Allan Brewer, IndyCar correspondent
Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves won the season-opening IZOD IndyCar Series race at St Petersburg, Florida on Sunday. Castroneves assumed the lead with twenty-two laps remaining and stretched his margin to over six seconds before backing off the throttle late in the race.
“I have to thank my team today,” said Castroneves. “We knew it would be a fight and we came prepared to compete and win. I’m so happy to have this victory after last year.” Castroneves’ most recent previous victory was two years ago at Twin Ring Motegi.
Castroneves’ final margin of victory was 5.5 seconds in the 26th victory of his career. Today’s win was Penske’s fifth in the St Petersburg Grand Prix.
Ganassi Racing’s Scot Dixon was second, followed across the line by Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosports.
“The mission today was simply to improve on where we started,” said Dixon of his sixth-place position on the grid after Saturday qualifying. Dixon was moved up to the sixth position after Simon Pagenaud of Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports was penalized ten starting spots for an unauthorized engine change during practice. “We accomplished that, so now time to move on and find the speed we need to be up front.”
Pole-sitter Will Power faded to sixth place at the finish, behind James Hinchcliffe, teammate Ryan Briscoe and Pagenaud. The fourth-place finish for Hinch was equal to his career best previously in the series.
EJ Viso of KV Racing Technology led his team with a seventh place result, just ahead of Charlie Kimball and Justin Wilson.
Fresh from the 2011 Indy Lights championship, rookie Joseph Newgarden turned in an impressive eleventh-place finish.
Defending IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti continued to struggle on the heels of a disappointing qualifications on Saturday that put him only tenth on the starting grid. Franchitti ended the race in 13th position.
KVRT’s Rubens Barrichello closed the day with a respectable 17th place result in his first-ever IndyCar Series event.
All first 10 finishers completed the full, scheduled 100 laps over the 1.8 mile, 14-turn street course.
Dale Coyne Racing’s James Jakes found trouble in Turn 10 when he struck the tire barrier on Lap 20.
Barrichello teammate Tony Kanaan suffered an electrical failure on Lap 22 and was forced to retire.
A second yellow came on Lap 45 when Ed Carpenter, driving his own car, spun in the same turn as Jakes.
The ambient temperature stood at 81 degrees Fahrenheit at 12:45 PM EDT under cloudy skies just ahead of the start. Track temperature was recorded at 113 degrees Fahrenheit by Firestone engineers.
Holly Wheldon, sister of the late Dan Wheldon waved the green flag to send the field into the first turn.
The IndyCar Series travels next to Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama for an April Fool’s Day race on NBC Sports network.