Castroneves wins IndyCar season opener in St. Pete

Helio Castroneves drives his Chevy to victory
Scott Morris/

Helio Castroneves checked out on the field in the last quarter of the race, cruising to a 5+ second win over Scott Dixon in the 2012 Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg at the St Petersburg Street Circuit. Ryan Hunter-Reay was third.

For Chevy it was a triumphant return to IndyCar racing and they took four of the top five positions – some early bragging rights in this Honda sponsored event.

James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Briscoe rounded out the top-5. Simon Pagenaud was 6th after being dropped 10 positions at the start because he had to make an unauthorized engine change.

On paper, the race was a continuation of the past few seasons – domination by the Penske drivers on street courses, roughly the same number of cautions, roughly the same speeds. In reality, today was the first day of a new era in IndyCar racing, and from the looks of it, this… is… gonna… be fun.

The real story of the race, of course, were the new cars, coupled with new engines, and all of the electronic doo-dads that went with it. In the end, they worked well for some teams, and not so well for others. In fact, those teams that (discreetly) whined about the cars had reasons to do so, while others were quite happy.

The first ECU gremlin hit Katherine Legge on lap 10. Katherine later told AR1 that she’d step on the gas, and the car would try to die. While Katherine said a bunch of nice things about the team learning a lot, and her not making mistakes on the track, the look on her face said a lot more. The team exercised the demons for a while, and she finished 23rd, making it a bit more than halfway through the race.

When the green flag flew, James Jakes got caught in traffic, and lost a bit of wing in the process. Coming back onto the track on lap 19, his brakes failed and he stuffed it into the turn 10 tires. Jakes said something about the team having trouble with brakes “glazing" when pitting, but perhaps it is just that the new carbon brake rotors aren’t entirely debugged.

During the yellow flag, gremlins struck Tony Kanaan. The car threw a voltage alarm on lap 1, and when the car revs were at yellow flag level the battery died. Since the gear shifter depended on voltage, the car wouldn’t go into neutral, and the car had to be towed back. Kanaan finished 25th, just ahead of Jakes.

Only one lap later, Simona De Silvestro lost fuel pressure – something that hit a few more cars later in the day – and her day was effectively done. In all, three of the five Lotus team cars suffered an early end to the day due to ECU gremlins.

The green flag flew again on lap 28, and the race settled into something of a parade, with Scott Dixon in the lead. However, pit stops shuffled the leaders, and ten laps later Takuma Sato led, followed by Mike Conway. Rookie Josef Newgarden was 6th, on the way to a very solid first-race 11th place finish.

On lap 46, Helio punted Ed Carpenter out of the way, with Ed spinning to the entrance of pit road. In perhaps the only controversial moment of the race for race control, the pit road was opened a lap later while Carpenter was still stranded in the middle of pit road. Castroneves was not given a penalty – which will only be controversial if punts later in the season are penalized.

The race resumed on lap 49, with Scott Dixon once again in the lead. From there, the racing was tight, but passing was rare. Sebastien Bourdais put on a brilliant display of driving for the next 20 laps, passing EJ Viso for 6th and running laps as fast, or faster, than the leader. Bourdais didn’t have a motor for his car until 3 days ago (Thursday), and before that only had a few hours in the team’s other car. Sebastien‘s day came on lap 73, when (imagine this!) ECU gremlins hit. After the race, he shook his head as he talked with AR1 – “It was like the ignition switch went off on the car. I looked down to see, and it was turned on. Since I was in second gear at the time, I didn’t go very far."

About that time the team managed to fire the car, and Sebastian looked out of his hauler, half in amazement, half in disgust. He knew that he’d accomplished one goal, to remind the world that he HAD won 31 IndyCar races, and still could race. “I’m like a pit bull. It’s my job, to give my team what they deserve."

Also on lap 73, gremlins hit Takuma Sato, as his car stuck in second gear. Sato lead twice earlier in the race for 11 laps, and was quite happy with his day as well. Mike Conway’s day came to the end on lap 75 with gearbox issues, and JR Hildebrand ended a very strong run on lap 98 with fuel pressure issues. Sato finished. 22nd, Bourdais finished 21st, Conway finished 20th, and Hildebrand 19th.

Meanwhile, back at the front, Helio had checked out on the field for the last 25 laps, cruising to victory and a touching tribute to Dan Wheldon in his celebration. Depending on who you talked to today, passing was tough, as most of the cars were very equal in speed. "He was rocket ship fast and kind of in a class of his own today. That was all we had," commented Scott Dixon after the race.


– AR1 asked Simon Pagenaud about the passing, and Simon – a rookie driver in IndyCar but a road race veteran – just didn’t have an answer. When we asked if 150 more horses would make things more fun, he smiled – a lot. As did Sam Schmidt, who was already giddy at the run. Pagenaud finished 6th, which was enough to cause a major celebration back at the Schmidt – Hamilton hauler. However, post-race comments by the podium drivers indicated that they thought there was a fair amount of passing, but perhaps they including passed made via pit strategy.

– Rubens Barrichello finished in 17th position, 2 laps down.

– The motor manufacturers all had to be happy with today's results. Chevy finished in positions 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8, while Honda got positions 2, 6, 9, 10, 22 and 12. Alex Tagliani's 15th place run was the top Lotus finish, but considering that they are weeks behind the other makes, and there were no motor failures, they have to consider this a success.

– Rookies Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden are hot topics of conversations. Both showed strong runs, especially as rookies, and especially considering that neither of their teams are noted for strong road racing efforts.

– Helio has 26th win in 245 starts. This is his 3rd win in St. Pete. He's won a race in 12 of 13 seasons. He now has 68 podium finishes in career, 101 top 5 finishes, 154 top 10s. Penske has won 4 of the last 5 road course races, and has 66 road/street course wins out of 160 total victories.

– There were no engine failures all weekend. This is remarkable given that all engines were new designs, and the Team Lotus cars had only hours, in some cases, to get those cars on the road. On the other hand, the electronics people have some work to do.

– Comparing the old car / engine to the new car / engines: 2011 stats: Winners average speed: 89.260, Margin of victory: 7.1612 seconds, Cautions: 5 for 13 laps, Lead changes: 3 among 2 drivers 2012 stats: Winners average speed: 90.113, Margin of victory: 5.5292 seconds, Cautions: 3 for 15 laps, Lead changes: 9 among 7 drivers


HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Shell V-Power/Pennzoil Ultra Chevrolet, winner Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg): "It's been a little while, but it never gets old. Certainly it's good to be back in victory circle, what a great group of guys, I have to thank also my teammates as well, they are incredible. No question, these guys are awesome, Ryan (Briscoe) and Will (power), and for me it's a great Chevy-power group, it's been always consistent. It might not be the quickest, but I did say out loud, 'If I start in the top six, I'll win this race.' And we did it, we are here in Victory Circle." (About different strategy): "Well certainly the start of the race I didn't want to do the same mistakes that we did last year, so I want to make sure we cooled down, we kept cool, we lost probably one position, but everything was fine until the play started playing in our hand, and (race strategist) John (Erickson) and (engineer) Ron (Ruzewski) decided let's do something crazy. I saw my teammates pit, we decided to go in the opposite way and it paid off." (About stopping in Turn 10): "You can never question God's mysteries, and today for me, I ended up stopping [my car] on Turn 10, and honestly I did not plan it, it was just the way it happened, and there was the sign Dan Wheldon Way. So for me, and for all of us, the drivers and the fans, not having him here certainly we'll miss. But we've got to remember him as he lived, the way he lived, and continue to pray for his family."

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, finished second): "We seem to have the strategy right, and Helio (Castroneves) was just really fast. He was fast, but also able to save fuel. So we did a really good job for what we did at saving fuel, but obviously we didn't have the speed and we seemed to burn the tires up really quick. I'm happy to finish. I haven't finished here in a while, so it's nice to come out here in St. Pete and get some good points. We definitely had a good strategy there after me missing the pit call, and then the race sort of cruised on there. We just couldn't seem to keep the tires under us, it was really quick for the first sort of five or six laps maybe after ten laps and then it sort of fell off from there. But Helio was really quick and I could have pushed the envelope going into one there, but all in all I think I could have ended the day in tears later on."

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 Team DHL/Sun Drop Citrus Soda Chevrolet, finished third): "The guys did a great job to prepare these cars and we had a good showing for DSL/SunDrop but we were hoping to put on a better show for the fans there at the end. It was a fuel strategy race and the Chevy engine was getting great fuel mileage but we had to really take our time to finish to the end. We took a gamble on making it two stops instead of three and that's just part of the game. It's good to get a podium under our belt. Today most of all though, we have Dan on our minds and that wound is still fresh. To the Wheldon family, we love you."

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 27 Team Chevrolet, finished fourth): "I feel really good. Obviously coming into my second year with a great team, it's a team that is used to performing. So, you want to perform. We did, as a team, a good job yesterday to lock out that second row and then today with the strategy and some good cars we were able to bring it back in 3rd (teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay) and 4th. (About the race): "A couple of little moments during the race. The biggest thing was just that last stint with the two-stop strategy, the guys behind us were doing three stops so I had to manage the tires and fuel a lot. I was learning every lap about fuel savings. I knew Briscoe was catching me in the end so I was managing that gap. I knew how many laps were left and I knew the number (fuel) I had to hit and the car ran out as I pulled into my pits. So, the guys did a perfect job. (Are you ready for next week?): "Ready to go to Barber. We keep knocking on the door. If we can start off this year with a tie for my best finish in the series, I think it is a good strong starting point."

RYAN BRISCOE (No. 2 IZOD Team Penske Chevrolet, finished fifth): "Definitely a successful day. We had a great turnout of fans. We put on a good show. For the first race, I thought the cars were unbelievably reliable. It was a lot of fun working with the twin-turbo Chevy engine today, especially on long stints on the tires. With the turbos coming in it was a bit of a handful. It's real racing. There is lots of tuning on the mapping to play with going to Barber. We learned a lot today about tires. We learned a lot about setups today. Any miles we get in these cars, we are learning all the time. It's good to get a top-five finish in the first race. We wanted to come out of here with points, and we certainly want to stay in the Championship hunt this year."

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports Honda, finished sixth): "I feel very happy today. It's always good to get points at the start of the season. The HP car was really good today. I damaged the front wing early on, and it forced a little push. It was a really good recovery by the team today to get us up front. I want to thank the whole Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports team. They did a fantastic job in the pits. It's because of their pitstops that we were able to gain so many positions. The strategy was fairly amazing, and I didn't make any mistakes. We have a good baseline now to go into the next race. It's a good way to start the championship. This is a good position, but we have more in the bag."

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, finished seventh): "I'm very happy for Helio. He really deserves this victory and it's great for Team Penske to start the season with a win. Our Verizon car was very good today. We just got shuffled back a bit there after the first pit stop and we just couldn't make up the ground we needed. It was very tough to pass. We were able to gain some track position toward the end and it's good to finish seventh. We'll be back at it again next weekend at Barber (Motorsports Park)."

E.J. VISO (No. 5 CITGO/PDVSA – KV Racing Technology Chevrolet, finished eighth): "I was very sick last night, so I had very little energy during the race. Despite that we had a pretty good event. The team gave me a good and consistent car and I was able to keep a good pace all through the race. This was the first time Jimmy (KV Racing Technology co-owner Jimmy Vasser) called one of my races and he was a big help. I really liked what he did. He was a key person today. I am excited how we started the season and am looking forward to next weekend at Barber."

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 NovoLog FlexPen Honda, finished ninth): "It was a lot of fun, the whole race really. I guess it's why they say it's a 100-lap race; we had to run the whole 100 laps to get all those spots. I learned a lot about the car, especially in the first 30 laps and from there just kept applying it. The guys did a great job on the pit strategy. I know I leap-frogged a couple of cars, but I can't give enough credit to the Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing crew in the pits today. The race was pretty awesome. It's nice to get another top-10 to equal my career best in the IZOD IndyCar Series. We learned a lot about the car, the brakes, the engine, and we'll make improvements this week and head to Barber to shoot for another top-10. We'll work hard on qualifying, and it'll be a great season."

JUSTIN WILSON (No. 18 Sonny's BBQ Honda, finished 10th): "Although 10th isn't quite the result we were looking for it's a pretty good start and the whole Sonny's BBQ team did a good job today. I think we could have been right at the sharp end, but unfortunately we ran out of fuel in the pits before I could get to the box. There should have been another four laps of fuel in there, but for some reason it didn't take the full load on the previous stop and that really cost us. But we just managed to keep it on the lead lap and I caught half a lap up while they were still behind the pace car. We had to do the other half under green, but we managed to set some quick times and passed a few people and I think we showed a lot of potential. We've learned a lot this weekend, so we'll keep our heads down and hopefully get the Sonny's car on the podium at Barber."

DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): "It was a tough day for the Target Honda. We ran out of fuel leaving that last corner. You have those times where it's close and you get across the start/finish line, and sometimes you don't. We didn't have the best day in the Target Honda today overall, but we'll do some work and be back strong in Barber."

MIKE CONWAY (No. 14 ABC Supply Co./A.J. Foyt Racing Honda): "Things were going good and then we had a bad pit stop [gun jammed] that set us back a few positions. After that we just tried to stay out of trouble. The car was pretty good on the blacks but we struggled on the red tires. Then I lost 3rd gear and then 4th so it was a struggle to stay out of people's way so I pulled in. It's too bad because everyone on the ABC Supply team did a good job this weekend. We just have to keep learning about this car and keep pushing. We'll get there."

SIMONA DE SILVESTRO (No. 78 Nuclear Clean Air Energy Lotus HVM Racing Lotus): "I'm pretty disappointed in not finishing the race. We improved the car for the race, and we were doing OK lap times. We just have to keep working hard for the next race, and I think we'll get there."

TAKUMA SATO (No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda): "It was an exciting race. I'm very pleased to put the Rahal Letterman Lanigan car in that position for their return to INDYCAR, and it was something I never imagined would happen today; especially after struggling in the practice sessions. But we made a good improvement in the warm-up today. It was damp conditions so it was hard to know just how good the car was but it did feel good; I was comfortable. I really enjoyed racing today, battling through the field to come up to the front. Every restart there was lots of overtaking and the guys did a great job and made a good call. I am so disappointed that we had a mechanical failure and couldn't get the resulted we worked hard for. It was encouraging though."

ORIOL SERVIA (No. 22 Lotus DRR Lotus): "I'm very, very happy and the happiest I've been all weekend. The TranSystems car was fantastic to drive. I was pulling away in the corners. We're lacking top speed, there's no doubt, but I'm super encouraged at the improvement that we made with the car. We had a little hiccup with the clutch and it was not engaging. Those are mechanical things that in racing you cannot avoid, especially with a new car. Apart from that I'm very happy with the team. We kept our heads down after a tough qualifying and we came up with a good racecar, which gives me confidence for the next 15 races."

ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet): "I'm a little disappointed to come home 18th because we had good pace for a lot of race. We were off on the balance in the first half of the race, but we made the car better with each stop. The last stint was very good and we set some pretty quick laps. It's good to see a Chevy in victory lane today, but I can't say I appreciated the way Helio (Castroneves) moved me out of the way when I was trying to get to the pits. Without doing much road racing last year, I think it was a good start for me. I felt we had a better car than 18th and it is the best car I have ever had at St. Pete. With the little track time we have had so far, I think this is a good start for us. I think we found something we can improve on as the year goes on. I'm really proud of the team this weekend. I'm just disappointed we lost a couple of laps due to the spin because I felt we could have finished on the lead lap. It would have shown how we ran today. Overall, we know how we ran and the improvement we gained this weekend. Now, we gather ourselves and get ready for Barber next week."

JAMES JAKES (No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda): "We had a good car today. It wasn't the start to the season that the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda team was looking for. I'm not really sure what happened, but my brakes seemed to glaze over on me going into Turn 10, and I couldn't make the turn, which left me nowhere to go, but into the tire barriers. I am looking forward to shaking this weekend off and running at Barber Motorsports Park next weekend. Hopefully we can bring home a top 10 finish."

RUBENS BARRICHELLO (No. 8 BMC | Embrase – KV Racing Technology Chevrolet): "I had fun out there. Unfortunately we had a meter reading problem so I ran out of fuel at the end. However, I enjoyed the race and dicing with other cars, but would have liked to have been able to push more. It has been a good learning experience this weekend and I look forward to being back in the car in a few days for the next race."

JR HILDEBRAND (No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing Chevrolet): "In that last stint we passed Dario (Franchitti), Marco (Andretti) and were going to be able to easily get by Will (Power) and Simon (Pagenaud) for a potential Top Five. As frustrating as it is that we don't have anything on a piece of paper to show how well we performed today, I'm really jacked up about the pace we had all race and that the National Guard car felt really good the whole time. I'm just ready to keep this moving, and the National Guard boys did so well all day in the pits, even after we had a mechanical issue on a stop that sent us all the way back to dead last. We knew our Chevy was good all through practice and we learned a lot about the racecar today because it didn't matter what tire we were on, we were fast as the leaders the entire time. This gives all of us the confidence that we can be doing this on a more regular basis on any type of track. Panther has always been known for their oval package, but I think we're here to show everybody this year that on any type of track we can get up there with the guys at the front and beat anybody."

TONY KANAAN (No. 11 GEICO/Mouser Electronics/KVRT with SH Chevrolet): "From Lap 1 I started to get the low voltage alarm. I don't know if, I think it was the alternator. I could tell it was the battery because my dash went blank, and with the electronic nowadays you cannot pull out of gear, if the dash is not working. So even if the alternator or whatever they call it made the battery die. Obviously we're still investigating and I think having the in-car camera will help too, we've never had that until now, so it's important, but those problems happen and we expect it. It's a new car, new engine, unfortunately it happened to us. But we're racing, what a beautiful day, the crowd has been awesome. So, I think we have much bigger problems in life than just dropping out of a race, and I thank my crew guys and I'm thinking about them. That's all I can think about."

Results 100 Laps

Pos Start Car Driver Engine Diff. Gap Best Lap Comment
1 5 3 Helio Castroneves Chevy 0.0000 0.0000 1:03.3314 Running
2 6 9 Scott Dixon Honda 5.5292 5.5292 1:03.1930 Running
3 3 28 Ryan Hunter-Reay Chevy 7.5824 2.0532 1:03.2341 Running
4 4 27 James Hinchcliffe Chevy 10.6526 3.0702 1:03.2789 Running
5 2 2 Ryan Briscoe Chevy 11.7854 1.1328 1:03.1276 Running
6 16 77 Simon Pagenaud Honda 31.2623 19.4769 1:03.4236 Running
7 1 12 Will Power Chevy 34.6582 3.3959 1:02.7575 Running
8 12 5 EJ Viso Chevy 35.5943 0.9361 1:03.5579 Running
9 22 83 Charlie Kimball Honda 43.1425 7.5482 1:03.4276 Running
10 15 18 Justin Wilson Honda 44.3141 1.1716 1:03.1144 Running
11 19 67 Josef Newgarden Honda 44.8275 0.5134 1:03.5476 Running
12 10 38 Graham Rahal Honda 45.1080 0.2805 1:03.1906 Running
13 9 10 Dario Franchitti Honda 45.8468 0.7388 1:03.6096 Running
14 7 26 Marco Andretti Chevy 1 LAPS 1 LAPS 1:03.6747 Running
15 17 98 Alex Tagliani Lotus 1 LAPS 8.1472 1:03.8781 Running
16 23 22 Oriol Servia Lotus 1 LAPS 37.2291 1:03.5399 Running
17 13 8 Rubens Barrichello Chevy 2 LAPS 1 LAPS 1:03.3507 Running
18 24 20 Ed Carpenter Chevy 2 LAPS 1:26.5013 1:03.5170 Running
19 18 4 JR Hildebrand Chevy 4 LAPS 1 LAPS 1:03.4324 Off Course
20 11 14 Mike Conway Honda 25 LAPS 21 LAPS 1:03.6618 Mechanical
21 26 7 Sebastien Bourdais Lotus 27 LAPS 2 LAPS 1:03.2996 Off Course
22 14 15 Takuma Sato Honda 27 LAPS 9:14.7318 1:03.7034 Electrical
23 25 6 Katherine Legge Lotus 41 LAPS 14 LAPS 1:04.7030 Off Course
24 21 78 Simona de Silvestro Lotus 78 LAPS 37 LAPS 1:04.2780 Mechanical
25 8 11 Tony Kanaan Chevy 79 LAPS 1 LAPS 1:03.4383 Electrical
26 20 19 James Jakes Honda 81 LAPS 2 LAPS 1:03.9288 Contact

Fastest Lap: Will Power 1m02.7575s

Race Statistics
Winners average speed: 90.113
Time of Race: 1:59:50.9863
Margin of victory: 5.5292 sec.
Cautions: 3 for 15 laps
Lead changes: 9 among 7 drivers
Lap Leaders: Power 1-11, Briscoe 12-20, Dixon 21-36, Sato 37-46, Franchitti 47, Dixon 48-68, Castroneves 69-70, Sato 71, Hildebrand 72, Castroneves 75 – 100
Point Standings: Castroneves 50, Dixon 42, Hunter-Reay 35, Hinchcliffe 32, Briscoe 30, Pagenaud 28, Power 27, Viso 24, Kimball 22, Wilson 20

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