Juan Pablo Montoya has claimed his thirteenth career IndyCar Series victory – and his first non-oval win since Vancouver in his 1999 championship-winning CART season – after holding off Team Penske teammate and defending series champion Will Power at the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Power dominated proceedings for much of the race, before conceding the lead to Montoya during the final round of pit stops between Laps 81 and 82 of the 110-lap race.

The Colombian tried to capitalise by opening a gap, but needed to conserve tyres and fuel, forcing him to back off. That allowed Power to close down the gap from 3.3 seconds to 0.614 seconds by lap 100 and he sized up an overtake on the #2 Team Penske entry.

The battle between the two was intense but short; Power – who broke the track record and won the Verizon P1 award the day before – made an opportunistic move entering the tight left-hand Turn 10 on lap 101. The cars made contact as Montoya shut the door (damaging Power’s front wing in the process) and then Montoya finished the job by carving his way past lapped traffic in the final run to the chequered flag.

“It was a good day,” Montoya said. “Everybody did an amazing job, I saw Power trying a move but he was way too far back and no way was I going to give him that position, If he was beside me I would have said, ‘OK, go ahead.’ When I got to the turning point he wasn’t even close.

“It’s a shame we touched, but it’s all good. Its racing,” summed up the Colombian.

Power admitted that it was an opportunistic move.

“If I hadn’t damaged my front wing maybe I would have had another shot,” the reigning series champion said. “He was very strong on the front straight and my exits weren’t very good. That was really my only chance. I thought maybe I would catch him off-guard there. You don’t expect someone to pass there so I gave it a shot.”

Target Chip Ganassi’s Tony Kanaan rounded out the podium after passing Hélio Castroneves during his second pit stop, disrupting what could have been a Penske 1-2-3-4.

Castroneves held on to fourth despite losing time on the restart, meanwhile Simon Pagenaud overcame minor damage from contact to finish his first race with the Penske outfit in fifth.

Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay recovered from an early mistake that saw him fall to seventeenth to finish seventh behind KV Racing’s Sébastien Bourdais, making him the highest placed Honda-powered driver.

Behind the leaders, the race was a very scrappy affair and was interrupted several times for cautions to remove debris from the new aero kits shedding winglets during contact.

Several cars needed to pit for new nosecones during the race, but few drivers were more in the wars than ex-Sauber associate driver Simona de Silvestro.

Her IndyCar comeback was thwarted by two collisions; the first being an incident involving Andretti team-mates Marco Andretti and Carlos Muñoz, the second being a misjudged overtaking manoeuvre which ended with her spearing into James Jakes.

It earned her a drive-through for avoidable contact; a punishment that was also handed to Graham Rahal after he hit the crippled #83 Chip Ganassi Racing entry of Charlie Kimball.

Among all the messiness, AJ Foyt’s Jack Hawksworth capitalised on an aggressive pit strategy to climb impressively from last to eighth, putting him ahead of former GP2 Series driver Luca Filippi, who spent most of his maiden outing for Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing nursing a broken front wing.

2015 IndyCar Series Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg (110 laps)
Driver Team / Entry Laps Result
1. Juan Pablo Montoya co Team Penske 110 02:16:58.108
2. Will Power au Team Penske 110 + 0.993
3. Tony Kanaan br Chip Ganassi Racing 110 + 11.169
4. Hélio Castroneves br Team Penske 110 + 11.438
5. Simon Pagenaud fr Team Penske 110 + 12.391
6. Sébastien Bourdais fr KVSH Racing 110 + 16.492
7. Ryan Hunter-Reay us Andretti Autosport 110 + 27.710
8. Jack Hawksworth uk A.J. Foyt Racong 110 + 34.921
9. Luca Filippi it CFH Racing 110 + 38.156
10. Marco Andretti us Andretti Autosport 110 + 38.691
11. Graham Rahal us Rahal Letterman Lanigan 110 + 40.390
12. Josef Newgarden us CFH Racing 110 + 51.771
13. Takuma Sato jp A.J. Foyt Racing 110 + 52.268
14. Carlos Muñoz co Andretti Autosport 110 + 56.721
15. Scott Dixon nz Chip Ganassi Racing 110 + 59.661
16. James Hinchcliffe ca Schmidt Peterson Motorsports 110 + 1:02.458
17. Gabby Chaves co Bryan Herta Autosport 110 + 1:03.067
18. Simona de Silvestro ch Andretti Autosport 110 + 1:03.142
19. Sage Karam us Chip Ganassi Racing 109 – 1 lap
20. Stefano Coletti mc KV Racing Technology 109 – 1 lap
21. Charlie Kimball us Chip Ganassi Racing 109 – 1 lap
22. James Jakes uk Schmidt Peterson Motorsports 100 – 10 laps
Not Classified Team / Entry Laps Result
DNF. Franceso Dracone it Dale Coyne Racing 70 Mechanical
DNF. Carlos Huertas co Dale Coyne Racing 19 Mechanical

Round two of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series heads to NOLA Motorsports Park for the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana from April 10-12.

Image via Motorsport.com

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Michael Terminello

Journalist at MotorsportM8