Rahal outruns Helio to win the GP of St. Petersburg
In his very first IndyCar start, ex-Champ Car driver and now IndyCar 19-year old rookie Graham Rahal easily held off Indy Car veteran Helio Castroneves to win the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Castroneves, winner of the last two races on the streets of St. Petersburg, had nothing for the teenage rookie from Ohio despite a late race caution that closed the field up.
At 19 years and 93 days of age Rahal became the youngest driver ever to win an IndyCar race (he scored an IndyCar win 74 days sooner than the previous record holder, Marco Andretti) and only the 4th driver in history to win an IndyCar race in his very first IndyCar event.
The race was the Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing driver’s first in the IndyCar Series, after withdrawing last weekend from the season-opening race at Homestead-Miami Speedway due to damage to his primary car sustained during a test session at the track. Rahal, who started in ninth, overcame a setback on Lap 37 when he made contact with Will Power to win the IndyCar Series’ first temporary street course race of the season.
Six of the top-10 finishers were Champ Car transition teams who just received their IRL Indy Cars and are unfamiliar with them. Despite the handicap they showed just how strong they are in just their 2nd ever Indy Car race, which bodes well for the chase to the championship as rivalries develop between the two sides.
Kanaan held the top spot until a caution flag for a spin by Marco Andretti and Mario Moraes. Kanaan pitted as did several other drivers, thereby handing the lead to Justin Wilson who stayed out.
The rain had stopped and the track was drying but another shower hit the track on lap 20. Meanwhile, Danica Patrick, who spun twice and was out to lunch all weekend since she lost her unfair weight advantage, was able to hold up race leader Wilson who wasn't able to get around her due to the wet track. Then a full course yellow waved (for no apparent reason) allowing Patrick to make up the full lap.
All the drivers that did not pit on the previous caution, did so this time around with several drivers switching over to slicks as the track was drying, including then race leader Justin Wilson. Ryan Briscoe stayed out and inherited the lead, which he held until lap 46 when he pitted to change over to slicks on the drying track.
Marco Andretti also pitted for slicks but broke his halfshaft because he was spinning his rear tires when the car dropped off the jack.
When Briscoe pitted he turned the lead over to Ernesto Bernoldi who had already switched to slick tires. Bernoldi held the lead for several laps before Ernesto Viso slipped past in Turn 1 and began to pull away.
On lap 57 Penske driver Ryan Briscoe, running in 6th, clipped the inside wall on a right-hander and that sent him hard into the wall on the outside, his day done. The accident brought out another full course caution.
Ryan Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal stayed out while all the other drivers pitted. This put them in 1st and 2nd respectively. With his father, co-owner of the rival Rahal Letterman Racing team, watching from the top of his team's pit box, the younger Rahal took the lead by passing Ryan Hunter-Reay, his father's driver, on a restart on the 65th of 83 laps.
With 8 minutes to go in the 2-hour timed race Vitor Meira and Franck Perera got together when Perera tried to overtake Meira but did not get far enough alongside and took out a very animated Meira. The accident brought out the race's sixth full course caution. Townsend Bell also got caught up in the wreck when he came around the corner and clipped the front of the disabled car of Meira.
The track went green with 3 minutes and 47 seconds to go and from there Castroneves tried to apply pressure to Rahal but Rahal quickly opened up the gap and gave Castroneves a real driving lesson to win pulling away.
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 06 Hole in the Wall Camps, winner of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg): (About Helio running in 2nd at the end of the race) “Obviously Helio (Castroneves) is very successful and has won a lot of races, but at the same time I knew we had the pace and I knew if I could just keep calm we could pull away. We were pulling away before and we were aggressively fuel saving, so I knew if I could attack the car we could pull away.”
BOBBY RAHAL (1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and Graham Rahal’s father): “Do you think he’ll ever listen to any advice from me again? He really thinks he knows everything now. Slowly he will take advice from me. He drove a phenomenal race and the crew did a great job. The engineer gave him a great car. He was fast at the end. That’s the best conditions, a lot of people banging each other, and he kept it together. I’d hire him, but I can’t afford him. I’m really pleased. Pleased for him and pleased for the team.”
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske, finished second): “It was so close. Team Penske did everything we could to get that car set up well, and I’m extremely happy to be a part of this organization. But in the slow section, the car was really pushing and I couldn’t take a chance. I’m happy because this proves that good teams with good drivers can do well. I’m extremely excited with the two series coming together. Second place is good. I wanted to win the race, but I’ll take it. In terms of the season championship, second is worth a lot.”
TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven, finished third): “Obviously things did not work out for us today. When you take risks, some days it works out for you, some days it doesn’t. We’re not very happy with our calls today, but I support the 7-Eleven team 100 percent because we win together and we lose together. Finishing third is not bad, but I think there is a curse on me here at St. Pete. I’ve finished on the podium every time I’ve been here but not in the right spot.”
EJ VISO (No. 33 PDVSA HVM Racing, finished fourth): “It went very well. We’re very happy. We know that we have the potential to be up there at the road courses. Now we just have to work harder on the ovals. I think the rain affected everybody. It was just about trying to keep the car in one piece and be as smooth as possible. There are many races left, and now we know that we can be at the top. We were almost as quick as the rest. We need to work a little bit more on the road courses and we will be on the podium soon.”
ENRIQUE BERNOLDI (No. 36 Opes Prime/Sangari, finished fifth): “I’ve been racing in the wet and the dry and changing situations my whole life, so I was used to it. I knew if I could stay on the track I could have a good race and fight for a win. I think after last week at the oval where I was so bad, I think it’s a big week for the whole team to be leading the race and to finish fifth. I’ve been out of open-wheel racing for more than two years. So it takes a while for me to get back. But I think this was good practice. Two hours in these conditions, it’s a big lift for us.”
HIDEKI MUTOH (No. 27 Formula Dream, finished sixth): “I was glad when the race started, but soon after I didn’t really know what was happening since it was so hard to see. The Formula Dream team gave me a great car in the dry condition, so I did my best to manage the car in the rain. When it started to dry up, I was looking for an opportunity to move forward and was able to make a good pass in the end. I enjoyed the race very much and I am looking forward to the next race.”
ORIOL SERVIA (No. 5 KV Racing Technology, finished seventh): “It was a decent race for the KV Racing Technology team, but one of those that leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth because we had a car that we could definitely fight for a win with, but it was such a crazy race. Not only did it rain, but people were on slicks at different times and then we had all those breaks with yellow flags. It was a big gamble. There was no right or wrong strategy I think. But, good for Newman/Haas/Lanigan and Graham Rahal. They took a gamble and won. I finished in the same place I started. We had a better car than that, but the whole weekend and the final result were encouraging.”
WILL POWER (No. 8 Aussie Vineyard-Team Australia, finished eighth): “It was a pretty wild race because of the weather. To come back and finish eighth was very good considering where we were at one point. I am very happy for the whole KV Racing Technology team and the Aussie Vineyards-Team Australia crew. At least we bought the car back in one piece for the second race in a row.”
JUSTIN WILSON (No. 02 McDonald’s Racing Team, finished ninth): “I’m a little disappointed with the result but very pleased with the way that everyone has worked. I felt that the McDonald’s car was very quick and we are capable of winning. But circumstances didn’t work out, so if I didn’t win I was very pleased that Graham (Rahal) did. It is obviously a great car and he’s a great teammate to have. I am very happy that he was able to win in his first IndyCar Series start. I think we will see a lot more of Graham.”
DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 Motorola, finished 10th): “We had an up and down race day. I am proud of myself for moving up in the positions at the end of the race. I was able to hold my own when we were on the wet tires. I think half the battle in races like these is just to stay out of the wrecks and to stay on the lead lap, which the Motorola car was able to do. We have some work to do. We need to fine tune our pit stops. We have to start putting it all together or we are not going to win races. Congratulations to the 7-Eleven team for making the podium today.”
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