sixth position due to Pagenaud’s penalty for the engine change.

The big question for the start of the race was turn 1 of the start.  The start of the 2011 race was marred by a multi-car pileup instigated by Helio Castroneves removing himself as well as Ryan Briscoe, Marco Andretti, and Scott Dixon from contention for the race win, however, the 2012 race began with a different tune as drivers were professional and courteous making it through the first handful of laps without incident.  The early laps were dominated by Will Power and Team Penske teammate Ryan Briscoe running 1-2 early.  Katherine Legge brought out a caution after stalling on the frontstretch.  Polesitter Will Power dove onto pit lane just before the caution flag waved putting him off sequence with other cars, but had difficulty navigating the heavy traffic on the ensuing restart.  Power would rebound to finish 7th when the checkered flag fell.  Less than a third of the way through the race, Tony Kanaan retired with a battery issue and James Jakes made contact with the tire barrier.  The event quickly became a contest of strategy as Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing split their cars’ strategies.  Dario Franchitti pitted with Power and Briscoe a number of laps later leaving Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon running the same basic strategy, but Castroneves’ Chevrolet powerplant was able to get slightly better fuel mileage than the Honda powering Dixon.  Castroneves overtook Dixon with a brilliant pass to the outside in turn 1 after which the Brazilian drove away sealing his victory.  The victory is important for Castroneves as he went winless in 2011 and was looking for a huge rebound season in 2012 so this is an incredible start, to say the least.  The No. 3 Shell V-Power Team Penske car unloaded from the trailer one of the best cars on the track for the entire weekend, but it was Castroneves utilizing patience and instinct of when to go for it and when to sit and ride it out that allowed him to cross the checkers first.  Castroneves granted the fans his  trademark victory celebration of climbing the fence, but stopped the No. 3 Shell V-Power car in Turn 10, Dan Wheldon Way, pumping his fist into the newly erected street sign honoring IndyCar’s fallen hero.  A fitting tribute and absolutely the highlight of the weekend.

So what did we learn?  Chevrolet came to play sweeping the top 5 in qualifying and capturing four of the top 5 positions in final results.  Honda’s only top 5 participant was Scott Dixon finishing 2nd.  Team Penske established itself as the early front runner as the team to beat grabbing three of the top 10 positions in the running order.  Helio Castroneves has returned, rejuvinated from his disastrous season in 2011 and is without a doubt a serious contender for the series championship.  Dario Franchitti finished a disappointing 13th in the season opener but don’t expect that result to continue as well as Will Power finishing outside the top 5.  Lotus definitely has some serious ground to make up to Chevrolet and Honda in terms of engine development, but there is light at the end of the tunnel it seems as Sebastien Bourdais of Dragon Racing showed flashes of competitive pace during the middle portions of the race.  Hopefully, by the Indianapolis 500 Lotus will have closed the gap, but it is unknown if that particular goal can be achieved or not.  The DW12 has gotten a lot of backlash regarding the car’s design being unattractive, but if the first weekend is any indication the future of the car is bright.  The car did, indeed, turn out to be faster capturing the attention of the fans with its sweet turbocharged song that is much milder than engines past.  So mild, in fact, that fans commented that they could actually have a conversation with other spectators while the cars were making their circuits around the course.  Electronics presented, and will continue to present issues for teams as the DW12’s teething process continues.  The car itself is a continuing development process and it is now up to the teams and their drivers to make the car better every weekend.  Team Penske and Chevrolet may have stamped their logos as the ones to beat after the first race, but Honda and its teams will not go quietly.  Stay tuned because it is just the beginning!

CONGRATULATIONS TO HELIO CASTRONEVES AND TEAM PENSKE: WINNERS OF THE HONDA GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERSBURG!

Up Next: April 1: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama – Barber Motorsports Park

R.I.P DAN WHELDON!