There’s nothing like controversy to kick off a motorsport season, and that’s what was delivered on the streets of St Petersburg, Florida as Will Power edged his way to the front and went on with it to claim victory after 110 laps.

Fingers were being pointed at Power at the first restart, which came very late in the event after the safety crew removed a stuck Charlie Kimball from light contact with the tyre barriers. As the field rounded the final corner to prepare for the restart, Power appeared to slow as he crawled towards the start/finish line, already leaving his acceleration inexplicably late. With double-file restarts done away with for all road/street courses and for the Indy 500 this season, Power’s hesitancy caused a concertina effect, backing the field right up and culminating in rookie Jack Hawksworth brushing the wall and spinning back across the track towards an advancing Marco Andretti, sending both into a tyre barrier alongside the pitlane. Naturally, the series of events extended the caution period while the clean-up began. The incident also injured Andretti a little, evidenced with a slight limp and sore arm as he returned to his pit crew.

The first DNF of the year came from a very unlikely source, and even before the race began. Mario Andretti, in his familiar role in the Indycar two-seater show-car was shown being wheeled back to the paddock with passenger in the back – the engine silent. The car was unable to be started, leading to the cancellation of the normal prize for the latest Honda Sweepstakes winner.

Back to the racing action, and starting from fourth, Power slid past Tony Kanaan very early in the race, Ryan Hunter-Reay a few laps later, and past Takuma Sato on Lap 31. Aside from surviving a nail-biting close-call in the pits from team-mate Helio Castroneves, Power was always in control and left all in his wake to open his account for the year in the best possible way.

Undoubtedly, the man credited with the start of the season and possibly even the start of the last decade was Graham Rahal. Flooring the gas pedal in earnest from a lowly 21st grid placement, Rahal, entirely legally as the green flag was waving, caught many ahead napping, darted up the inside and was well inside the top ten by the time the field made it through the first few corners.

How Rahal managed to do so without causing an accident will be debated for generations to come, but the in-car footage was something to behold. It proved to be a lone highlight of the day, as his momentum steadied and eventually saw him come home in 14th place.

Green flag and furious paced running was enjoyed until Lap 76 when Charlie Kimball’s car failed to negotiate Turn 1 and headed for the tyre wall, making light contact and rebounding slightly. As it proved, the turning angle was insufficient to restart, as Kimball re-buried himself in the tyres while trying to right his ship. Although not really on the racing line, the presence of the safety crew would have made for a hazard, and the call was made to put the safety car into business for the day.

Once the mess from Hawksworth and Andretti’s meeting at the restart was cleaned up, Power led Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves home to make up the first podium of the 2014 season.

Upon the post-race interview, Power invited stewards to check his telemetry, admitting he lifted off the gas pedal but did not brake-check the field behind him, claiming uncertainty in where the correct area to accelerate was located. It was a fair call and anything more than a courteous reminder from officialdom for a more concerted effort next time will be too harsh.

Race 1 of 18 is now in the books, and the series heads for very familiar if not rather similar territory in another street circuit bordering a busy working harbour in Long Beach, California, in two weeks time.

2014 IndyCar Series Grand Prix of St Petersburg – Race Result:

Driver Team / Entry Laps Result
1. Will Power Team Penske Chevrolet Chevrolet 110 2:06:57.629
2. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti Autosport Honda Honda 110 + 1.948
3. Hélio Castroneves Team Penske Chevrolet Chevrolet 110 + 7.872
4. Scott Dixon Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Chevrolet 110 + 15.969
5. Simon Pagenaud Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda Honda 110 + 17.397
6. Tony Kanaan Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Chevrolet 110 + 20.388
7. Takuma Sato A.J. Foyt Enterprises Honda Honda 110 + 20.856
8. Justin Wilson Dale Coyne Racing Honda Honda 110 + 21.062
9. Josef Newgarden Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda Honda 110 + 21.554
10. Ryan Briscoe Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Chevrolet 110 + 23.990
11. Sebastián Saavedra KV Racing Technology / AFS Racing Honda Honda 110 + 34.404
12. Mikhail Aleshin Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda Honda 110 + 34.997
13. Sébastien Bourdais KV Racing Technology Honda Honda 110 + 35.353
14. Graham Rahal Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda Honda 110 + 38.988
15. Juan Pablo Montoya Team Penske Chevrolet Chevrolet 110 + 40.335
16. Mike Conway Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet Chevrolet 110 + 40.914
17. Carlos Muñoz Andretti Autosport Honda Honda 110 + 44.624
18. Carlos Huertas Dale Coyne Racing Honda Honda 110 + 47.564
19. James Hinchcliffe Andretti Autosport Honda Honda 109 + 1 lap
20. Charlie Kimball Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Chevrolet 108 + 2 laps
 Not Classified
DNF. Jack Hawksworth Bryan Herta Autosport Honda Honda 83 Accident
DNF. Marco Andretti Andretti Autosport Honda Honda 82 Accident

Image via XPB Images

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Matt Lennon