ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., March 25, 2012 – Life is full of what-ifs. Some people let what-ifs consume them. Others think about the what-if once and move on.
After Sunday’s Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, it would have been understandable to allow the Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports team to think “what if” had they chosen to do so. Instead, the team leaves St. Petersburg motivated and looking forward to the next IZOD IndyCar Series race.
Driver Simon Pagenaud finished sixth in the season-opening event driving the No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports Dallara/Honda/Firestone car. He made the charge through the field from his 16th-place starting position despite having a collapsed left upper flap on his front wing that caused his car to push for most of the race.
“I feel very happy today,” said Pagenaud on pit road after the race. “It’s always good to get points at the start of the season. We have a good baseline now to go into the next race. It’s a good way to start the championship. This is a good position, but we have more in the bag.”
It wasn’t the wing damage that had the team wondering what-if; rather, it was the fact Pagenaud actually qualified sixth but was forced to start 16th. Instead of starting in the third row, the team was penalized 10 grid positions for an unapproved engine change Friday night. The team and Honda agreed the change was necessary after reviewing data from Friday’s practice.
Simon reiterated that the wing didn’t hamper him too much and that the team backed his drive with strong pit stops.
“The HP car was really good today,” said Pagenaud. “I damaged the front wing early on, and it forced a little push. It was a really good recovery by the team today to get us up front. I want to thank the whole Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports team. They did a fantastic job in the pits. It’s because of their pitstops that we were able to gain so many positions. The strategy was fairly amazing.”
Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves captured his third Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which is more than any other driver. His other wins came in 2006 and 2007.
His victory was punctuated with an emotional tribute to the late-Dan Wheldon. Castroneves stopped his car on the victory lap near the new Dan Wheldon Way street sign recently placed by the City of St. Petersburg. He then climbed the fence and placed his hand on the street sign, pausing for a moment, before ascending and obviously emotioal.
Finishing second was Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, 5.5292-seconds behind Castroneves. Rounding out the top five were a pair of Andretti Autosport drivers, Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe, followed by Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe.
There were nine lead changes among seven drivers. Dixon led the most laps with 37. There were three caution periods for a total of 15 yellow flag laps.
The next IZOD IndyCar Series race is the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park on Sunday, April 1 in Birmingham, Ala.
Notes and Quotes
From the New York Times Bestseller List? When asked how many laps the No. 77 HP car would turn in the morning warm-up, SSM General Manager Rob Edwards said, “You better bring a book.” Edwards was not optimistic the 1.8-mile St. Petersburg circuit would dry enough after morning rain showers to allow for high-speed practice. The Schmidt Hamilton HP team turned just enough laps to practice pit stops.
Location, Location, Location! Team owner Sam Schmidt was elated over the performance of his five-car operation during the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg weekend, which included a win in the Firestone Indy Lights race by SSM driver Tristan Vautier. Schmidt fields four cars in the Indy Lights series and the No. 77 HP car for Pagenaud in the IndyCar series. When listing reasons why winning at St. Petersburg is important to him, which his team has done six times, Schmidt said, “I like to have that first transporter spot when we get to Barber each year.”
Racing is a team sport: In some racing organizations, there is a true separation between the engineering staff and the mechanics. At Sam Schmidt Motorsports, that divide does not exist, and the benefit of working together as one team is not lost on SSM General Manager Rob Edwards. On the topic, he said, “It’s such a group effort between the engineers and the crew guys. One of the great assets we have is that the engineers and the crew really work as one team. There’s been a huge amount of dialogue and huge amount of work done over the winter, and everyone was involved in the process. Today was really the fruits of that.”