Dempsey draws rave reviews in debut
Irish rookie Peter Dempsey didn't win his Firestone Indy Lights debut, but he came away with a well-earned podium finish at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg season opener.
The Irishman had qualified fifth after suffering minor damage to his car in qualifying but quickly made up for it in the race; he surged past four cars on the first turn of the first lap of the race in a well-calculated move and went on the lead the next 11 laps of the 45-lap event.
After a hard-fought race, Dempsey brought his No. 36 Pulse/Microbiology International car home to a solid third-place finish.
"This was a dream start to my Firestone Indy Lights season," said Dempsey. "I have had so little seat time not just in the Firestone Indy Lights car but in any car over the past year and a half. We were really just going into the weekend hoping to finish in the top-five positions at best. After the first two practice sessions, we realized we had a competitive car that could possibly fight for a podium finish. Unfortunately, I made a small mistake in qualifying, which cost us a front-row start. I told the guys before the race that I would make up for it and aim to be leading by the end of lap one. Somehow, I managed to be leading by the end of corner one. It was great to lead my first Firestone Indy Lights race from the get-go, and to feel the pressure of the three guys behind me was a great experience."
Once in the lead, Dempsey held off the competition before a small mistake caused him to fall back to third position. It was then that a several-lap battle broke out between him and 2010 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear Champion and former protégé Conor Daly for the position. It was Daly who came out on top, but a full course caution at the end of the race allowed Dempsey to regain his third place position and finish on the podium with Daly and winner Josef Newgarden.
"The No. 36 Pulse/Microbiology International car ran really well for the first 10 laps," continued Dempsey. "Unfortunately, I lost a little bit of rear end grip, made a mistake, and went back to P3 on lap 11. I had a great dice with Conor (Daly) and tried to hold on to third place, but we weren't strong enough at that point in the race. Once I dropped back to fourth, I settled into a really good rhythm and consolidated my advantage over the car behind me. I was so happy to be fourth, and then after the final full course caution, I gained another position at Turn 1 and was able to bring the car home in P3 which was a great result for myself and the team. I'd really like to thank all the guys on O2 Racing Technology who worked so hard and of course my partners, Microbiology International, Motorsport Ireland, the Irish Sports Council, and Juncos Racing for giving me the opportunity to reward them with a podium finish."