Before today, only one driver had won the Honda Indy Grand Prix of St. Petersburg twice. Now, no driver has won it twice. Helio Castroneves became the first three-time winner of the race on Sunday.
The race began smoothly, as the field cleanly navigated through turn one. That was a surprising theme throughout the day, as there were no incidents in that normally chaotic turn. There weren’t many torn up race cars at all, with the only wreck occurring when James Jakes took a bad entry into turn 10 and put his car into the tire barrier.
Many other drivers were suspect to problems that ended their day early. Katherine Legge, Tony Kanaan, Takuma Sato, Simona de Silvestro, Sebastien Bourdais, and Mike Conway all had problems that were out of their control. JR Hildebrand had a top ten finish in sight, but had a fuel pressure problem and came home in 19th position.
It was the 26th career win for Helio, his first since Japan in 2010. He went winless last season, the first time in his career. It was an emotional win as he stopped in turn 10 and climbed the fence to pat the Dan Wheldon Way sign.
It was an interesting day for the Ganassi teams. Scott Dixon led the most laps and finished in second, while teammate Dario Franchitti was a non-factor finishing in 13th after starting in tenth. Graham Rahal finished just one position better in 12th, while Charlie Kimball came home in ninth.
Andretti Autosport had a solid day with Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe finishing in their starting positions; third and fourth. Marco Andretti went with a different setup and finished in 14th.
Helio won the race, but his teammates who looked good all weekend didn’t have the finish they were hoping for. Briscoe still finished in fifth, but Power was on a pit strategy that didn’t pay off. He led early, but came home in seventh.
The only significant contact we saw all day was when Helio spun Ed Carpenter coming onto the main straight. Ed slowed too much before pitting and Helio got into him. He wasn’t given a penalty as it was deemed a racing incident.
After qualifying in sixth, then getting moved back to 16th because of an engine mishap, Simon Pagenaud rebounded to finish in that sixth position after all.
The teams will now collect data and gear up for the next race, which is Sunday at Barber. The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama airs at 2 pm on NBC Sports Network. Will Power won from Pole position last year.
Helio won the race, but he wasn’t the only winner today. Chevrolet won their first race since coming back into the series, and the fans won on many levels. We got the sour taste of that last race at Vegas out of our mouths, the 2012 season is officially underway, and the new cars and turbo engines are giving us plenty to talk about.