Toni Montgomery · Monday March 26, 2012
In a Nutshell: Helio Castroneves in a Chevrolet beat Honda driver Scott Dixon to the line by 5.5292 seconds to win the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Castroneves and Dixon both employed a two stop strategy, the right call for the mainly green flag race. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport teammate James Hinchcliffe finished third and fourth. Penske Racing’s Ryan Briscoe rounded out the top five.
Key Moment: Scott Dixon pitted for the final time with 31 laps to go and Castroneves made his stop one lap later. Dixon cycled out ahead of Castroneves but Castroneves made a bold pass to the outside of Dixon in turn one with 28 laps remaining and then passed leader J.R. Hildebrand, showed some patented Penske power, and drove away to the win.
Castroneves won for the third time at St. Petersburg, making him the winningest driver on the temporary street circuit. It was his first win since Twin Ring Motegi in September of 2010.
It’s tough to be Scott Dixon at St. Petersburg. Dixon has not finished the race the last four years. This year he finished second to winner Helio Castroneves. Dixon has been the runner up for every one of Castroneves’ victories at the track.
Sophomore driver James Hinchcliffe has taken a lot of flack for taking over Danica Patrick’s GoDaddy ride, including the nickname “Manica.” Give Hinch credit for a good sense of humor. He made his first appearance of the year in the pre-race show wearing a long brunette wig.
Reigning Indy Lights champion Josef Newgarden finished eleventh in his debut for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and perhaps more notably made his first ever pit stop under racing conditions.
Chevy hit the ground running in their return to IndyCar competition, taking the win and six of the top ten spots. It was the first win for an engine not named Honda since 2005, when Chevy and Toyota left the series. Honda got the other four top ten finishes. The highest finishing driver for Lotus was Alex Tagliani in 15th. Lotus pilots also experienced all sorts of mechanical gremlins so the engine provider still has some work to do.
Sometimes things work out perfectly when they aren’t planned. Race winner Castroneves has a tradition of climbing the catch fence when he wins races. He just happened to stop to do his climb in turn 10. After saluting the fans in the stands, his attention turned to the sign delineating Dan Wheldon Way on the fence on the other side of the track. Castroneves made a second climb to pat the sign and salute his friend. Wheldon’s adopted hometown of St. Petersburg named the street along the race course for the fallen champion earlier this month. Turn 10 also marks the spot where Wheldon passed Ryan Briscoe to win the inaugural race in St. Petersburg in 2005.
Notable Driver: Rookie driver Simon Pagenaud qualified in sixth spot in his Sam Schmidt Motorsports car but did not get to start the race there. The team had an engine change and per series rules, any time a team has to change an engine over the course of a race weekend, they must move back ten spots on the starting grid. Pagenaud patiently drove through the field over the course of the day, and in the end he finished right where he should have started, in sixth. He raced hard in the closing laps with Ryan Briscoe and held off Will Power in order to get the result.
Quotes and Tweets:
Helio Castroneves: (on Twitter) So good to be here again! Fb.me/1PlrOLJFb
Ryan Briscoe: (on Twitter) Solid first race today to finish 5th, first car on the 3 stop strategy. Congrats to
h3lio TeamChevy and @penskeracing for the win!
Indy Motor Speedway: (on Twitter) CAPTION THIS! @Hinchtown twitpic.com/91bjea
“Helio was a man on a mission. I don’t think we had the pace. Probably a little too cautious on turn one where he did go around the outside. I didn’t push the envelope too much. I was trying to envision a finish here. So that’s the way it went.” Scott Dixon
What’s Next: The IZOD IndyCar series is back on track next weekend at the permanent road course at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama. Will Power won last year’s edition of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama from the pole. Television coverage starts at 2 PM EDT on NBC Sports Network (formerly known as Versus). The race can also be heardon SiriusXM channel 94.
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