The first race of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season is officially in the books. In a weekend dominated by Team Penske, it was Juan Montoya who captured the checkered flag, winning the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg.
Will Power started on pole and led 75 laps on the day, but a late-race pass attempt on Montoya didn’t go as planned. Power’s right-front made contact with Juan’s left-rear but both drivers were able to continue on. Power did suffer some front wing damage, which halted his pursuit of his fellow Penske teammate. Tony Kanaan joined Montoya and Power on the podium, and was essentially the meat in the “Penske sandwich” as Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud rounded out the top five on Sunday.
It was simply Penske’s weekend, after they took the top four qualifying spots on Saturday, and had all four cars finish in the top five on Sunday, which of course also included the race win. As a team, they led 105 of the 110 laps of the race. The other five belonged to AJ Foyt’s Jack Hawksworth.
This was the first win for Montoya since his win at Pocono last year. It’s his first on the road/street course since Vancouver in 1999 (CART). It was the 175th open-wheel win for Team Penske. It’s also the seventh 1-2 finish for Penske since 2011.
Sebastien Bourdais finished the race where he started – sixth position. Ryan Hunter-Reay had an up-and-down day but managed to come home with a seventh place finish. Jack Hawksworth had a strong showing with his new team, giving AJ Foyt Racing an eighth place finish. Luca Filippi was the highest finishing Rookie, earning a career-best ninth place finish for CFH Racing. Marco Andretti had a quiet day, but still managed to finish in the top ten.
Seven of the top ten cars (including the first six) were all powered by Chevrolet. Only two cars failed to finish the race; Francesco Dracone and Carlos Huertas, both driving for Dale Coyne Racing.
There were five cautions on the day, three of them for debris on the track. The first half of the race saw a flurry of carbon fiber covering the race course. Most of the pieces were coming from the Honda machines. The big fear going forward has to be some of the loose/broken parts and pieces getting into the cockpit and causing injury. Power was asked about the aero kit pieces after the race.
Graham Rahal settled for an 11th place finish after a controversial call. He was given a drive through penalty for avoidable contact with Charlie Kimball on lap 65. Kimball had severe rear-end damage, and was about ready to pit, when Rahal made a move to pass him. They made contact, and Kimball was spun around. Even with the penalty, Rahal knows that his team has shown much improvement from last season.
It was a rough day for Scott Dixon. The Ganassi driver had multiple issues on the day, which started with an air jack that failed during their first pit stop. The team had to manually jack the car up to change tires. He then had to come back in to clear out a piece of debris that got lodged in the rear of his car. To follow that up, he nearly hit a track sweeper after leaving the pits. Dixon finished in 15th position.
Right behind Dixon in 16th was James Hinchcliffe. He had his own set of troubles, mainly a cut tire after Gabby Chaves rear-ended his Honda machine. He finished the race where he began.
It was not the return that Simona de Silvestro was looking for. She started the race in 11th place, but fellow Andretti driver Carlos Munoz made contact with her early in the race, and things went downhill from there. She finished in 18th spot, the last car on the lead lap.
Juan Montoya: “Today was a good day, to be honest with you. The car was really good on black tires and that was the key. The tires were not falling off and right there at the end I was just running slow to look after them. When I needed to push, I could push. Everybody with Verizon and Team Penske did an amazing job – Chevy as well. This aero kit is amazing to drive.”
Will Power: “That was the only place that I could kind of get a run on him. He was very good out of the last corner, so the only chance I had to get around and drive past him was there, but I think he saw me. It was kind of optimistic, but if he would have gave me something, I would have taken it; but he didn’t. He did what anyone would have done. He was phenomenally fast. I couldn’t drop him on that stint before and he was very quick on the reds. … It’s a great day for the Verizon car. As we thought it would be, it’s going to be a battle between teammates for the championship, I’m sure.”
Tony Kanaan: “It was a really fun race for us and I’m just so happy that I was able to get NTT DATA Racing a podium finish in the first race out. We still have some things to work on to get better as a team, but I’m pretty happy with today’s finish. I have to give so much credit to the guys on pit lane. They just did such a great job today. This is a nice way to start the season and after this third-place finish, I’m even more motivated to continue to do better.”
Helio Castroneves: “Really proud of the Hitachi Chevy guys today. They did a great job and we battled hard throughout the race. The car was fast. We didn’t end up where we would have liked to be, but overall we had a good day. Really happy for Juan (Montoya) and congratulations to him on the win and to Will (Power) on his podium finish. Great way to start the season for Roger (Penske) with a 1-2 finish.”
Simon Pagenaud: “The Penske Truck Rental boys did a great job today. I am happy and you have to take it step by step. You just can’t walk onto a team and push your teammates out of the way. I didn’t want to create a mess at the start of the race, which I thought was a smart move but it was too cautious, which cost me a position during the race. (Fifth place) is a good start to the season and I’m excited about the next race already coming up in NOLA.”
Sebastien Bourdais: “It was a solid result for the Hydroxycut-KVSH Racing team, but it was a bit up and down. Initially, it felt like we had something special going. I got TK (Tony Kanaan) and the car had good pace. Then I made a couple of mistakes and a restart didn’t go my way. After that, Sato hit us and we lost three positions. It was one of those races where you controlled the damage, but you don’t feel you have achieved what you were capable of. I am satisfied with the result and happy for the team, they did a good job. It’s a good start to the season. The pace was good when we got clear air, but it is definitely is hard to follow other cars and get a run on them. We will keep digging, keep working on starting higher up on the grid and see where we end up.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay: “I think that was the hardest seventh-place finish I’ve seen. That’s how it is sometimes, when you have bad days you have to bring home solid top 10s. We fell back to like 18th or 19th after the issue at the start with Bourdais. We rebounded nicely, but to be honest I think that’s about the car we had today – a sixth- or seventh-place car at best. We’ll take the top 10 and move ahead with the DHL car for New Orleans.”
Scott Dixon: “It wasn’t the day we had hoped for in the Target car today. We had some early issues with the air jack and couldn’t get the car off the ground during our pit stops. It seemed like the front would come up, but the rear end would stay on the ground. The team did the best they could on our stops, but in reality you can’t be competitive in this type of racing when your stops are taking that long. We just never seem to have the best luck in St. Petersburg but we’ll keep pushing for the results we know we’re capable of.”
Luca Filippi: “I am happy with that. Obviously, so many things are new to me. On one hand we want to have good results, on the other hand we know that we have to learn a little before we can really fight for the podium. The team did a great job, they gave me great pit stops and we can build on this. This is a good start for the season, from here I can just get better and better.”
Sage Karam: “It was funny, I came into the pits after the race, took off my helmet to debrief with the guys and noticed I didn’t use any tear-offs from my helmet! A rookie mistake, I guess. I was so focused on taking care of the car and running good laps, I totally forgot. But all in all, I just tried to do what the team told me to, which was keep the car in one piece and run all the laps. That was the plan today. Although I wished we would have finished higher, I know that this is a learning process. I spoke with Dario (Franchitti) after the race and we talked about saving fuel and how crucial that is in these races. I know we’ll get better and I had a good first experience in the GE LED car in my first road and street course in the series.”
Josef Newgarden: “It was a really strong effort from everyone to try to keep us in the fight. All the CFH guys were awesome, as they always are. I have to say thank you to Ed (Carpenter), Wink (Hartman) and Sarah (Fisher) for everything that they do to make this happen. Twelfth is not the best finishing position, but we can only go up from there. I think we had a car that was able to challenge for a top-five finish, but we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Right when Charlie (Kimball) got spun out in Turn 10, it was a bottleneck, I got into the back of (Sebastien) Bourdais and damaged the front wing. It sort of hurt us; we struggled to fight with everyone after that. We lost a lot of pace, then did what we could to finish as strong as possible. Twelfth was the best we had today, but I think we have more for the future.”
Graham Rahal: “The car was really good. I was very pleased with it. I thought we had a car that could have won today. When we got into fifth place after passing (Sebastien) Bourdais in Turn 1, (Simon) Pagenaud in Turn 4 and then Charlie (Kimball), I had Helio (Castroneves) in my sights. I was strong on restarts so I thought I would be able to fight my way up there and catch up to (Will) Power. I knew we had reds (alternate tires) to come, which in the end proved to be a strong suit. But then we got penalized. Kimball had a broken car and I didn’t know what he was doing. He was so slow off of Turn 9 that I thought he was pulling over and then he accelerates into the kink. He had a broken car and was slow. I went inside of him and then he broke deep. He was cranking in well before the apex so I was trying to bail out and I just tapped him. Sure enough, I dive inside him and he comes over. It’s a shame because the car was good today.”
Simona de Silvestro: “The incident with Carlos (Muñoz) kind of started the whole downhill of our day. We lost a lot of pace after that incident and then we were kind of behind the ball a little bit. At the end, you just kind of keep going – you adapt to it (how the car changes after an incident). Then, it was unfortunate with (James) Jakes; he seemed to brake really early into the last turn and I couldn’t really avoid him. We finished – it’s definitely not the day we wanted. I think we were expecting much more, just a lot of things that went wrong during the race and could never really settle except towards the very end. Not the greatest day in the race car. I think it’s been a positive weekend; we showed that we had the pace, which is a good thing, for sure. Not racing for a year and a half, you can feel that, especially when you are passing people – it’s like, OK, I haven’t done that in a while. It’s OK – I don’t think I’m really happy with it, but we finished the race and it’s experience we’re going to take on if we do more races together.”
Watch the race highlights below.
Race Photos via IndyCar
The next race on the schedule is the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana at NOLA Motorsports Park on April 12. This will be the first time the series will race there, although there has been plenty of testing at NOLA over the last couple of months. NBC Sports Network will provide coverage for the event, which begins at 3 PM ET.