For the second year in a row, Juan Montoya took the checkered flag at the season-opening race at St Petersburg. It was the 15th career win for Montoya, which ties him with Alex Zanardi for 31st on the all-time list. Roger Penske’s team has now won 8 of the 12 IndyCar races on the streets of St Petersburg. It was their first win since Montoya won last year’s Indianapolis 500, which was 294 days ago.
Montoya finished the race 2.3306 seconds ahead of his teammate Simon Pagenaud, who led the most laps (48) on Sunday. Ryan Hunter-Reay joined them on the podium, leading the charge for Honda and Andretti Autosport. Helio Castroneves finished fourth, and Mikhail Aleshin, making his return to the series, rounded out the top five.
Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg Score
It was a great start to the season for Team Penske, as they celebrate their 50th anniversary this year. It wasn’t all rainbows and lollipops for the whole team though. Pole sitter Will Power had to miss the race, because of a mild concussion he suffered from his accident in Friday’s practice. Power had another evaluation with IndyCar Medical Director Geoffery Billows, where he was diagnosed with a mild concussion. He has been entered into concussion protocol, and will need to be re-evaluated before he can get back in the car.
While it may appear that Power’s title hopes took a major hit today, it’s not impossible. There have been four instances (Mears in 1981, Unser in 1985, Mansell in 1993, Zanardi in 1997) where a driver has missed a race during the season, and still managed to win the championship.
Veteran driver Oriol Servia filled in for the 2014 champion, and was running in the top ten after starting last. Fortunately for Power, several top drivers had their own issues in the race on Sunday. Most of the trouble came on lap 57, when eight cars got tangled up in Turn 4 after Carlos Munoz ran into the rear of Graham Rahal.
It appeared as though Rahal and Munoz had a relatively calm discussion on pit road following the race.
Chip Ganassi’s team was struggling with overheating issues in their cars throughout the afternoon. Scott Dixon managed to rebound and finished in 7th place. Tony Kanaan had an impressive drive, as he started in 19th and finished 9th. Just behind him in 10th was Charlie Kimball, and Max Chilton finished his first Verizon IndyCar series race in 17th position. The strong weekend for AJ Foyt Racing continued on Sunday afternoon. Takuma Sato was 6th and Jack Hawksworth finished in 11th spot.
It was a fantastic return to IndyCar for Aleshin. Not only did he dodge the big pile up on lap 57, but he also rebounded from a ‘closed pit’ penalty en route to his top five finish. The return wasn’t as good for his teammate James Hinchcliffe. It was the first race for James since the GP of Indianapolis last year. He suffered a cut rear tire on the opening lap, and was never able to recover after going a lap down. He finished 19th on Sunday.
Speaking of drivers that had a rough day, Josef Newgarden started in 11th behind the wheel of his Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, but quickly had some issues. The electrical issues forced them to retire early, and he finished in 22nd. Rahal (16th) and Sebastien Bourdais (21st) had poor finishes due to the big Turn 4 accident.
The Andretti Autosport team had mixed results. Hunter-Reay’s podium finish was great, and Alexander Rossi’s first IndyCar race went fairly well, as he finished in 12th. While Munoz caused the big accident on lap 57, he still managed to come home in 8th place. Marco Andretti started well, but struggled after making an ill-advised move on Luca Filippi on lap 46, that actually caused himself to spin.
Conor Daly’s 13th place finish won’t look like much on paper, but he had an amazing day. After starting in 20th, the team had an excellent strategy to get him to the front of the field. He led 15 laps during the race, and was still in the mix in the later stages until he had to make an extra pit stop to replace the damaged nose on his car. It was an impressive drive, as he held off the leaders for quite some time, and was posting some of the fastest laps of the race.
The next race on the schedule is the Phoenix Grand Prix, at Phoenix International Raceway on April 2. NBC Sports Network will provide coverage for the event, which begins at 8:30 PM ET on Saturday. The anticipation for this event is high, as the Verizon IndyCar Series makes its return to Phoenix for the first time in a decade. Sam Hornish Jr won the last IndyCar race at PIR in March of 2005.
Race Photos via IndyCar
Juan Montoya: “It was good. The Chevy was good all day. It was exciting to have a new paint scheme (on his car) and come out and win with it. It’s just awesome. We started the year last year like this. I felt this morning we had a really good car and it paid off.”
Helio Castroneves: “It was a great day for Team Penske. With three laps to go it was very difficult because I was on black tires and everybody else was on reds. I was hanging on with my life. The Hitachi Chevy was very good but a little bit difficult in some of the corners with some understeer. Great Strategy; great work! Everybody did a heck of a job. Ready for the next race.”
Mikhail Aleshin: “It was not very easy because of the lack of testing, but the SMP Racing car was very easy to drive. I had so much fan, especially when I almost crashed into the group of guys. I don’t know how I manage to find reverse, which is not easy, I’ll tell you. A few seconds later and the engine would have overheated.”
Max Chilton: “It looked like a very promising day from the start for the Gallagher team as we were doing the same lap times as the majority of the cars around us. We were working our way forward and up to around P10 when we had an overheating problem. We had to make a long stop to clean out the radiator and get the temps back down, and then another final stop to address the same issue.”
Scott Dixon: “Unfortunately we had a radiator that was clogged and overheating and there was nothing we could do. We had to pit off sequence so the Target team could get it cleaned up. That stop took a while and put us to the back. We were fortunate that the one big incident took half the field out and let us gain some positions back. But if we didn’t have that problem early on, we were definitely looking at a podium finish.”
Tony Kanaan: “Not the day we wanted to have for the NTTA Data team. We fought and fought and sometimes you just have to make the best of the situation. Given the way the race played out for us, I was happy to get the car home and salvage the race with a 10th-place finish.”
Sebastien Bourdais: “Obviously, not the way we wanted to start the season. I am disappointed for our sponsors and want to thank all of them: Hydroxycut, Europa, Mouser, Molex, Plantronics, GEICO, American Racing Wheels, everyone, for their support. The good news is that we had pace and qualified eighth. Unfortunately, we got involved in that melee that destroyed any chance we had of a solid finish. This is only the first race and we are going to have to work very hard to ensure we have a good season. Hopefully, with a couple of weeks to prepare for the next few races, that time together will help.”
Oriol Servia: “It was not quite the finish we were hoping for, but it was still good to get a chance to race the No. 12 Verizon Chevy for Team Penske. I really enjoyed working with the team and the car was definitely fast. I thought we made some really good progress after starting from the back, but then we got caught up in the accident with several other cars and it was tough to come back from that. I want to thank Team Penske and Verizon for the opportunity and I hope my friend Will (Power) feels better soon and can get back to the team.”
Takuma Sato: “I have good memories from St. Pete. We had a difficult time in qualifying, but the boys and the engineers did a fantastic job to bring the car back and we had a very strong race pace. The ABC Supply team did a great job in the pits and I’m happy we were able to come back twice.”
Graham Rahal: “It was an interesting day overall. We struggled a little bit at the start but we started to get the Steak ‘n Shake car a little bit better mid-race, but when Munoz punted us there was nothing we could do. The race was over for us so we just tried to make the most of it and we did all right and passed four or so cars at the end, but it’s frustrating because we deserved better results. The whole team put a lot of work in and it’s a shame to have it go the way it did. If I look at our day as a whole, I think we had one of the fastest race cars, but when you get caught up in someone else’s mistake, there is just not much you can do.”
Spencer Pigot: “It was an eventful race. I had a little bit of everything. There were some good passes, we had a good pace, which is exciting. We’ve been working on the car and some things that I needed to work on over the weekend and I think they all came together in the race and I’m proud of that. There were a couple of rookie mistakes as well that hurt us and also getting caught up in a few other incidents. I’m happy to get the first one out of the way and happy with our pace. I definitely learned a lot and can’t wait to get another shot. … (On the first pit stop) “Something happened with the fuel hose but the guys had awesome stops all day after that. They were perfect and I think we definitely picked up some spots when we came in with everyone. I had a great first weekend with the team. … (On the mid-race contact:) “I was looking inside of Filippi and I wasn’t really going to pass him because I wasn’t quite far enough alongside him, but then Kanaan came flying down the inside and clobbered me and clobbered Filippi. Unfortunately that broke our front wing again, which kind of screwed us up for the second half of the race.”
Conor Daly: “We came out of the pits right in the middle of a scuffle and, obviously, we’re on cold tires but the tires come in pretty quick. I thought Hinch was a couple of laps down so I didn’t know he was going to go heavy to the inside. But then Munoz tried to go on the outside of both of us and we’re both already trying to do something, there was no room there. You can’t go three wide there. I don’t know what he was doing exactly and I ended up on the curb and the wheel actually flew out of my hands. I had no idea if the suspension was broken or if anything was broken. I kept going and it felt fine and we would have been fine, but there was debris from the nose that lodged in one of the sidepods so that caused us an extra stop and that killed our race. Other than that, it was fun. It was nice to be out there. We had a bit of luck to get out to P1 but, man, I thought we really nailed it on that set of Firestone reds when we got there. The Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality car was really good on the reds and I was able to kind of just establish a pace, but I got caught in traffic a little bit. I need to work on where I apply the overtake and our traction. We’re not good on traction and a lot of people were getting us and it made it hard for overtaking. I mean, there’s a lot to learn, but overall it was nice to fight up front with the Penskes. That’s the key thing is that we were fighting up front and they weren’t pulling away. We were right there and we were saving fuel. It’s a good place to start. We have to start somewhere. We had all kinds of ups and downs but these are INDYCAR races; it’s normal for that. I’m happy with it but you always want more. When we’re running up front, that’s the real feeling that we like. We just want to get back there.”
Josef Newgarden: “We didn’t have the start we wanted. We were playing the catch-up game right from the beginning, but I felt confident in what we could do to catch up and make a good day out of it. Instead, we ran into an electrical glitch and it ended up putting us out for the day. It’s a shame, we brought a first-class effort with the Fuzzy’s crew, but it just wasn’t our day. You’re going to have bumps in the road and this was one of those bumps. We just have to try to minimize how many of these we have a year. Now we have bounce back and focus on Phoenix.”
Simon Pagenaud: “Overall it was a great day. If you compare to last year, it’s been a massive improvement on the whole 22 crew. I’m super proud to represent HPE in our first race and be here on the podium in second place, leading the race for a while. But, yeah, Montoya is an old dog. He found a little good trick on me. I made one tiny little mistake and it lost me the race.”
Carlos Munoz: “We were looking good, but then the yellow flag came out and didn’t help us any. I ended up making a mistake trying to overtake (Charlie) Kimball, so we ended up crashing because of my move. Its racing and I apologize to all of those who were involved in that incident. We ended up getting back into the race and we finished strong in the eighth position, not the result we were looking for, but we have to take all the possible points we can get this early on.”
Marco Andretti: “The Snapple Honda was strong and we were really making progress early on, but it was my mistake. I wanted the win too bad and was impatient. I hurt what was a good car. Disappointed, for sure, but we’ll look ahead to Phoenix.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay: “It was a good accomplishment today – very good car and the guys did a great job. We did everything we could today from fifth. We got a little held up behind Filippi for a bit in the middle of the race and that kind of gapped it, but good day all-in-all. I’ll take starting the year out with a podium for sure.”
Alexander Rossi: “That was probably one of the more challenging days I’ve had in a race car in quite some time. We just didn’t have the car underneath us today for whatever reason it was quite tricky out there. I think we made the most of what we could, we stayed out of trouble and obviously the finishing position doesn’t look that bad, but considering we were a lap down, it’s a bit of an issue. We need to really look at things in the next couple weeks. It’s another set of circumstances coming up in Phoenix, but we really need to understand this with Long Beach going forward.”