(Our highly-informed IndyCar contributor Matt Lennon has written his review of last weekend’s Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg, round 2 of the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Championship. Will Power gave another demonstration on how an Australian driver should win a race – are you reading this, Mark Webber? – which provided plenty of on-track action. Enjoy!)
Race day dawned…wet, cold, stormy, and windy in St Petersburg, Florida. As the scheduled start time for the race arrived, the sky was dark, grey, the rain was torrential, there was heavy wind, huge storm cells on the radar, and parts of the circuit were underwater…literally underwater. There would be no race today.
Twenty-four hours later, the field regathered under clearer skies, and a rapidly drying track was now ready to host Round 2 of the IZOD Indycar Series. There was still a lot of water on the grassy areas trackside, but the road surface itself was sufficiently dry. The race however was delayed further. The reason being that race officials wanted to see whether the track had dried enough for the race to be declared dry. By waiting, this would allow teams to choose whether to start on slicks, or wets, as opposed to the race being declared wet, and all cars forced to start on wets.
Eventually, the race was declared dry, and the entire field chose to start on slicks, with a slight majority favouring the black prime tyres for a durable first stint. Local military Command Sargent Marvin L Hill gave the command to start engines and albeit 24 hours late, the race got underway.
As the field left the pits under the safety car, Milka Duno took an opportunity to spin at the end of the first pace lap. As she was already at the back of the field, she was not disadvantaged any further.
With nobody knowing just how damp or slippery the circuit would be at speed, the entire field tiptoed through the first corner without incident. It took until Turn 2 for the first mix-up to occur. Mike Conway selected the wrong gear, stalled and came to a stop, while elsewhere, Dario Franchitti got too much wheelspin applying the throttle, spun 180 degrees and gave the wall a little love-tap, flat-spotting his left-front tyre. The first full-course caution of the day was out. Both cars were restarted and sent on their way, and upon the pits opening, a number of extra cars took an opportunity to top-up fuel tanks. Prior to the caution, further up the field, Marco Andretti dove up the inside into Turn 4, passing Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves to take 3rd place, a brazen move.
At the restart, Andretti did it again, passing Scott Dixon in the same corner to take 2nd place. Suddenly, leader Will Power was looking in his mirrors trying to fend off the advancing Andretti. Before the end of the lap, Marco took the lead, with Power dropping back to 4th place.
On Lap 25, Formula 1 journeyman Takuma Sato, under attack for position, overshot Turn 4 and crashed out of his 2nd Indycar race in succession, bringing out the 2nd safety car period, and sending the field rushing for their first round of scheduled pitstops. A frenzy of activity in the pitlane saw the majority of the field maintain the status quo, with Ryan Hunter-Reay being the only man to benefit from his team’s quick work to gain 3 positions.
Two IndyCar races and two shunts for Takuma Sato. Not the best start…
From there, the race saw two fairly embarrassing occurrences. Upon most of the field leaving the pits and reorganising themselves into position before catching up to the safety car and Vitor Meira – the only man who didn’t pit – the field came across an unexpected obstacle. The track sweeper truck cleaning up the small debris particles left from Takuma Sato’s adventures into the tyre barrier was trying to get off the track, but managed to block it long enough for a large portion of the field to slam on the brakes and create a parking lot effect. After a few seconds though, the truck was out of the way and the field resumed without further delay.
From there though, it got worse. Upon the field rejoining the queue behind the safety car, which was leading Meira and some lapped backmarkers, the lapped cars were waved past the safety car to allow them to get back on the lead lap. However, somebody forgot to tell Vitor Meira that he was in fact leading the race and was not meant to pass the pace car with the other backmarkers.
Meira powered past and from there it took the best part of the lap for AJ Foyt’s driver to slow down sufficiently enough for the pace car to catch him, re-pass him and for Meira to re-take his correct position at the lead of the field.
On Lap 47, Panther Racing’s Dan Wheldon’s right-rear suspension breaks approaching Turn 1 at 160mph. With no rear brakes at all, Wheldon locks up his tyres and fails to slow for the first corner, slamming into KV Racing’s Mario Moraes at high speed, with Wheldon spinning and ricocheting off the tyre barriers. Both drivers are eliminated from the race but despite the violent impact, both are unharmed and walk away from their wreckages. Neither driver could be blamed for what happened. Wheldon on the other hand, can be entirely blamed for the unique answer he provided ABC’s Vince Welch upon being interviewed about the incident. Upon being asked simply for his thoughts on the accident, Wheldon correctly blamed the car breakage, but then launched into a heartfelt, patriotic PR blitz for his sponsor, the National Guard of America, praising the efforts of the American and British troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. While I wholeheartedly agree on his point in every way, it was no doubt not exactly what ABC’s pit reporter was expecting.
Mike Conway brought out the final caution of the day trying to pass Raphael Matos around the outside of Turn 5, a part of the circuit most definitely only designed for single-file racing. The young Briton caught his left-rear on the same piece of road at the same time as Matos’ right-front, pitching him into the wall. At this time all cars
yet to make their final pit stops took their opportunity.
Upon the final restart, Power, Wilson, Briscoe and Castroneves put some distance between themselves and 5th place Alex Tagliani. 2½ seconds further back was Danica Patrick, who was at the head of a six-car long train. At the back of this pack was Dario Franchitti who had been slowly moving his way back up the field from his first lap misadventure. The defending series champion provided a late highlight, slowly picking off one car after another and over the course of 10 laps, moving from 11th to 5th place.
Power has set the standard through the first two races. A positive omen for Roger Penske’s latest prodigy is that the last man to win the opening two races was Sam Hornish Jr in 2001 on his way to winning the championship.
Next stop is long-time test venue Barber Motorsports Park on April 11, newly promoted into the race schedule. Can the rest of the field take the fight to Will Power?
We will know in less than a week.
Click here for the Final Standings of the race.
Click here for the current Championship Standings.
[Images via AUTOSPORT]