Franchitti starts off 2011 with win in St. Petersburg

The Italian Stallion from Bathgate, Scotland, Dario Franchitti drove a perfect race to win

On a warm and sunny March afternoon in Florida, Italian Dario Franchitti from Scotland dominated the opening round of the IndyCar Series in St Petersburg in his Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara Honda.

The defending IndyCar champion beat Penske racing's Will Power and KV Racing's Tony Kanaan but the biggest story of the afternoon had to be Simona de Silvestro, who brought the HVM Nuclear sponsored car in 4th – her best IndyCar drive yet even after the team lost its top engineer, Mike Cannon, to KV Racing.

It was Franchitti's first victory — and fifth top-five finish — in six starts at St. Petersburg.

The double-wide start of the race saw several frontrunners wiped out in a blotched start, triggered when Helio Castroneves tried to take an inside line that he had no business taking and as the cars funneled down into Turn 1 he nudged the back of Marco Andretti's car under braking. Andretti's car spun into and over Ganassi's Scott Dixon, landing upside down, just like he did last year in the season opener in Brazil. The accident also collected his Andretti Autosport teammate Mike Conway and Penske's Ryan Briscoe, and forced Oriol Servia to come to a halt in avoidance.

"Helio just drove it in on all of us," Andretti said. "He missed his braking point by a decent chunk. It's unfortunate."

Marco Andretti flips over in Turn 1 for the 2nd year in a row in the season opener

The race was stopped several more times on restarts, all of them coming under the sport's new rules. In previous years, the series used single-file restarts. But this season, IndyCar switched to double-file restarts similar to those in NASCAR. But NASCAR has fenders and open wheel cars do not.

Andretti questioned the decision.

"That's what happens when you try to imitate NASCAR," he said. "Our cars have too much power to start side-by-side, you know. It creates disasters. It's good for the fans; it's not good for me today."

The uninjured Andretti and Conway's races were over, while Dixon, Briscoe and Castroneves' cars all were able to return to the race after lengthy repairs.

You cannot say did not predict what was going to happen next – carnage caused by the double-wide restarts. Four yellows inside the first 15 laps. Let's just hope they don't launch any cars into the grandstands this year on the higher speed tracks.

When the race finally settled down, Franchitti was able to pull away from de Silvestro, who kept Kanaan behind her until the first pitstops. The Penske team gave Will Power fast service and he managed to move up to second ahead of Kanaan and de Silvestro.

But rather than giving chase to Franchitti, Power, on the harder black tires, had to focus on resisting constant attack from Kanaan who was on the faster red tires. Simona de Silvestro was catching back up with them as the race went into its closing stages.

Up front Franchitti was uncatchable and won by 7.1s on the 1.8-mile waterfront street/airport circuit. Kanaan held off de Silvestro for the final podium place by just 0.4s, with the Swiss driver climbing all over the back of the Brazilian in the final laps as Kanaan, now on the harder black tires, came under pressure from the de Silvestro on the softer red tires.

Takuma Sato also scored an IndyCar career best as he took fifth for KV, ahead of Alex Tagliani, Raphael Matos and Vitor Meira.

"I'm really happy," de Silvestro said after the race. "I never would have thought, after starting seventeenth, that we'd finish fourth, and we were running second for quite awhile there.

About her team, de Silvestro added, "I'm happy to be working with Brent Harvey (who replaced Mike Cannon) because he's really calm on the radio, which I liked. The team also did an unbelievable job. We had a few new issues to overcome in the beginning of the weekend, but during the race, everything went according to plan. They did great pit stops and I'm really proud to be part of this team."

The finish saw three seasoned veterans on the podium

In addition to her talent, Simona may have had one additional good luck charm: a large group of executives from Entergy (her sponsor) and the Nuclear Clean Air Energy campaign.

"Having all the Entergy people here is just unbelievable," she said. "They have to come to more races now!"

In two weeks, the IZOD IndyCar Series moves on to Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, AL and will be there to bring you all the action.



Driver Team Behind
1. Dario Franchitti Ganassi +0.0000s
2. Will Power Penske +7.1612s
3. Tony Kanaan KV +16.1045s
4. Simona de Silvestro HVM +16.5616s
5. Takuma Sato KV +29.9435s
6. Alex Tagliani Schmidt +30.4655s
7. Raphael Matos AFS +31.5227s
8. Vitor Meira Foyt +35.7291s
9. Oriol Servia Newman/Haas +49.1432s
10. Justin Wilson Dreyer & Reinbold +56.8025s
11. Danica Patrick Andretti +57.3418s
12. JR Hildebrand Panther +1m02.9700s
13. Sebastian Saavedra Conquest +2 laps
14. Ana Beatriz Dreyer & Reinbold +2 laps
15. James Jakes Coyne +3 laps
16. Scott Dixon Ganassi +4 laps
17. Graham Rahal Ganassi +4 laps
18. Ryan Briscoe Penske +5 laps
19. EJ Viso KV +6 laps
20. Helio Castroneves Penske +15 laps
21. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti DNF 58 laps
22. Charlie Kimball Ganassi DNF 38 laps
23. Mike Conway Andretti DNF 1 lap
24. Marco Andretti Andretti DNF 0 laps
25. Sebastien Bourdais Coyne DNS

Race Statistics
Winners average speed: 89.260
Time of Race: 2:00:59.6886
Margin of victory: 7.1612 seconds
Cautions: 5 for 13 laps
Lead changes: 3 among 2 drivers
Lap Leaders: Power 1-4, Franchitti 5-70, Power 71-72, Franchitti 73 – 100.
Point Standings: Franchitti 52, Power 41, Kanaan 35, De Silvestro 32, Sato 30, Tagliani 28, Matos 26, Meira 24, Servia 22, Wilson 20.


DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, winner Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg): "These points count anytime; on the first race all the way through to the last race and I hope that I can make it easier on the team this year. But the Championship can change in a heartbeat and you have to fight all the way through to the end. The caliber of teams and drivers that we are up against shows what the Target Chip Ganassi team did today. It is great to be here in the sunshine of St. Petersburg with the stands full and the Target car was running like a dream. I was focused on what Will Power was doing and that was a good moment when we got around him on the second restart. I thought we aren't going to win this Championship by just sitting back. There are still a lot of races to go and we are taking it one at a time. I am ready to go back to Barber after the test there earlier in the season." (About tying Johnny Rutherford for 10th on the all-time win list): "Johnny Rutherford is a legend and he is a friend of mine. It is a privilege to get to drive for the teams that I have and be a part of the IZOD IndyCar Series. It is on an upward swing and I need to thank the partners and vendors. "

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske, finished second): "It was a very interesting start today. Dario Franchitti got me fair and square at the beginning. When we had all of the restarts after caution periods, we got hit hard and went into neutral. We dropped to seventh position but were able to get back up to second again. I was in survival mode after getting hit. I struggled a lot on the blacks today and I was trying to hold Tony Kanaan off as he was hounding on me from behind. I am very glad to get the points for the championship. It was a good start to the season for Verizon Team Penske."

TONY KANAAN (No. 82 GEICO – KV Racing Technology – Lotus, finished third): "We really drove our own race. I have to thank my sponsors and friends for stepping up at the last minute and coming through to make this happen. We drove a conservative race until five laps to go and then Simona was all over me. We chose to use the reds in the beginning and I knew that was going to hurt me a little bit at the end. We should have used the black tires in the second stint like they did because I knew she was going to be running hard at the end. But I am an old man and she is a young girl and I think the experience helped out today.

SIMONA DE SILVESTRO (No. 78 Nuclear Clean Air Energy HVM Racing, finished fourth): "It was hard to pass because there was so much dust in the inside of the track. It was kind of a big risk to take to try to pass him so I was happy with fourth, but for sure I tried a couple of times. I couldn't make it. But, since he has been in the series such a long time and I was battling with him for most of the race, it was pretty fun." (About having overtake assists left): "Definitely. Maybe I would have used it a little bit earlier, but you know I'm glad to just kind of try to make a steady pace and then we hit the red zone we're really pushing. Maybe it's just because it's back in the car for the first time again in the race and getting used to everything. But you know the team did an awesome job and my new engineer too. We've been working together only since Friday and to finish fourth – my best result is something pretty unbelievable.

JR HILDEBRAND (No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing, finished 11th): "It was a battle for survival for a little while at the start of the race, which is what we assumed it was going to be. I was being cautious on those restarts and we just missed getting into several accidents on those first 15 laps, and then it basically went green for the remainder of the race. Our pit strategy worked and the Panther guys had some awesome pit stops. It was a good way to start the year for us and we've got the entire rest of the season in front of us." (About the late incident with Danica Patrick): "She was closing really hard and luckily I had a bunch of overtake assists left and I was using those to fend her off there at the end. That was working really well on the front straight but I was having a little bit of trouble finding my brake balance, so I couldn't completely pull away from her. Going into Turn Nine on the last lap I knew she'd be coming, but I broke late and I looked when I turned in and didn't see her nose, so I took the corner and we got tangled up."

E.J. VISO (No. 59 PDVSA- KV Racing Technology – Lotus): "It has been one of these weekends that we can forget. I need to thank my crew a lot because it has been a pretty eventful few days. I think we can go away knowing that we have learned a lot and this is what team work is about. Its about supporting people. At the start of the race I was running ninth, having started 21st. The car was feeling really strong and then I got a puncture on the right rear coming through the fast chicane. It took time for safety to get me back to the pits and then for my crew to get me back on track. Hopefully, we will have a better weekend at Barber."

TAKUMA SATO (No. 5 KV Racing Technology – Lotus): "This was a great way to start the season. It is my first top-five finish in the IndyCar series. At the start of the race, I avoided the accident and gained some positions. However, on the restart, unfortunately, I was always on the outside of the double file and it seems very difficult to gain positions from there……in fact I lost many. But, it was an exciting race. I overtook a few cars on the track and the team did a fantastic job with the pit stops, so I got some of the positions back. We still need to do a lot of work, but I am happy to start the season this way."

ORIOL SERVIA (No. 02 Telemundo Newman/Haas Racing): "I saw a mega-pile up of cars in front of me and thought I was fine but then I had a car on each side of me and got boxed in. Then I came to Briscoe who was stopped in front of me so I had to stop. The car wouldn't go in reverse easily to get going again and we lost some time. I had to use it two times and both times it wouldn't go into reverse. The car was fine, no damage. But then when I was passing Briscoe, who was a lap down at that point and we had already almost crashed in Turn 2, cut my tire. After almost crashing in Turn 2 we were side-by-side in Turns 4 and 5 and my rear tire and his front wing made contact and it punctured my tire. Earlier when I came in, I saw firesuits that were white like ours but they were the firesuits of car 18 and, like a rookie, I stopped in the wrong pits. I have never done that before. I thought I was in the right pits until I saw the number 18. It wasn't a great beginning of the race but it was such a mess overall that it ended up not costing us that much. We stayed out and did what we could to improve the car and get more experience. We didn't have the pace to contend in the front but we focused on getting as many positions and points as we could and learn for the next one." (About new restart procedure): "The two-wide restarts were not a problem for me. Its just that the two-wide restarts at this track are tricky because the inside line here is so dirty because this is an airport, there is paint, there is oil and that is why we had so many problems. If you look at the replay, it wasn't just the restarts, it was the start itself too and we always start two-wide. It's was just that the inside line here is one of the dirtiest of the season. It won't be the case at Barber."

ALEX TAGLIANI (No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins Sam Schmidt Motorsports): "These days with the reliability of Honda and good tires from Firestone, the thing is, you need to survive all those race restarts, and you need to have a picture perfect race and no mistakes because you can't count on DNF's these days. Overall, I think the team did a good job. We lost Friday with lots of little problems that we finally fixed. I think we have a decent car. I think we're just a couple of tenths before we get it more consistent and fast. But what really hurt us today was the hit on the restart when we went from fourth to seventh. Simona (De Silvestro) did a bonsai move and it stuck for her but she landed on everybody else. In the contact, I hit my hand in the cockpit and the wheel burned my hands as I tried to keep it under me. We had a bent suspension piece also from the contact, and the car was loose on entry on the left-handers and pushy on the right. It was survival today. The team did a good job, and I'm sure Sam (Schmidt, new owner of the No. 77 car) is pretty happy about this."

VITOR MEIRA (No. 14 ABC Supply Co./A.J. Foyt Racing): "Every restart we were careful and lucky. A couple times you have no control you just have to choose where to be and today it worked out for us. We moved from 13th to 5th but with all that debris on the track, we cut the tire and developed a slow leak on left rear so we had to come to the pits under green and put on blacks which were not good for us. Also we had a problem with the left front wing which caused a lot of push so we put more front wing in it and it helped. Overall the team did a good job on a course where we struggled last year and to get a top 10 in a complicated race was good. [On restarts] "What everyone else thinks—they're hectic. Either it doesn't work or we are all crazy. I think it will work on the ovals but on the road courses, I'm sure they will have to think about it. [Biggest crash came on initial start?] "It's better to have just one problem to deal with than multiple problems."

RAPHAEL MATOS (No. 17 Automatic Fire Sprinklers Inc.): "It was a terrific run for the AFS Racing team. I have to thank (team owner) Gary Peterson and everyone that believed in me. It was a very difficult race, but I was able to keep my nose clean … sort of. I pushed very hard that last stint on the (Firestone Firehawk alternate) tires, trying to get that sixth position, but we're happy. We had a goal of finishing in the top 10, so I'm really happy for the whole team."

SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA (No. 34 Conquest Racing): "I want to thank the whole crew; they did an amazing job working until midnight (after crash in qualifying). So you could say it was a miracle we were out there. But the back-up car itself was not the same as the primary, but we knew that was going to happen. We just wanted to finish the race and get some points. We had some great restarts. I went from 24th to 14th right away. But on the third one, I spun it unfortunately. Now we start working very hard toward the next race."

RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 IZOD Team Penske): "It was a frustrating day today for the IZOD Team Penske team. It's a shame because we had one of the quickest cars on the track. The guys made some adjustments to the car last night, and it paid off because we were fastest in the morning warm-up session. I haven't seen the replay yet, but I think Marco [Andretti] out-braked himself into the first turn, and the result was just unfortunate. Overall, it's a shame because IZOD has come on board this year, and I wish we could've had a better result for them today. It's not the finish we wanted today but we'll come back ready to win some races."

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 38 Service Central): "The day started rough for the Service Central team. There was a lot of adrenaline on the track at the start of the race. After the first restart, there was contact from another car and I hit the fence; we had to replace the wing and make adjustments to the right rear suspension. We knew we had to stay out and finish for points. It was a frustrating finish for the No. 38 Service Central Honda."

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 GuidePoint Systems Team Penske): "Our GuidePoint Systems car was fast today after the first-lap incident – you could see it in our lap times. The guys did an incredible job putting the car back together after the left front suspension damage. The Team Penske guys were amazing. As far as the incident, I'll have to look and see what happened, but it seems like I locked up the rear on the car. It's very disappointing, but we never gave up and we know we'll have better results next race."

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 Team Venom Energy): "Today was a disappointing start to the season for the Venom Energy car. I took the green and had a good run going on the inside of (Ryan) Briscoe and then Helio (Castroneves) misjudged his breaking point and ran up into the back of me. It was all a chain of events from there. I think having the cars start so close together is great for the fans but it was no good for me today."

MIKE CONWAY (No. 27 Team "Someone obviously went into the first corner too hard, and it's a bit silly really – the first lap of the race and a long way to go. It's a shame for the car was good all weekend and were easily on for a top result. It's a shame for the Andretti team. We were all in a position to have a good result."

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 Team DHL/Sun Drop Citrus Soda): (About first-lap incident): "I don't know what happened. Someone cleared everybody out on the start, and I was lucky enough to be in the right place. I lifted, went to the inside, they all cleared out and I kind of picked my way through it. After that, it was just restart after restart after restart. I was hoping so badly we would just go green, but we didn't. It's a shame. The DHL/Sun Drop car was good; we were fourth and we just got taken out. Somebody cleared us out from behind."

DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 Team GoDaddy): "Overall, I have to feel pretty fortunate to have made it to the end with the GoDaddy car. The beginning was really intense but we were able to stay out of the major trouble. I think we are going to head into Barber with a better idea on what we need to have the results we want."

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