Just like his Formula 1 counterpart Sebastian Vettel, defending IndyCar Champion Dario Franchitti has kicked off his championship defence in emphatic style, taking a comfortable victory on the streets of St Petersburg at the season-opening race. Franchitti beat main championship rival Will Power into second place, while Tony Kanaan took an outstanding podium finish in his maiden outing for the KV Racing squad.
It was certainly an interesting and action-packed race that threw up a few surprises, as our IndyCar correspondent Matt Lennon writes in this race review…
The sun was shining in St Petersburg, Florida, and the excitement and wonder of a new IndyCar season was upon us. After a long off-season, the fans were in the grandstands and in front of their screens around the world anxious to see how things would play out in 2011.
Although qualifying wasn’t exactly ideal, the weekend turned to an absolute nightmare for Dale Coyne during the morning warm-up, with both his star signing Sébastien Bourdais and rookie James Jakes crashing in separate incidents on the same lap, with Bourdais car catching fire and eventually written off. Bourdais was visibly angry with the marshals for some extensive delays in attending to his burning car. With only one spare car set up for Jakes, this meant former Formula 1 driver Bourdais would not start the St Petersburg race.
As the green flag dropped and Will Power, alongside Dario Franchitti led the field through Turn 1, it was utter chaos behind. Marco Andretti, running on the paint strip of the airport runway that makes up the front straight, was tapped from behind by Hélio Castroneves, who pushed Andretti up and over the top of Scott Dixon, flipping the Andretti Autosports entry over. Elsewhere, the spinning Dixon made contact with Mike Conway, Ryan Briscoe and Oriol Servia, with Danica Patrick also spinning around. It was a spectacular chain of events, and the first full-course caution was out.
After making his way back to the pits, Marco was unusually upbeat, saying in an interview that he thought Hélio misjudged his braking by “about a football field”.
Although many cars were not badly damaged and were able to get going again with a repair assessment visit to the pits, Mike Conway found himself out of the race with a badly damaged rear suspension.
On Lap 5, the green flag was out again and we had the first look at the new double- file restarts. Although everyone appeared to get through Turn 1 safely, Will Power got too much wheelspin on the exit and was overtaken by Franchitti and Kanaan. Over the course of the lap though, more minor shenanigans, with Graham Rahal getting tapped into the tyres at Turn 4 before quickly getting going again, Danica making a slight mess of her front wing, and E.J. Viso spinning onto the grass at Turn 13 later in the lap, all collectively forcing another full-course caution.
Ryan Hunter-Reay also found himself back in the pits getting some repair work done on his right-front suspension. While out of the car talking to ABC’s pitlane reporter Jaime Little, Hunter-Reay remarked the double-file restarts were “ridiculous”.
Slowly weaving her way through the various incidents was HVM Racing’s Simona Di Silvestro, who by lap 35, found herself in second place behind Franchitti, although slightly off pit-sequence. This would be rectified soon with another caution on Lap 39, with Charlie Kimball hitting the wall on the exit of Turn 2 after pushing too hard, too early on cold tyres. As he admitted in an interview afterward, he had learned his lesson.
At half distance, the order was Franchitti leading from Will Power, Tony Kanaan and Di Silvestro, with Takuma Sato keeping his nose clean in fifth place.
The second half of the race was much less eventful, with a few minor spins from Justin Wilson, Ana Beatriz and Scott Dixon, but with all righting themselves quickly enough, no cautions were required.
Towards the end, it was revealed that Simona Di Silvestro had not used any of her “push to pass” allowances, and the fact she was catching Tony Kanaan in third place was purely due to how well her car was set-up, along with the extra grip her red- sidewalled Firestone Firehawks were providing her, compared to Kanaan’s primary tyres. With 10 laps to go, Simona was all over the back of Kanaan’s Geico KV Racing machine. With 3 laps to go, Kanaan was almost out of power-boosts and at one stage resorted to what was described by HVM as a blocking tactic. It would have been a rough call though if TK had been penalised for it.
Simona tried valiantly, but was unable to get past by the finish, and finished in a career-best fourth place. Kanaan held on to take third place behind Will Power and winner Dario Franchitti. The win was Chip Ganassi’s first at St Petersburg and was also Franchitti’s first-ever season opening victory. Takuma Sato finished a solid fifth.
In a side note, it was announced during the race that Dan Wheldon had done a deal to run the Indy 500 with Bryan Herta Motorsports.
The next race is the Grand Prix of Alabama from Barber Motorsports Park on April 10th.
Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg – Final Standings (100 laps):
|1.||Dario Franchitti||Target Chip Ganassi Racing||100||2:00:59.6886|
|2.||Will Power||Verizon Wireless Team Penske||100||+ 7.1612|
|3.||Tony Kanaan||KV Racing Technology Lotus||100||+ 16.1045|
|4.||Simona di Silvestro||Entergy HVM Racing||100||+ 16.5616|
|5.||Takuma Sato||KV Racing Technology Lotus||100||+ 29.9435|
|6.||Alex Tagliani||B&W Sam Schmidt Motorsports||100||+ 30.4655|
|7.||Raphael Matos||AFS Racing||100||+ 31.5227|
|8.||Vitor Meira||ABC Supply Co AJ Foyt Enterprises||100||+ 35.7291|
|9.||Oriol Servià||Telemundo Newman/Haas Racing||100||+ 49.1432|
|10.||Justin Wilson||Z-Line Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||100||+ 56.8025|
|11.||Danica Patrick||GoDaddy.com Andretti Autosport||100||+ 57.3418|
|12.||JR Hildebrand||US National Guard Panther Racing||100||+ 1:02.9700|
|13.||Sebastian Saavedra||Conquest Racing||98||+ 2 laps|
|14.||Ana Beatriz||Lubrizol Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||98||+ 2 laps|
|15.||James Jakes||Acorn Stairlifts Dale Coyne Racing||97||+ 3 laps|
|16.||Scott Dixon||Target Chip Ganassi Racing||96||+ 4 laps|
|17.||Graham Rahal||Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing||96||+ 4 laps|
|18.||Ryan Briscoe||IZOD/PPG Team Penske||95||+ 5 laps|
|19.||EJ Viso||KV Racing Technology Lotus||94||+ 6 laps|
|20.||Hélio Castroneves||Shell/AAA Team Penske||85||+ 15 laps|
|DNF||Ryan Hunter-Reay||DHL Andretti Autosport||58||Collision|
|DNF||Charlie Kimball||Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing||38||Accident|
|DNF||Mike Conway||GoDaddy.com Andretti Autosport||1||Collision|
|DNF||Marco Andretti||Venom Energy Drink Andretti Autosport||0||Collision|
|DNS||Sébastien Bourdais||Boy Scouts Dale Coyne Racing|
[All images via IZOD IndyCar Series]