Will Power makes it two in a row in St. Pete
Coming into the track about two hours before the start, there was no parking to be found, even in the areas designated for event workers. Initially, I thought it was due to the mix of the workday and race crowd. However, as I came into the track, the crowd seemed much stronger than I thought it would be. The track seemed pretty empty, even though there were plenty of fans, as everyone but the IndyCar crews had packed up and left. There were very few vendors to be found as well. Most of the hospitality trailers ad folded up, but IndyCars loyal Honda had their full service hospitality available, as if it were a Sunday morning.
By the time the cars took to the track for the pace laps (on which Milka Duno spun), it looked like all of the grandstands were mostly full. There is not the standing crowd that we might otherwise see, but the crowd looked quite solid for a Monday morning.
The initial laps saw Will Power hold his lead and most of the field looked to stay pretty careful on the very moist track, with all of the cars starting on slicks, namely the red option tire.
Dixon made a couple of quick moves up and took the lead from Andretti into turn one, and held station, while Helio Castroneves also made his way by Marco on a quickly drying track.
Power took his turn getting by Marco and then also made quick work of Helio slotting into second and gaining on Dixon until Sato hit the tire barrier in turn 4, which has collected a number of cars this weekend.
The yellow produced some varied pit strategies, with several cars staying on track while most of the leaders took to the pits. On the restart Dixon took an aggressive charge to gain spots back quickly, and made a move inside Moraes into turn one. Dixon was not really far enough alongside Moraes to clearly claim the corner, and Moraes did not give him much room. Moraes cut across Dixon's wing and ripped off the entire left half, cutting a tire in the process.
Several laps later, Dan Weldon came inside Moraes with a seemingly crazy move that took him out, along with Moraes, and sent him flying down the runoff road with pieces of IndyCar flying everywhere. It seemed obvious that something broke, which was later confirmed by the reply, which showed his right rear wheel entirely off the ground as he got on the brakes, causing the front left to lock up, and keeping him from being able to turn the car.
This brought out a convenient yellow for Briscoe, who was on an alternate pit strategy in an attempt to move up from a poor starting position. Still, once the pit stops cycled through, the weekend's dominant driver Will Power was into the lead followed by Justin Wilson, EJ Viso and the dazzling Simona deSilvestro, moving up 16 spots from her qualifying position, benefitting from an alternate pit strategy and a fortunate yellow.
Dixon caught a break from Wheldon's yellow as well, and stayed out with his newly fitted nose. He started dispensing with slower cars, moving quickly into fifth and chasing down deSilvestro who maintained her composure well with the intimidating Dixon filling up her mirrors.
deSilvestro seemed to pull away from Dixon for a few turns, no doubt spurred on by Dixon pushing her hard. However, Dixon slipped by Simona a lap later, setting up a battle between Simona and Danica, both on similar pit strategies. Danica is no doubt feeling a little shown-up lately by Simona, who is only in her second IndyCar race and outshining Danica on the track pretty convincingly.
Will Power pulled out a couple of seconds on the field, with Dixon trying to get by Viso and catch Wilson, who was reportedly running very comfortably behind Power, and sticking to his strategy.
All of the rain and moisture had the banners on the walls starting to peel off, and Dixon had one of those stuck to his front right wing, but did not seem to be hurting downforce.
Viso was driving especially well and Dixon was not getting by.
Marco Andretti's great run was essentially nullified by a cut tire and an ill-timed pitstop, with Tony Kanaan falling to the same fate.
Viso was the first among the leaders to flinch, pitting for fuel and tires with 36 laps to go. Just as he exited the pits, a full course yellow came out when Conway made an optimistic move around Matos and ended up in the tire wall. This was promising for Viso, as he was unlikely to make it to the finish. As almost the entire field dove to the pits, Viso stayed out and assumed second place ahead of Will Power, who had a blazing pitstop, almost allowing him to keep the lead. Vitor Meira took the point, but it was doubtful he would make it to the finish.
After the pit cycle, Danica had the best of deSilvestro, and a fresh set of red option tires, putting an end to some awkward post-race interview questions, with a solid run from the very back of the field to a 9th position and deSilvestro two spots behind in eleventh.
This setup a battle to the end between Viso, Power, Wilson and Dixon, with Briscoe and Castroneves also in the mix.
Meira dropped into the pits and gave Viso the lead with Power looking for his spot.
Viso's car slowed suddenly, almost as if out of fuel, and e faded back quickly. He could not get over into the pit lane entry, and holding up the field down the straight. The gearbox gave up on him, with a great run and a quick car.
Simona got taken out at turn one as the field scrambled around Viso, with Rahal sticking is nose in. Simona even gave him some room, and he still clipped her left rear and drove over her nose.
Before the full course yellow came out, Dixon clipped the inside wall and caromed to the outside wall, ending his day as well, and perplexing onlookers.
With 22 laps to go, the top six at the restart was Power, Wilson, Briscoe, Helio, Tagliani and Danica. Danica had yet to use any of her push-to-pass button as well.
The product of a hard fought race, Matos started to harass Danica on her quickly fading red option tires and using her push-to-pass button to keep in front. Dario had made his way to 9th after a terrible qualifying spot and a horrible day, pitting from his early spin, and then again for a cut tire.
Dario took Matos with 7 laps to go, and looked for a way past Danica, and took her with 5 laps to go, looking to make a top 5 finish out of an otherwise nightmare of a day. Within a lap, he quickly caught Tagliani for the spot.
Power almost threw it away nearly getting into the wall, while Wilson had saved all of his P2P for the end of the race and was starting to close in. Power started matching Wilsons P2P. The gap stuck at around 1.5 seconds with one lap to go.
Power held on for the win, with Penske taking three of the top 5 spots.
WILL POWER (No. 12 Team Verizon, winner): "It's just great. It's Verizon's first year, and we're out to win the championship. Perfect pit stop, good race. Perfect weekend - pole and a win. Can't get much better than that." (About passing E.J. Viso for lead): "I knew he had to save fuel, but he had a problem. That was close. I didn't want to nail him from behind because I knew Wilson was coming. I picked a side and went for it."
JUSTIN WILSON (No. 22 Team Z-Line Designs/DRR, second): "In that last stint, we were flat out. We were pushing hard. Everyone on the Dreyer & Reinbold team did a great job on that last pit stop. From that point on, I was trying to put will under some kind of pressure. I saw him get sideways a bit, but it wasn't enough."
RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 Team Penske, third): "Qualifying was a mess for us. I think we underestimated the competition of the field. We just had the wrong tire on in qualifying. We knew we had a good car for the race. We had a plan for the race. We were going to do the opposite of the leaders, go off-sequence, and it worked beautifully for us. It was tricky there when it was damp, but we kept all four wheels on the island. After Brazil, I was just telling myself to be calm out there."
DAN WHELDON (No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing, 20th): (When did you feel something break?): "Just under braking. I thought we were running very strongly, had a good strategy. These things happen in motor racing." (Are you OK?): "Nothing too bad. It was just one of those big hits. I've got to say sorry to the KV team for hitting Mario (Moraes) on that one."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, 18th): "The car was fantastic. I had a mistake hitting Sato there (early in race). We clawed our way back. I just cut the inside wall at (Turn) 9, and it threw me into the exit there. Just two mistakes on my part." (About ramifications of early exit on championship points): "What do you do? It's so tight now. The competition is so tough. I'll have to try to get some points at Birmingham. Great weekend and glad so many fans came back today. Tough luck, and we'll be back at Barber."
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske, fourth): "It was an awesome day for Team Penske. Fortunately, the team looks strong, and we are on the right track. With Will winning two in row, it shows how talented he is. It was a great effort for the whole entire team. Hopefully, in Barber, we will have a similar effort and result."
ALEX LLOYD (No. 19 Boy Scouts of America, 23rd): "The track's OK. It was a little slippery, but it picked up grip quickly. I don't know, the left front went during the warm-up. I radioed in and said the left front is just gone. I don't know what happened."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Cottonelle, fifth): "I had such a good start but made a bit of a mistake on the first lap. The car was quick enough to win this thing. We got a flat later in the race and had to come in. Between the flat tire and me screwing up, it's not a bad day to finish fifth."
VITOR MEIRA (No. 14 ABC Supply Co./A.J. Foyt Racing, 15th): "We looked good for a while, until the last stop. The strategy? Now it was wrong, and I was a part of it, but in order to win when you start that far back, you've got to risk it. We didn't finish good, but we raced all day long and put ourselves into position to win. We needed to be lucky, so it didn't happen. We rolled the dice, and it wasn't our turn. One day it will be."
MARIO ROMANCINI (No. 34 H2GO Ronn Motors, 13th): "I am really happy with how we finished the race today. We weren't sure how wet the track conditions would be, so we decided to run a medium setup. We had to start the race on slicks, making it a bit more difficult for me, but I stayed out of trouble and finished the race, which was most important for me."
HIDEKI MUTOH (No. 06 Formula Dream/Panasonic, 14th): "I was very patient at the beginning of the race and trying to just stay on the track because the conditions were pretty tricky. Everybody went on a different strategy, and after the pit stop we made it up to second position, which was pretty good. Just Briscoe was in front of me, and I was able to keep Helio behind me. We were in a good position after our second stop, too, and were third of those that had pit, but many had stayed out. When we were about to pit for our third stop, the yellow came out. When I pitted, I had a clutch issue and I stalled my engine and I dropped back many positions. After that I passed a couple of cars, but this track is hard to overtake on. Had the yellow not come out and I had not stalled the car, we would have been somewhere around eighth after others pit. The Formula Dream/Panasonic car was very good on primary tires. We struggled a little bit on the alternate red tires, so we need to think about how to improve on those. I'm very disappointed in the pit stop; that was totally my fault."
DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 Team GoDaddy.com, seventh): "What a great finish for the GoDaddy car this weekend. It was a challenging race, but we held on to the very end. The guys did a great job in the pits, and they made all the right calls. We will definitely use this momentum heading into Barber in a couple of weeks."
TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven, 10th): "I don't really know what happened when Marco and I got together. He slowed down in front of me, and I hit him. I don't know what caused all that, so we'll have to sort it out. Overall, we just didn't have a good day at all as a team. And, nowadays you just can't afford any mistakes. The series is too competitive too afford that."
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 37 Team IZOD, 11th): "It was a really tough day for the IZOD team. Our strategy just didn't pay off for us at all. We weren't really able to pass that much on track. At one point, we got hit from behind, and I thought we had a cut tire. In the process of being a little conservative, a couple cars got by. But we lost most of our track position when Graham and Simona got together and a bunch of cars got by on the inside. It just wasn't our day."
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 Team Venom Energy, 12th): "The Venom car started the race really strong, but then unfortunately we caught a cut tire. Track position is really important here and we had great position, but the cut tire caused us to lose that. That was really the turning point for us, but at the same time I can't say we had the best-handling car on the track. We were looking good for a while. Things just didn't go our way."
RAPHAEL MATOS (No. 2 HP Luczo Dragon, eighth): "After starting 23rd, this was a great day for us. The crew did a great job with the pit stops, I got more experience under my belt, and we collected a lot of points in the championship. I believe we have the best crew in the paddock. I trust them completely, and I knew they would put me in the front. We were able to turn our situation around and had a very competitive car. Now we're looking forward to the next one."
E.J. VISO (No. 8 PDVSA-Jet Aviation-KVRT, 17th): "What a shame for the PDVSA-KV Racing Technology team because we ran well all weekend. We definitely had the speed, pace and a good strategy in today's race. I was leading the race until a shifting mechanism failed. This is the tough part of racing: One second you have everything, and the next it is taken away from you. We just need to keep our spirits up and work hard for a better race at Barber."
TAKUMA SATO (No. 5 Lotus-KV Racing Technology, 22nd): "I was disappointed not to finish today. I enjoyed the start of race. The conditions were very tricky, but I was able to improve a few positions, which was a great feeling. During the early part of the race, I was able to battle and make some more positions. Then I was struggling with the balance and wanted to pit, but we were trying to stretch to the fuel window. Unfortunately, while I was struggling I was trying to defend my position when I hit the wall. I have learned a lot about the car these first two races, but I still have some things to learn about this series. I am confident it will come soon."
MARIO MORAES (No. 32 KV Racing Technology, 21st): "The race was going well until I got hit from behind by first Dixon and then by Wheldon. It's a shame for the KV Racing Technology team because the crew worked really hard all weekend, and the car was handling well. To end it like this is not a great feeling."
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