IndyCar Series news and notes 2011-03-28

Today's IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines:
1. IZOD IndyCar Series Prepares For Side-By-Side Restarts Debut In St. Pete
2. De Silvestro serves notice of streets of St. Pete
3. Inside the numbers: St. Petersburg
4. Wilson, Beatriz medical update
5. Dempsey draws rave reviews in debut

Randy Bernard, CEO Indy Racing League
Randy Bernard, CEO Indy Racing League

Photo by: Michael C. Johnson

1. 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season-opener on ABC produces highest-rated broadcast in more than three years: ABC's broadcast of the IZOD IndyCar Series season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 27 delivered its highest overnight rating in metered markets for a race since 2007.

The 1.4 rating for 56 markets was surpassed only by ABC's telecast of the July 2007 race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Final ratings for this broadcast are expected on March 31.

"I'm very encouraged by the ratings for several reasons," said Randy Bernard, CEO of INDYCAR, the sanctioning body of the IZOD IndyCar Series. "First of all, it was standalone. It wasn't in the late time slot, during which there typically is more household viewership. Second, it's our highest-rated non-Indianapolis show since 2007, but even that show had a great lead-in with the British Open (with Padraig Harrington defeating Sergio Garcia in a four-hole playoff).

"We're ecstatic with our ratings and with the double digit percentage of growth with the live attendance at the event, and we believe INDYCAR is going to continue to make substantial progress in the next couple of years."

ABC's 2-hour, 30-minute telecast of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on the scenic 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit featured the dramatic debut of side-by-side restarts, a young female driver dueling with the 2004 champion for third place, bumping and passing, and contenders eliminated in the first turn of the initial green flag lap.

The 100-lap race was won by reigning series champion Dario Franchitti of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, who started next to pole sitter and 2010 chief championship protagonist Will Power.

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2. De Silvestro serves notice of streets of St. Pete: Slowly navigating the sea of post-race revelers on her green and white scooter on the way to an unscheduled news conference, Simona de Silvestro smiled as wide as the Alps and waved occasionally to acknowledge the applause and congratulatory shouts.

Additional praise for her entertaining duel with veteran Tony Kanaan and subsequent career-best fourth-place finish was heaped on upon her arrival at the Mahaffey Theatre as fans mingled under the late-day canopy of shade.

Simona de Silvestro, HVM Racing
Simona de Silvestro, HVM Racing

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

With such affirmation, she entered the theater. For a few minutes, the stage was hers.

Spectators stood and cheered during the spirited battle for third place in the closing laps of the seventh Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. De Silvestro, who started 17th in the No. 78 Nuclear Clean Energy/HVM Racing car, ran as high as second to eventual race winner Dario Franchitti following a Lap 13 restart. Running fourth after her final service stop, de Silvestro rode the gearbox of Kanaan's No. 82 GEICO KV Racing Technology-Lotus entry into the corners of the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit but couldn't overtake the 2004 series champion.

"I would have never thought we would have finished like we did," said de Silvestro, whose previous best was eighth at Mid-Ohio in August.

"It's the first time really competing like that against Tony Kanaan," the 22-year-old sophomore IZOD IndyCar Series driver from Switzerland said. "It's pretty crazy for me because I've been watching him since I was growing up and to be right there racing him now is pretty cool."

Taking his seat at the table, Kanaan deadpanned "Not bad for an old guy."

"I used every single strength and experience I had to hold her off," said Kanaan, who was making his debut with the Jimmy Vasser-led team. "I just really drove it as hard as I could. I made a mistake with three laps to go, she pulled alongside me, couldn't make the pass. At that point, I was hoping for a no-yellow because I was going to be a sitting duck (he was on primary Firestone Firehawks and de Silvestro was running the more-grip alternate tires) and I would lose third position. Simona blew my doors off on a restart before and I knew she was strong."

If she could have utilized the Honda overtake assist more often (there were 15 pushes left of the system than responded with 12 seconds of added horsepower), the outcome might have been a dousing of champagne on the podium.

"I was running fourth and didn't want to try anything crazy," de Silvestro replied. "I tried at the end to try to get third place but I wasn't quite there. Tony was struggling at the end quite a bit and I was really pushing. I almost got inside of him in Turn 1. It was a big risk to take but I think it was the right choice. It's a lot of fun because on the street courses as a driver you can really push yourself and find the limit."

Back at HVM Racing transporter, de Silvestro could have taken a curtain call the area was still so thick with well-wishers.

"Indy was one of my highlights because just to qualify for the Indy 500 not many drivers get that opportunity," she said. "Definitely today is going to go right up there, too, because I think it was one of my best races. I didn't really make too many mistakes and I think we are just here to try to beat every driver."

I used every single strength and experience I had to hold her off.

Tony Kanaan

HVM, with owner Keith Wiggins, won six races in Champ Car (Mario Dominguez, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Nelson Philippe and Robert Doornbos) and de Silvestro could make it seven this season. Next up is the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by Legacy at Barber Motorsports Park (April 10), where she was running as high as fourth last year.

"The way this weekend started, we struggled quite a bit," she said. "It was the first time working with my new engineer (Brent Harvey). We started working together and it clicked in the morning warm-up so I'm looking forward to the rest of the season."

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3. Inside the numbers: St. Petersburg: Numbers to note following the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the first of 17 races in the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season.

0 - Previous wins at St. Petersburg by either Dario Franchitti or Target Chip Ganassi Racing before Sunday.

1 - Previous Honda Grand Prix of St. Peterburg winner that has gone on to win the IZOD IndyCar Series championship: Dan Wheldon in 2005.

2 - Drivers who finished in the top five for the first time in their IZOD IndyCar Series careers: Simona de Silvestro (4th) and Takuma Sato (5th).

6 - Top five-finishes in seven St. Pete starts for Tony Kanaan.

9 -Teams represented in the top 10 of the series point standings.

14 - Consecutive top-five starts by Will Power.

20 - Cars running at the finish, the most-ever in seven Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

13 - Positions improved by Simona de Sivestro and JR Hildebrand, the most positions gained by any driver. Sebastian Saavedra gained 12 positions.

94 - Laps led by Dario Franchitti at St. Petersburg.

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4. Wilson, Beatriz medical update: INDYCAR director of medical services Dr. Michael Olinger said that Dreyer & Reinbold drivers Justin Wilson and Ana Beatriz suffered hand injuries during the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Justin Wilson, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
Justin Wilson, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

Beatriz will have surgery March 29 on her fractured scaphoid bone (wrist). Beatriz completed the race in the No. 24 Ipiranga/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing car, advancing six positions from her starting spot to finish 14th.

Wilson, driver of the No. 22 TransSystems/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing car, has a small fracture of a wrist bone and will be fitted with a special carbon fiber brace, according to Olinger. Wilson started sixth and finished 10th.

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5. Dempsey draws rave reviews in debut: Irish rookie Peter Dempsey didn't win his Firestone Indy Lights debut, but he came away with a well-earned podium finish at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg season opener.

The Irishman had qualified fifth after suffering minor damage to his car in qualifying but quickly made up for it in the race; he surged past four cars on the first turn of the first lap of the race in a well-calculated move and went on the lead the next 11 laps of the 45-lap event.

After a hard-fought race, Dempsey brought his No. 36 Pulse/Microbiology International car home to a solid third-place finish.

"This was a dream start to my Firestone Indy Lights season," said Dempsey. "I have had so little seat time not just in the Firestone Indy Lights car but in any car over the past year and a half. We were really just going into the weekend hoping to finish in the top-five positions at best. After the first two practice sessions, we realized we had a competitive car that could possibly fight for a podium finish. Unfortunately, I made a small mistake in qualifying, which cost us a front-row start. I told the guys before the race that I would make up for it and aim to be leading by the end of lap one. Somehow, I managed to be leading by the end of corner one. It was great to lead my first Firestone Indy Lights race from the get-go, and to feel the pressure of the three guys behind me was a great experience."

Once in the lead, Dempsey held off the competition before a small mistake caused him to fall back to third position. It was then that a several-lap battle broke out between him and 2010 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear Champion and former protégé Conor Daly for the position. It was Daly who came out on top, but a full course caution at the end of the race allowed Dempsey to regain his third place position and finish on the podium with Daly and winner Josef Newgarden.

This was a dream start to my Firestone Indy Lights season.

Peter Dempsey

"The No. 36 Pulse/Microbiology International car ran really well for the first 10 laps," continued Dempsey. "Unfortunately, I lost a little bit of rear end grip, made a mistake, and went back to P3 on lap 11. I had a great dice with Conor (Daly) and tried to hold on to third place, but we weren't strong enough at that point in the race. Once I dropped back to fourth, I settled into a really good rhythm and consolidated my advantage over the car behind me. I was so happy to be fourth, and then after the final full course caution, I gained another position at Turn 1 and was able to bring the car home in P3 which was a great result for myself and the team. I'd really like to thank all the guys on O2 Racing Technology who worked so hard and of course my partners, Microbiology International, Motorsport Ireland, the Irish Sports Council, and Juncos Racing for giving me the opportunity to reward them with a podium finish."

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The 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series continues with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on April 10 at Barber Motorsports Park. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 3 p.m. (ET) by VERSUS. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network, XM channel 145 and Sirius channel 212 and www.indycar.com. The 2011 Firestone Indy Lights season continues April 10 at Barber Motorsports Park with the Barber 100. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at Noon. (ET) by VERSUS.

- source: indycar