A commanding performance by Dario Franchitti was more than enough to give the Chip Ganassi pilot victory in the IndyCar season opener in St Petersburg.
Although Penske favourite, Will Power nabbed a Saturday afternoon pole position, it was Franchitti who led virtually all of the race; all the while escaping the early race carnage that saw four full course cautions in the first sixteen laps.
With the flag dropped on the season, Power surged ahead from Franchitti, while chaos reigned behind.
Chaos in the Pack
The chaos started immediately as the field bunched toward the first turn. Approaching the corner far too quickly, Marco Andretti (Andretti-Autosport) and Penske’s Helio Castroneves collided, taking both themselves, but also Scott Dixon (Ganassi), Mike Conway (Andretti-Autosport), Ryan Briscoe (Penske) and Oriol Servia (Newman-Haas) out of contention.
The incident would see Andretti land upside down on his roll hoop bar in the middle of the corner – thankfully the 24-year-old suffered no injuries. Servia and Briscoe continued, but the rest were out.
Another yellow fell at the fifth lap restart, this time caused by two separate incidents. First Danica Patrick (Andretti-Autosport) clipped the rear of Ana Beatriz entering the first turn (necessitating a new front wing), before Beatriz suffered a rather more serious clash with Graham Rahal (Ganassi). The accident would break Beatriz’ left hand, but remarkably, the Brazilian continued unabated.
Continuing his 2010 form amidst all this was KV Racing’s EJ Viso, who spun limply in the 13th corner.
The third green flag dropped on the 11th tour, only for to race to be neutralised again less than a lap later when Briscoe sliced into the rear of Oriol Servia (Newman-Haas) – Briscoe would pit for a new front wing, while Servia pitted to change his punctured tyres.
By the fourteenth lap, things were becoming rather tiresome – as the race restarted, spins in the mid-pack to bring out another full course yellow; the victim on this occasion was the indignant Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti-Autosport).
At a time when the series is trying to sell the drivers as some of the best and most diverse racers on the planet, St Petersburg on Sunday evening made many of the competitors appear more than a little amateurish.
Climbing the Ladder
Amidst all this carnage, Franchitti stole the lead from Power who had fallen to 5th behind the quick starting Simona de Silvestro (2nd, HVM), Tony Kanaan (3rd, KV Racing) and Justin Wilson (4th, Dreyer and Reinbold) as the green flew again on lap 17.
While much attention was being paid to the leaders, IndyCar débutante, James Jakes (Dale Coyne) busied himself with a tidy running.
The Englishman suffered an accident in the morning warm-up, but was repaired to make the race start in 22nd spot, where upon he had taken 8th by one-fifth distance. Unfortunately for Jakes, it would come to little – a pitstop on lap 40 would see the Coyne driver stall in the pits and tumble down the order, unable to recover thereafter.
At least Jakes can claim a better opening weekend than teammate, Sebastien Bourdais, who planted his Dallara-Honda hard into the barriers in the morning warm-up, denying the Frenchman an opportunity to run.
Charlie Kimball was also having an impressive IndyCar début for Ganassi. The Anglo-American started in 23rd position and had made his way to 11th spot by lap 39. Sadly for the rookie pilot, Kimball charged too hard on cold tyres, while exiting the pits, ploughing into the barrier before turn 3 – out!!
Just as Kimball suffered his tumble, the leaders began to pit and it was here that the skill of the Penske operation shun again.
Entering the pits behind a gaggle of machinery, Power blasted out of his box, charging passed Wilson, Kanaan and de Silvestro. The situation full course yellow once again, Power eyed up Franchitti’s lead, while Kanaan saw potential in passing de Silvestro for 3rd.
Applying the Pressure
The race restarted come lap 44, but where Power failed to get the jump on Franchitti, Kanaan stalked de Silvestro, eventually taking 3rd from the ‘Swiss Miss’.
Calm heads did not prevail in the midpack, as Jakes attempted a woeful move on Beatriz in turn 3, sliding too quickly into the turn. Just ahead, a sudden stopping Alex Tagliani was rear ended by Wilson, before being tapped from behind by Patrick, leaving Wilson with a fractured wrist-bone – the second Dreyer and Reinbold driver to receive injuries.
Patrick, meanwhile, would require her third front wing of the day.
Franchitti continued to make the race look easy. The Scot was slowly but surely extending his lead over Power, while the Penske man checked his mirrors for Kanaan’s green Lotus machine. Kanaan, however, was busying himself with pressure from de Silvestro.
With the laps ticking by, the final stops came and went with little fanfare, but while Power edged away from Kanaan, the Brazilian was coming under more and more pressure from de Silvestro. For the race, the HVM runner had not used any of her “push-to-pass” allocation, but with the laps counting down, de Silvestro opened up.
Kanaan though, remained stoic in his defence and for every move or attempt of a move the de Silvestro made, Kanaan had an answer. Claims of foul defending by the 2004 IRL Champion were raised, but none adhered to – this was a battle Kanaan was determined to win.
Making it Easy
When it came to the race itself, Franchitti had it wrapped up. Realistically, it was won thanks to his lap 5 move on Power, but from then on the Scot controlled the pace of the event, picking up the bonus two points for most laps led in the process.
In a race that was declared to be a walkover for Power prior to the start of the weekend, it was certainly strike one in favour on the Ganassi driver.
Power, meanwhile, ran to an uneventful runner-up spot. Unable to reel Franchitti in late on, while also being too quick for Kanaan solidified his position, however the Australian will be keen to redress the balance at Barber Motorsports Park in two weeks.
Kanaan took 3rd ahead of de Silvestro, but only by 0.46 of-a-second. It was a truly fabulous race for the Brazilian, who only secured this drive one week before the season opener. De Silvestro’s run was also noteworthy – the Swiss star started 17th after a difficult opening two days – if she can keep this form, it may be a big year for the 22-year-old.
Takuma Sato took 5th place in the second KV Racing entry after relatively quiet day. It was a good start to the season for the ex-Formula 1 driver, especially considering his rather tumultuous IndyCar début season.
Alex Tagliani also made it a good start to the season after a winter of uncertainty. The Canadian saw his FAZZT Racing team purchased by Sam Schmidt Motorsport over the winter, allowing Tagliani to concentrate on driving. With confidence aplenty, Tagliani delivered 6th place to his new squad.
Raphael Matos (AFS) and Vitor Meira (Foyt Racing) also exercised patience on the way to 7th and 8th respectively; however whereas Meira is signed up for the full season, Matos does not yet have a deal beyond St Pete – this result may be a catalyst for future events.
Oriol Servia (9th), Justin Wilson (10th, despite a sly spin late on) and Danica Patrick (11th) all found themselves in the wars throughout the race, although all three may well have expected a little more from their outings.
Unlike 12th place runner, JR Hildebrand. In only his third IndyCar race (the America drove twice for Andretti-Autosport last year), Hildebrand brought his Panther machine home safely, despite starting in 24th. Should his qualifying improve, the future could be bright for “Captain America”.
Beyond that, Sebastian Saavedra (Conquest Racing) led the rest of the field, albeit two laps down. The controversial Columbian took 13th ahead of Ana Beatriz (14th) and James Jakes (15th).
The recovering Ganassi pilots Scott Dixon (16th) and Graham Rahal (17th) both lost four laps in the early wreckage. They finished ahead of fellow rejoinees Ryan Briscoe (18th), EJ Viso (19th) and Helio Castroneves (20th).
Ryan Hunter-Reay retook to the track following a long stoppage, only to park it again on lap 70.
Race Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Results - 100 laps: Pos Driver Team Time/Gap 1. Dario Franchitti Ganassi 2h00m59.6886s 2. Will Power Penske + 7.1612s 3. Tony Kanaan KV + 16.1045s 4. Simona de Silvestro HVM + 16.5616s 5. Takuma Sato KV + 29.9435s 6. Alex Tagliani Schmidt + 30.4655s 7. Raphael Matos AFS + 31.5227s 8. Vitor Meira Foyt + 35.7291s 9. Oriol Servia Newman/Haas + 49.1432s 10. Justin Wilson Dreyer & Reinbold + 56.8025s 11. Danica Patrick Andretti + 57.3418s 12. JR Hildebrand Panther + 1m02.9700s 13. Sebastian Saavedra Conquest + 2 laps 14. Ana Beatriz Dreyer & Reinbold + 2 laps 15. James Jakes Coyne + 3 laps 16. Scott Dixon Ganassi + 4 laps 17. Graham Rahal Ganassi + 4 laps 18. Ryan Briscoe Penske + 5 laps 19. EJ Viso KV + 6 laps 20. Helio Castroneves Penske + 15 laps Retirements: Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti 58 laps Charlie Kimball Ganassi 38 laps Mike Conway Andretti 1 lap Marco Andretti Andretti 0 laps Sebastien Bourdais Coyne DNS
|Driver||Team / Entry||Points|
|1.||Dario Franchitti||Target Chip Ganassi Racing||52|
|2.||Will Power||Verizon Wireless Team Penske||41|
|3.||Tony Kanaan||KV Racing Technology Lotus||35|
|4.||Simona di Silvestro||Entergy HVM Racing||32|
|5.||Takuma Sato||KV Racing Technology Lotus||30|
|6.||Alex Tagliani||B&W Sam Schmidt Motorsports||28|
|7.||Raphael Matos||AFS Racing||26|
|8.||Vitor Meira||ABC Supply Co AJ Foyt Enterprises||24|
|9.||Oriol Servià||Telemundo Newman/Haas Racing||22|
|10.||Justin Wilson||Z-Line Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||20|
|11.||Danica Patrick||GoDaddy.com Andretti Autosport||19|
|12.||JR Hildebrand||US National Guard Panther Racing||18|
|13.||Sebastian Saavedra||Conquest Racing||17|
|14.||Ana Beatriz||Lubrizol Dreyer & Reinbold Racing||16|
|15.||James Jakes||Acorn Stairlifts Dale Coyne Racing||15|
|16.||Scott Dixon||Target Chip Ganassi Racing||14|
|17.||Graham Rahal||Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing||13|
|18.||Ryan Briscoe||IZOD/PPG Team Penske||12|
|=.||EJ Viso||KV Racing Technology Lotus||12|
|=.||Hélio Castroneves||Shell/AAA Team Penske||12|
|=.||Ryan Hunter-Reay||DHL Andretti Autosport||12|
|=.||Charlie Kimball||Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing||12|
|=.||Mike Conway||GoDaddy.com Andretti Autosport||12|
|=.||Marco Andretti||Venom Energy Drink Andretti Autosport||12|
|25.||Sébastien Bourdais||Boy Scouts Dale Coyne Racing||5|