Briscoe holds off Hunter-Reay to win in St. Pete
Vision Racing's Hunter-Reay came home second less than 1/2-second behind, the best finish ever for Tony George's team, followed by Dale Coyne's Justin Wilson, Dario Franchitti in the Ganassi Dallara Honda and Tony Kanaan in the AGR Dallara Honda.
Briscoe who started 4th, gave Team Penske its 30th IndyCar Series victory and he led 46 of 100 laps. Early leader Justin Wilson led a race high 52 laps.
Under a glorious Florida sunshine, one of the largest crowds in St. Petersburg history enjoyed a hard race with a number of mishaps, including Graham Rahal, who a day earlier became the youngest pole winner in IndyCar Series history, was hit and spun sideways into the grass and fell back to 21st. The defending race winner drove back through the field to a seventh-place finish.
"The race started bad right from the beginning for the McDonald's team," Rahal said. "I was conservative on the start and I'm guessing it was Kanaan that punted me. From there, it was just battling back all day trying to find a way to get the car back up to the front. We certainly inched away at it to get back up to seventh from last place and I'm pretty happy with that, but I think the results should have, and could have been, better."
Wilson took the lead in the first turn of the race as the field went four wide into the first corner.
Wilson led the first 34 laps on alternate tires, known as “reds."
Briscoe was good coming off the final corner and it made it difficult for anyone to get a good slipstream on him and pass him back under braking for Turn 1, which was the best place to pass all day.
"This is our first race of the season and it's such a great feeling to kick it off with a race win," said Briscoe. "The conditions were tough; it was very tricky on restarts. The tires would get very cold and it would be very slippery. It was a challenge to keep it between the white lines and off the wall. I had some strong challenges from behind, but my car was very strong today and I was able to hold them off."
Perhaps the drive of the race was by Hunter-Reay. Starting 14th for Vision Racing, which has always done poorly on the street and road courses because they never had a talented driver, Hunter-Reay drove a clean race and made smart passes to give Tony George some hope that he now has the talent in Hunter-Reay to bring the team its first ever IndyCar win.
"It was a good, clean race for us," said Hunter-Reay, who won at Watkins Glen in '08 with Rahal Letterman Racing and started 14th here. "Late in the race, I was thinking long term with points. You couldn't step a foot off line without jeopardizing your car, so I kept it in line for the team. It's been a long week for everyone on the team and everyone who worked on getting it here deserves the credit."
Danica Patrick, the IRL's biggest star, crashed out early. She was running ninth in the 22-car field on Sunday when rookie Raphael Matos tried to pass as the two went into one of the tightest turns on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit.
Both cars crashed, with Patrick's Andretti Green Racing entry slamming hard, rear end first into a tire barrier.
"It's not exactly the ideal spot to pass," she said. "We were going into the fast chicane there and there's no room, there's no room for two people. ... I was looking in my mirrors and I saw him. He just wasn't all the way up next to me."
Matos was probably frustrated because she was slow, and he wanted to get past.
Ed Carpenter and Scott Dixon, who had a horrible day on the track and in the pits, crashed into the third turn wall. IndyCar champion Dixon's problem was contact in the first turn with Mutoh. His left front suspension was damaged and by the time he got to turn three, he couldn't make the corner. It was a big hit, ending his day. It was the first time he's failed to finish a race since this race last season.
On the lap 87 restart, Dan Wheldon tried to outbrake Tony Kanaan entering the first turn, and that backed things up by the time the field reached turn four. Wheldon and series newcomer Robert Doornbos made contact, igniting a melee. Mutoh drove into the back of Wheldon, who ended up in the tire barrier, and Marco Andretti clipped Mutoh and damaged his front suspension. Will Power was involved, too, but he came out with minimum damage.
On lap 96, Tagliani was not up alongside Marco Andretti to pull of the pass and they made contact entering turn 10. Andretti's day was over.
Next up for the IndyCar teams is the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, April 17-19, on the streets of Long Beach, California. The Long Beach event is Round #2 of the 2009 IndyCar Series season. It will be televised live on Versus at 3:30 p.m. ET.
RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 Team Penske, first): “At the end there, we had some restarts and I was able to get Justin Wilson down on the inside. Team Penske gave me a great car today. Roger Penske calls my strategy, and it was just absolutely perfect today. This is our first race of the season, and it’s such a great feeling to kick it off with a race win. The conditions were tough – it was very tricky on restarts. The tires would get very cold, and it would be very slippery. It was a challenge to keep it between the white lines and off the wall. I had some strong challenges from behind, but my car was very strong today, and I was able to hold them off.”
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 21 Vision Racing, second): “It was a good, clean race for us. Late in the race, I was thinking long term with points. You couldn’t step a foot off line without jeopardizing your car, so I kept it line for the team. It’s been a long week for everyone on the team and everyone who worked on getting the car here deserves the credit.”
JUSTIN WILSON (No. 19 Sonny’s Bar-B-Q, third): “It’s been a fantastic weekend. The Sonny’s Bar-B-Q car has been working fantastic. On that restart, I got out-dragged on the front straight. There’s not much you can do. You can’t block. It’s just one of those things. I was just disappointed because you can’t do any more.”
DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Air Wick, fourth): “The Air Wick car was pretty quick, especially at the end, but we lost track position. Some of the other guys maybe caught a lucky break there and jumped us in the pits. But all through the day we made it a little better. The one thing it wasn’t doing well was using tires. You could see that at the start when Justin (Wilson) and I were fighting and Justin was able to pull away further and further. That last stint was good for us because we had a chance to cool them down again. We’ve got a little bit of work to do, but it was definitely a good start.” (About the start of the race): “I went out this morning and practiced where I needed to brake in order to get into the corner without locking the wheels, and then everyone just stood on the brakes and I saw a gap o pen up so I went for it. The biggest problem we had all day is anytime someone would go on your inside or you would go on someone’s inside, if you went off line, you were just done. The track was so dirty it was probably the worst marbles I’ve ever seen. And that was why you saw a lot of people go slightly off line and then crash in the next corner.”
TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven, fifth): “It was a tough race, flat out from lap one to the last lap. I feel sorry for Graham (Rahal), but he got chopped up. He had to stop in the middle of the corner, but I wasn't expecting him to do that. It cost us a few spots. The beauty is, it's so competitive right now that it's so much fun. I am dead tired. My arms are cramping because we had to push the whole way. I've got to thank my guys, the whole 7-Eleven team on the pit stops and the strategy. It's a shame, on the start, Dario (Franchitti) dive-bombed everybody and Graham (Rahal) tried to avoid him, and he came to a stop. I couldn't do anything. I couldn't avoid him, and unfortunately I ended up breaking my front wing and I had to come in. It was a fun race. I cam e all the way from the back to finish fifth." (About the alternate tires): "They're definitely a lot of fun. There is a little bit of a difference. I know Firestone is going to make a bigger one. It just makes it more exciting for sure. It brings extra excitement for the fans and a lot of work for us.”
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 02 McDonald’s Racing Team, seventh): “The race started bad right from the beginning for the McDonald’s team. I was conservative on the start, and I’m guessing it was (Tony) Kanaan that punted me. It’s absolutely ridiculous, and you would expect a guy like that with experience to know it’s the first corner of the first lap of the first race of the season. Why make moves like that? From there it was just battling back all day trying to find a way to get the car back up to the front. We certainly inched away at it to get back up to seventh from last place, and I’m pretty happy with that, but I think the results should have and could have been better. Our race car was pretty good, but it could have been better. The tires were really good, but they wore out towards the end of a stint. One was out of balance and started vibrating like crazy. On one set of tires near the end of the stint, the car didn’t want to turn right whatsoever and I lost a lot of positions. I was supposed to come in one lap later but I said, ‘Hey, I have to come in now.’ It had been that way for about 10 laps. We had a couple of little issues here and there, but we made it to the end.”
VITOR MEIRA (No. 14 ABC Supply Co. AJ Foyt Racing, ninth): “It was a survivor's race. I almost went out when (Alex) Tagliani blocked me. We had to replace the nose, which put us to the rear. It is so hard to recover from that. I had the pace and was able to run with people, but once you're behind it is really hard to catch up. I feel we had a little luck just to finish today.”
ALEX TAGLIANI (No. 34 Rexall Edmonton Indy, 10th): “We had bad luck today. It was unfortunate at the start. I tried to avoid a free for all. I had to get on the inside of the track to avoid not wrecking with Graham (Rahal), who was spinning in front of everyone. That cost us a couple of positions, and then I got a puncture because (Vitor) Meira punted me from behind on the back straightaway. I don’t know what he was thinking. That cost us our race right there. I went a lap down because of that. We were just unlucky, because the Rexall Edmonton Indy car was really quick. We put in the second-fastest lap of the race at the end. I think if we would have been in the mix, we would have had a good run. I just wasn’t at the right place at the right time. I want to thank the team for doing a fantastic job this weekend. I wanted to give them, as well as Northlands and the Rexall Edmonton Indy, a better result than this, but at least we showed that Conquest Racing is a very competitive team and that we can fight with the best of them.”
Winner's average speed: 81.542 mph
Time of race: 2:12:26.8387
Margin of victory: 0.4619 of a second
Cautions: 7 caution flags for 28 laps
Lead changes: 5 among 3 drivers
Lap leaders: Wilson 1-34, Briscoe 35-66, Wilson 67-69, Andretti 70-71, Wilson 72-86, Briscoe 87-100.
Point standings: Briscoe 50, Hunter-Reay 40, Wilson 37, Franchitti 32, Kanaan 30, Power 28, Rahal 27, Manning 24, Meira 22, Tagliani 20.
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