FRANCHITTI DOMINANT IN HONDA GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERSBURG VICTORY
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- There are multiple advantages to starting on the front row on IZOD IndyCar Series road/street course. In the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, one was avoiding the six-car pile-up in Turn 1 of the first lap.
Dario Franchitti and pole sitter Will Power were among those who kept their cars' noses clean at the start and subsequent side-by-side restarts through 100 laps on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit by the bay, and that's the way they completed the season opener.
Franchitti made a strong start in his bid for a third consecutive series championship (only two others in Indy car history have accomplished it) by running away from Power and the remnants of the 24-car field to win for the first time at St. Pete.
Power, the 2010 championship runner-up and Mario Andretti Road Course Championship Award winner, was 7.1612 seconds back. Tony Kanaan, who had four practice sessions in the No. 82 GEICO KV Racing Technology-Lotus car, finished third and second-year racer Simona de Silvestro finished a career-best fourth in the No. 78 Nuclear Clean Air Energy/HVM Racing car.
Also on March 27, Josef Newgarden, who started third in the No. 11 Robo-Pong/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car, led teammate Conor Daly across the finish line by 0.8552 of a second to win in his Firestone Indy Lights debut.
Peter Dempsey, who started fifth but jump to the point for the first 11 laps in the No. Pulse/O2 Racing car, finished third and David Ostella advanced seven positions to finish fourth in the No. 16 Global Precast Team Jensen entry.
Anders Krohn moved up two positions to finish sixth in the No. 9 Liberty Engineering Special for Belardi Auto Racing.
Polesitter Esteban Guerrieri, driving the No. 7 Lucas Oil/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car, who ran second to Newgarden from Laps 12-43, dropped to seventh as he was forced wide in Turn 1 on the second of two restarts in the 45-lap race.
DAY 3 NOTEBOOK:
Vinny LeCavalier may be used to the coolest game on earth, but he says riding in the Indy Racing Experience two-seater may be scarier.
LeCavalier, the captain of the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning and grand marshal of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, took a hot lap with racing legend Mario Andretti prior to Sunday's race.
"I've driven some cars before, but that's definitely a different ballgame," said LeCavalier, who also traded a Lightning jersey for one of Alex Tagliani's racing suits. "I couldn't believe how fast it was, especially since I wasn't driving and I didn't know where we were going. It was a great experience."
Lecavalier said racing is "way scarier than anything the NHL," but something he enjoys.
"It's just another world," he said. "It was great experience and a lot of fun. Mario Andretti is driving you. How great is that. I took some videos and I took some pictures. It was just very exciting."
Connor De Phillippi of San Clemente, Calif., won Saturday's Star Mazda Championship race here at St. Petersburg. De Phillippi drives for Team Pelfrey, which is based in Clearwater, Fla. Spencer Pigot, of Windemere, Fla., won the first of two USF2000 National Championship races. The series' second race on Sunday was won by Finland Petri Suvanto. Both series are part of the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder system.
Damage to the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America car for Dale Coyne Racing from an on-track incident in the morning warm-up session knocked Sebastian Bourdais off the starting grid for the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
The four-time Champ Car title-holder, who led the first race lap on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit in 2003, brought out a full-course caution when the No. 19 car clipped the inside wall of Turn 11 and made heavy contact with the wall in Turn 13.
Simultaneously, teammate James Jakes in the No. 18 Acorn Stairlifts car, stopped on the course in Turn 4 after the right-rear tire made contact with the wall. The crew swapped out parts to repair the car and he started 21st in the 100-lap race.
Tom Vossman reached one goal in traveling 2,800 miles on his bike - raising awareness and funds for the Racing for Cancer charity he founded. The long-term goal is to eradicate cancer.
Vossman started the cross-country trip Feb. 25 from the start-finish line of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, where the IZOD IndyCar Series will race April 17. He crossed the start-finish line on the circuit for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on race day, incorporating two one-day breaks along the way.
"My legs are fine I don't know if I can say this but my rear end needs some damage control," said Vossman, who accepted a check for $28,000 from the IZOD IndyCar Series. "It's was a really inspirational ride. When I met so many folks with cancer along the way, it kind of gives you the energy to keep going because you know you're doing it for a good cause."
Vossman's bike was purchased by Michael Fux, founder of the Michael Fux Foundation, for $10,000. It will be donated to the Miami Children's Hospital Family Center.
"The roads we took were different so we ended up staying at hotels that we didn't plan on, and every time we stayed at a hotel that we hadn't planned usually within hours we would meet someone who had lost their father," Vossman continued. "In one case, I met a woman who had just lost her 4-year-old son about two years ago to brain cancer. So it was those moments when I realized that the more we could spread the (better)."
The ride started in Long Beach to honor Ryan Hunter-Reay, who dedicated his race victory there last April in memory of his mother Lydia, who died in November 2009 from the effects of cancer.
Former Tampa Bay Bucs running back Warrick Dunn also had a great ride.
In fact, he hugged Andretti after climbing from the "Fastest Seat in Sports" two-seater.
"I loved it. We were going so fast and then you slowed down to make the turns, it was unbelievable," said Dunn, a three-time Pro Bowl selection who also has received the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award (2004) for his off-field conduct and philanthropy and the Bart Starr Man of the Year Award (2008) that is given to a player who best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership
HONDA GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERSBURG POST-RACE NOTES:
•This is the 27th career Indy car victory for Dario Franchitti. He ties Johnny Rutherford for 10th on the all-time wins list.
•Franchitti finished in the top five for the fifth time in six starts at this event. His previous best finish was third in 2005.
Franchitti led 94 laps, the second-most laps led by the race winner. Helio Castroneves led 95 laps in 2007.
•This is the 81st Indy car victory for Target Chip Ganassi Racing
•This is the first victory for Target Chip Ganassi Racing in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
•Will Power finished second after starting on the pole. He won the race a year ago.
•Tony Kanaan finished third in his first race with KV Racing Technology - Lotus. It was his sixth top-five in St. Petersburg.
•Simona De Silvestro finished fourth, her best finish in the IZOD IndyCar Series. Her previous best was eighth at Mid-Ohio in 2010.
•Takuma Sato finished fifth, an IZOD IndyCar Series career best. His previous best was ninth at 2010 at Edmonton
•Raphael Matos finished seventh for AFS Racing, which was making its IZOD IndyCar Series debut as a sole entrant.
•JR Hildebrand was the top rookie finisher, 11th.
HONDA GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERSBURG POST-RACE QUOTES
DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, winner Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg): "These points count anytime; on the first race all the way through to the last race and I hope that I can make it easier on the team this year. But the Championship can change in a heartbeat and you have to fight all the way through to the end. The caliber of teams and drivers that we are up against shows what the Target Chip Ganassi team did today. It is great to be here in the sunshine of St. Petersburg with the stands full and the Target car was running like a dream. I was focused on what Will Power was doing and that was a good moment when we got around him on the second restart. I thought we aren't going to win this Championship by just sitting back. There are still a lot of races to go and we are taking it one at a time. I am ready to go back to Barber after the test there earlier in the season." (About tying Johnny Rutherford for 10th on the all-time win list): "Johnny Rutherford is a legend and he is a friend of mine. It is a privilege to get to drive for the teams that I have and be a part of the IZOD IndyCar Series. It is on an upward swing and I need to thank the partners and vendors. "
WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske, finished second): "It was a very interesting start today. Dario Franchitti got me fair and square at the beginning. When we had all of the restarts after caution periods, we got hit hard and went into neutral. We dropped to seventh position but were able to get back up to second again. I was in survival mode after getting hit. I struggled a lot on the blacks today and I was trying to hold Tony Kanaan off as he was hounding on me from behind. I am very glad to get the points for the championship. It was a good start to the season for Verizon Team Penske."
TONY KANAAN (No. 82 GEICO - KV Racing Technology - Lotus, finished third): "We really drove our own race. I have to thank my sponsors and friends for stepping up at the last minute and coming through to make this happen. We drove a conservative race until five laps to go and then Simona was all over me. We chose to use the reds in the beginning and I knew that was going to hurt me a little bit at the end. We should have used the black tires in the second stint like they did because I knew she was going to be running hard at the end. But I am an old man and she is a young girl and I think the experience helped out today.
SIMONA DE SILVESTRO (No. 78 Nuclear Clean Air Energy HVM Racing, finished fourth): "It was hard to pass because there was so much dust in the inside of the track. It was kind of a big risk to take to try to pass him so I was happy with fourth, but for sure I tried a couple of times. I couldn't make it. But, since he has been in the series such a long time and I was battling with him for most of the race, it was pretty fun." (About having overtake assists left): "Definitely. Maybe I would have used it a little bit earlier, but you know I'm glad to just kind of try to make a steady pace and then we hit the red zone we're really pushing. Maybe it's just because it's back in the car for the first time again in the race and getting used to everything. But you know the team did an awesome job and my new engineer too. We've been working together only since Friday and to finish fourth - my best result is something pretty unbelievable.
JR HILDEBRAND (No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing, finished 11th): "It was a battle for survival for a little while at the start of the race, which is what we assumed it was going to be. I was being cautious on those restarts and we just missed getting into several accidents on those first 15 laps, and then it basically went green for the remainder of the race. Our pit strategy worked and the Panther guys had some awesome pit stops. It was a good way to start the year for us and we've got the entire rest of the season in front of us." (About the late incident with Danica Patrick): "She was closing really hard and luckily I had a bunch of overtake assists left and I was using those to fend her off there at the end. That was working really well on the front straight but I was having a little bit of trouble finding my brake balance, so I couldn't completely pull away from her. Going into Turn Nine on the last lap I knew she'd be coming, but I broke late and I looked when I turned in and didn't see her nose, so I took the corner and we got tangled up."
E.J. VISO (No. 59 PDVSA- KV Racing Technology - Lotus): "It has been one of these weekends that we can forget. I need to thank my crew a lot because it has been a pretty eventful few days. I think we can go away knowing that we have learned a lot and this is what team work is about. Its about supporting people. At the start of the race I was running ninth, having started 21st. The car was feeling really strong and then I got a puncture on the right rear coming through the fast chicane. It took time for safety to get me back to the pits and then for my crew to get me back on track. Hopefully, we will have a better weekend at Barber."
TAKUMA SATO (No. 5 KV Racing Technology - Lotus): "This was a great way to start the season. It is my first top-five finish in the IndyCar series. At the start of the race, I avoided the accident and gained some positions. However, on the restart, unfortunately, I was always on the outside of the double file and it seems very difficult to gain positions from there......in fact I lost many. But, it was an exciting race. I overtook a few cars on the track and the team did a fantastic job with the pit stops, so I got some of the positions back. We still need to do a lot of work, but I am happy to start the season this way."
ORIOL SERVIA (No. 02 Telemundo Newman/Haas Racing): "I saw a mega-pile up of cars in front of me and thought I was fine but then I had a car on each side of me and got boxed in. Then I came to Briscoe who was stopped in front of me so I had to stop. The car wouldn't go in reverse easily to get going again and we lost some time. I had to use it two times and both times it wouldn't go into reverse. The car was fine, no damage. But then when I was passing Briscoe, who was a lap down at that point and we had already almost crashed in Turn 2, cut my tire. After almost crashing in Turn 2 we were side-by-side in Turns 4 and 5 and my rear tire and his front wing made contact and it punctured my tire. Earlier when I came in, I saw firesuits that were white like ours but they were the firesuits of car 18 and, like a rookie, I stopped in the wrong pits. I have never done that before. I thought I was in the right pits until I saw the number 18. It wasn't a great beginning of the race but it was such a mess overall that it ended up not costing us that much. We stayed out and did what we could to improve the car and get more experience. We didn't have the pace to contend in the front but we focused on getting as many positions and points as we could and learn for the next one." (About new restart procedure): "The two-wide restarts were not a problem for me. Its just that the two-wide restarts at this track are tricky because the inside line here is so dirty because this is an airport, there is paint, there is oil and that is why we had so many problems. If you look at the replay, it wasn't just the restarts, it was the start itself too and we always start two-wide. It's was just that the inside line here is one of the dirtiest of the season. It won't be the case at Barber."
ALEX TAGLIANI (No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins Sam Schmidt Motorsports): "These days with the reliability of Honda and good tires from Firestone, the thing is, you need to survive all those race restarts, and you need to have a picture perfect race and no mistakes because you can't count on DNF's these days. Overall, I think the team did a good job. We lost Friday with lots of little problems that we finally fixed. I think we have a decent car. I think we're just a couple of tenths before we get it more consistent and fast. But what really hurt us today was the hit on the restart when we went from fourth to seventh. Simona (De Silvestro) did a bonsai move and it stuck for her but she landed on everybody else. In the contact, I hit my hand in the cockpit and the wheel burned my hands as I tried to keep it under me. We had a bent suspension piece also from the contact, and the car was loose on entry on the left-handers and pushy on the right. It was survival today. The team did a good job, and I'm sure Sam (Schmidt, new owner of the No. 77 car) is pretty happy about this."
VITOR MEIRA (No. 14 ABC Supply Co./A.J. Foyt Racing): "Every restart we were careful and lucky. A couple times you have no control you just have to choose where to be and today it worked out for us. We moved from 13th to 5th but with all that debris on the track, we cut the tire and developed a slow leak on left rear so we had to come to the pits under green and put on blacks which were not good for us. Also we had a problem with the left front wing which caused a lot of push so we put more front wing in it and it helped. Overall the team did a giood job on a course where we struggled last year and to get a top 10 in a complicated race was good. [On restarts] "What everyone else thinks—they're hectic. Either it doesn't work or we are all crazy. I think it will work on the ovals but on the road courses, I'm sure they will have to think about it. [Biggest crash came on initial start?] "It's better to have just one problem to deal with than multiple problems."
RAPHAEL MATOS (No. 17 Automatic Fire Sprinklers Inc.): "It was a terrific run for the AFS Racing team. I have to thank (team owner) Gary Peterson and everyone that believed in me. It was a very difficult race, but I was able to keep my nose clean … sort of. I pushed very hard that last stint on the (Firestone Firehawk alternate) tires, trying to get that sixth position, but we're happy. We had a goal of finishing in the top 10, so I'm really happy for the whole team."
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA (No. 34 Conquest Racing): "I want to thank the whole crew; they did an amazing job working until midnight (after crash in qualifying). So you could say it was a miracle we were out there. But the back-up car itself was not the same as the primary, but we knew that was going to happen. We just wanted to finish the race and get some points. We had some great restarts. I went from 24th to 14th right away. But on the third one, I spun it unfortunately. Now we start working very hard toward the next race."
RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 IZOD Team Penske): "It was a frustrating day today for the IZOD Team Penske team. It's a shame because we had one of the quickest cars on the track. The guys made some adjustments to the car last night, and it paid off because we were fastest in the morning warm-up session. I haven't seen the replay yet, but I think Marco [Andretti] out-braked himself into the first turn, and the result was just unfortunate. Overall, it's a shame because IZOD has come on board this year, and I wish we could've had a better result for them today. It's not the finish we wanted today but we'll come back ready to win some races."
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 38 Service Central): "The day started rough for the Service Central team. There was a lot of adrenaline on the track at the start of the race. After the first restart, there was contact from another car and I hit the fence; we had to replace the wing and make adjustments to the right rear suspension. We knew we had to stay out and finish for points. It was a frustrating finish for the No. 38 Service Central Honda."
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Guidepoint Systems Team Penske): "Our Guidepoint Systems car was fast today after the first-lap incident - you could see it in our lap times. The guys did an incredible job putting the car back together after the left front suspension damage. The Team Penske guys were amazing. As far as the incident, I'll have to look and see what happened, but it seems like I locked up the rear on the car. It's very disappointing, but we never gave up and we know we'll have better results next race."
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 Team Venom Energy): "Today was a disappointing start to the season for the Venom Energy car. I took the green and had a good run going on the inside of (Ryan) Briscoe and then Helio (Castroneves) misjudged his breaking point and ran up into the back of me. It was all a chain of events from there. I think having the cars start so close together is great for the fans but it was no good for me today."
MIKE CONWAY (No. 27 Team GoDaddy.com): "Someone obviously went into the first corner too hard, and it's a bit silly really - the first lap of the race and a long way to go. It's a shame for the GoDaddy.com car was good all weekend and were easily on for a top result. It's a shame for the Andretti team. We were all in a position to have a good result."
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 Team DHL/Sun Drop Citrus Soda): (About first-lap incident): "I don't know what happened. Someone cleared everybody out on the start, and I was lucky enough to be in the right place. I lifted, went to the inside, they all cleared out and I kind of picked my way through it. After that, it was just restart after restart after restart. I was hoping so badly we would just go green, but we didn't. It's a shame. The DHL/Sun Drop car was good; we were fourth and we just got taken out. Somebody cleared us out from behind."
DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 Team GoDaddy): "Overall, I have to feel pretty fortunate to have made it to the end with the GoDaddy car. The beginning was really intense but we were able to stay out of the major trouble. I think we are going to head into Barber with a better idea on what we need to have the results we want."
GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERSBURG (Firestone Indy Lights) POST-RACE NOTES:
•Josef Newgarden earned his first career Firestone Indy Lights victory in his first start in the series. The last driver to win in his first start was J.K. Vernay when he won this event in 2010.
•Josef Newgarden is the ninth driver to win in his first career Firestone Indy Lights start.
•The top nine finishers in today's race made their first Firestone Indy Lights start.
GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERSBURG (Firestone Indy Lights) POST-RACE QUOTES:
JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 11 Robo-Pong Sam Schmidt Motorsports, winner St. Petersburg Grand Prix): "It is great to race here again and a good day for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. We had really fast race cars and were running 1-2-3 until that restart. Unfortunately on that initial start I was just in the wrong gear. It was my mistake, and next time I will be able to learn from it. It was unfortunate for us there, but it is also good to know that we can make passes happen in this car. It was a valuable experience for me if I ever have to get into a dog fight situation again. The last restart was epic and Esteban went straight down the inside and he saw I was coming and he was trying to make a move on Josef as well. I could tell that it was basically an ice rink on the inside of the track as there was dust flying everywhere. Me and Josef haven't raced together since 2008 and we always seem to end up together on the podium as 1-2 one way or another. It was a great day for the entire Mazda Road to Indy Team.
CONOR DALY (No. 77 Mazda Road to Indy/Sam Schmidt Motorsports, finished second): "It is great to race here again and a good day for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. We had really fast race cars and were running 1-2-3 until that restart. Unfortunately on that initial start I was just in the wrong gear. It was my mistake, and next time I will be able to learn from it. It was unfortunate for us there, but it is also good to know that we can make passes happen in this car. It was a valuable experience for me if I ever have to get into a dog fight situation again. The last restart was epic and Esteban went straight down the inside and he saw I was coming and he was trying to make a move on Josef as well. I could tell that it was basically an ice rink on the inside of the track as there was dust flying everywhere. Me and Josef haven't raced together since 2008 and we always seem to end up together on the podium as 1-2 one way or another. It was a great day for the entire Mazda Road to Indy Team.
PETER DEMPSEY: (Pulse/O2 Racing, finished third): "I got a fantastic start, it was a first-ever roll-in start, I thought once I get inside hopefully these top three cars would run a bit fast and try to chase each other and they did. I led for the first 10-15 laps and the tires let off a little bit. I knew in the restart I had a chance for the podium if they [the team] fought and they did fight quite hard and they got a podium out of it. I want to thank the guys of the number 36 Pulse car for giving me the opportunity to do it and O2 Racing. I think it's probably their first podium at Indy Lights - at their first real race. It's a great start for the season and hopefully it leads on to a few more podiums.I only had two test days in the car. I was aiming for the top five but to come out with a podium is just…I couldn't ask for anything more.
DAVID OSTELLA (No. 16 Global Precast Team Jensen): "I feel incredible. My first race ever in Firestone Indy Lights and I can't say how great this was. It was the first time with the rolling start and I did pretty good. I was a little nervous, but I just jumped up from I don't know where to the top five. It was awesome."
ANDERS KROHN (No. 9 Liberty Engineering Racing Special): "It was a hectic race to say the least; a lot of bumping on the restart. Today was all about capitalizing on the mistakes of others. Top five in Belardi's first-ever Firestone Indy Lights race is not bad."
ESTEBAN GUERRIERI (No. 7 Lucas Oil/Sam Schmidt Motorsports): It was a really good race until the last two laps. We were lapping great, really consistent. I didn't want to make any mistakes. I was trying to push on the restart and we got to the first corner very close with other cars and I missed my braking point a little bit. That was my mistake. I went wide and got picked off. But, in the end, it's an official race and e go for the next one."
The next IZOD IndyCar Series event is the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on April 10 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala. The race will be televised live at 3 p.m. (ET) by VERSUS and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network. The next Firestone Indy Lights race is at Barber Motorsports Park on April 10. It will be televised live at Noon (ET) by VERSUS.