Today's IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines
1. Unified IndyCar Series gets off to strong start
2. Guthrie rebounds from early mistake

1. Twenty-six cars entered for IndyCar Series season opener: Heading into Saturday's GAINSCO Auto Insurance Indy 300, no one knew what to expect. Although a great deal of excitement surrounded the first unified race under the IndyCar Series banner - with the addition of eight drivers -- there was pause for a bit of anxiety as well: would those drivers, most who had limited experience on ovals, be able to hold their own in an environment that produces side-by-side racing at 210 mph?

The answer was a resounding "Yes."

Four of the eight transitioning drivers finished the 300-mile race, three dropped out for mechanical reasons and only one was involved in an on-track incident when Ernesto Viso suffered a tire puncture late in the race.

"It was a long day in the office, but that means we achieved our first goal, which was to finish the race with no damage to the car," said Oriol Servia, who led the group with a 12th-place finish in the No. 5 KV Racing Technology car. "But it was also long because we did not have the speed that we were hoping for. We knew we were going to struggle. It's just tough when you are in the middle of it.

"We did what we had to do, we gathered a lot of data and we have to take this process step by step. The KV Racing Technology team did a great job. They have all worked hard and the car ran well until the end. We knew it was going to be like this. You hope for a miracle to happen, but we will leave the miracle for the Month of May."

The learning curve was steep for teams that had less than four weeks to prepare their Honda-powered Dallara chassis from the time of the unification announcement until race day.

"The first 50 laps was a struggle with some guys working their handling and getting up to speed," said Brian Barnhart, president of the competition and operations divisions of the sanctioning Indy Racing League and the race's chief steward. "I think everybody eventually did a good job. It's a steep learning curve obviously and most of them got the better part of 200 laps in and did a good job all evening long."

Meanwhile, the racing up front was intense, featuring three passes for the lead and continual battles for position throughout the pack. Pole-sitter Scott Dixon, who led 67 laps in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing machine, took the checkered flag to claim his 11th career victory.

"It was one of those races where we didn't exactly have the speed all the time, or things weren't really going our way, but we still came out on top," said Dixon, who finished second in the championship in 2007. "If you can have races like that, where you have a bad day, or a day where you don't think you're at your best, and you still come out on top, that's a great way to take some points away from others and hopefully it works for the rest of the season."

"We had a couple of stints there where it was nearly nonstop without a yellow. I thought there were going to be a ton early on. In our team meeting, we were sort of scheduling for quite a few stops early on, but that just didn't come. I think everybody was really using their heads. The guys who came in from Champ Car were fantastic. They were giving everybody room."

The momentum created over the past four weeks will continue to build this weekend when the IndyCar Series visits the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., for the first street/road course race of the season.

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2. Guthrie rebounds from early mistake: If not for a mistake on the opening lap, Sean Guthrie could have been celebrating his first win as a Firestone Indy Lights driver.

Guthrie lost a lap early when he pitted to repair his car's nose following a spin on the pace lap - an error he deemed a "rookie" mistake.

"The car stepped out from me when I was trying to heat up the tires under yellow before the start of the race," Guthrie said. "It's something that everyone fears and something that even the best drivers like (Michael) Schumacher and many others have done."

But following miscue, Guthrie charged through the field, posting the race's fastest lap and passing every car before eventually finishing 11th.

"I told myself no matter what we do we're not going to crash," Guthrie said. "We're going to pass as many cars as we can, as fast as we can."

Still, knowing that he had the car to beat gives him confidence as the series heads to the Streets of St. Petersburg for a doubleheader weekend. But first, the team has a one-day Open Test at Sebring International Raceway.

"We were in a league of our own today," he said. "It's unfortunate that a small mistake led to a big fiasco, but we'll chalk it up and head to St. Pete for the next race. The Guthrie Racing crew gave me a fantastic car, and I know it will be just as good at St. Petersburg."

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The 2008 IndyCar Series season continues with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on April 6 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. The 2008 schedule, one of the most diverse in all of motorsports, features races on ovals, permanent road courses and temporary street circuits, all broadcast worldwide through a comprehensive, long-term agreement with ESPN. All races in 2008 will be telecast in High Definition. The 2008 Indy Pro Series season continues April 5-6 with a doubleheader weekend at St. Petersburg. The 16-race schedule, which features eight ovals and four road/street course doubleheader weekends, will be televised by ESPN2.

-credit: irl