Power Wins Second Straight Race

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, March 29 2010

Will Power made it two in a row on Monday. (Indy Racing League photo by Ron McQueeney)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Driving for a juggernaut apparently has transformed Will Power into one.

Power claimed his second IZOD IndyCar Series victory in as many starts this season on Monday in the rain-delayed sixth annual Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Power, the record-setting pole-sitter, held off Justin Wilson by 0.8244-of-a-second around the 1.8-mile, 14-turn Florida street layout to record his third IndyCar victory in eight races since joining Team Penske last season.

Signed by team-owner Roger Penske to run the entire 17-race schedule in 2010, Power repaid “The Captain” by winning the season-opening Sao Paulo Indy 300 on another temporary circuit at Sao Paulo, Brazil, on March 14. The last IndyCar driver to win two in a row to start a season was Sam Hornish Jr., who prevailed at Phoenix International Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2001 en route to the first of his record three championships.

After exiting St. Pete with a 44-point lead over three rivals, Power had every right to think championship.

“It’s just great,” said Power, a 29-year-old native of Australia and driver of the No. 12 Dallara/Honda. “It’s (sponsor) Verizon’s first year, and we’re out to win the championship. Perfect pit stop, good race. Perfect weekend – pole and a win. Can’t get much better than that.”

Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves filled out the top four. Briscoe, last year’s race-winner, gained 16 positions to finish third in an event postponed 18 hours after more than four inches of rain overwhelmed the temporary circuit on Sunday. In addition, lightning strikes associated with the storm created unsafe conditions for race participants and ticket-holders. Showers continued to fall until about 90 minutes before the start of the race Monday. But once the sun emerged, the track dried relatively quickly.

Power took the lead on Lap 73 of the 100-lapper when E.J. Viso of KV Racing Technology slowed with a gearbox problem. Power made a quick move to avoid Viso and grabbed the lead for good.

“I knew he (Viso) had to save fuel, but then he had a problem at the end,” said Power, who led three times for a total of 50 laps. “That was close. It sounded like his gearbox broke. I didn’t want to nail him from behind, but I knew Justin Wilson would be coming. I just picked a side and went for it.”

Power delivered Team Penske its 37th IndyCar victory, extending its series record. It was also the fourth victory for Team Penske in St. Pete. Castroneves won in 2006 and 2007 – the latter from the pole – and Briscoe took the checkered flag in 2009. This result also marked the first time Team Penske captured consecutive IndyCar races since Power won on the Streets of Edmonton and Briscoe at Kentucky Speedway in 2009.

“Obviously, it was a great result overall for Team Penske,” said Tim Cindric, Penske Racing president. “Will has really come out of the box well in the Verizon car. To have three out of the top four spots puts us in a good position to challenge for the championship early-on in the season. But we have to take it one race at a time and continue to execute on days like today, when opportunities are there.”

Ironically, Viso, now winless in 34 series starts, was credited with leading only Lap 72 before the mechanical gremlin relegated him to a 17th-place finish.

“What a shame for the team because we ran well all weekend,” said Viso, a 25-year-old native of Caracas, Venezuela, and driver of the No. 8 PDVSA-Jet Aviation Dallara/Honda. “We definitely had the speed, pace and a good strategy in today’s race. I was leading until a shifting mechanism failed. This is the tough part of racing – one second you have everything, and the next it’s taken away from you. We just need to keep our spirits up.”

Power, whose winning average speed was 84.975 mph, methodically held off Wilson’s No. 22 Team Z-Line Designs Dallara/Honda to the checkered flag.

“In that last stint, we were flat-out,” said Wilson, a 31-year-old Englishman making his debut for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. “We were pushing hard. Everyone on the Dreyer & Reinbold team did a great job on that last pit stop. From that point on, I was trying to put Will under some kind of pressure. I saw him get sideways a bit, but it wasn’t enough.”

Wilson’s runnerup result was the best finish for a Dreyer & Reinbold driver since team co-owner Robbie Buhl won at Walt Disney World Speedway in 2000.

There were an event-record 10 lead changes among eight drivers in a race that started on slick Firestone tires due to a rapidly drying track.

Briscoe finished third after starting 19th, a gain of 16 spots and the longest climb to the podium in event history dating to 2005. The previous mark was 12 spots by Ryan Hunter-Reay, who started 14th and finished second in 2009.

“Qualifying was a mess for us,” said Briscoe, driver of the No. 6 Dallara/Honda. “I think we underestimated the competition of the field. We just had the wrong tire on in qualifying. We knew we had a good car for the race. We had a plan for the race. We were going to do the opposite of the leaders – go off-sequence – and it worked beautifully for us. It was tricky there when it was damp, but we kept all four wheels on the island.”

Castroneves’ fourth-place effort was his fourth consecutive top-four finish in this event, including his wins in 2006-07 and second-place run in 2008.The Brazilian did not compete in this race in 2009.

“It was an awesome day for Team Penske,” said Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Dallara/Honda. “Fortunately, the team looks strong, and we are on the right track. With Will winning two in a row, it shows how talented he is. It was a great effort for the whole entire team.”

Power picked up the three bonus points (one for the pole, two for most laps-led) and built a 44-point advantage (103-59) over Wilson, Hunter-Reay and Dario Franchitti heading to the series’ inaugural visit to the Barber Motorsports Park road-course next month. The Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is scheduled for April 11 in Birmingham, Ala. Firestone Indy Lights also will race that day at Barber.

Hunter-Reay finished 11th in the No. 37 IZOD entry for Andretti Autosport.

Franchitti, the two-time and reigning champion, jumped from 11th in the final 11 laps to finish fifth_ his fourth top-five result in five starts at this event. “I had such a good start but made a bit of a mistake on the first lap,” said Franchitti, driver of the No. 10 Cottonelle Dallara/Honda fielded by Target Chip Ganassi Racing. “The car was quick enough to win this thing. We got a flat later in the race and had to come in. Between the flat tire and me screwing up, it’s not a bad day to finish fifth.”

Alex Tagliani gave the start-up FAZZT Race team its best finish of sixth, the Canadian’s personal best in the series.

Danica Patrick, who started 21st in the 24-car field, scored her best road/street course finish of seventh since Long Beach, Calif., (fourth) in 2009. “What a great finish for the GoDaddy car this weekend,” said Patrick, driver of the No.7 Dallara/Honda fielded by Andretti Autosport. “It was a challenging race, but we held on to the very end. The guys did a great job in the pits, and they made all the right calls. We will definitely use this momentum heading into Barber in a couple of weeks.” Patrick is 10th in points with 41.

Brazilian Raphael Matos, third-place finisher in his home country on March 14, checked in at eighth – a gain of 15 positions in his No. 2 HP Luczo Dragon Dallara/Honda.

“After starting 23rd, this was a great day for us,” said Matos, the 2008 Firestone Indy Lights champion who crashed out of this event as a rookie last year and finished 20th. “The crew did a great job with the pit stops, I got more experience under my belt, and we collected a lot of points in the championship. I believe we have the best crew in the paddock. I trust them completely, and I knew they would put me in the front. We were able to turn our situation around and had a very competitive car. Now we’re looking forward to the next one.”

Meanwhile, second-generation American driver Graham Rahal advanced from the 16th starting spot to ninth in the No. 67 Dollar General car for Sarah Fisher Racing. Rahal, who won this event in 2008 in his series debut and qualified on-pole last year, is scheduled to make his second start for SFR at Barber Motorsports Park.

Tony Kanaan’s string of five top-five St. Pete finishes ended with a 10th-place run in the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven car. Marco Andretti, Kanaan’s Andretti Autosport teammate, led early but faded to 12th, and rookie Mario Romancini finished 13th in his second race in the No. 34 Conquest Racing entry.

The top 15 cars finished on the lead lap, an event record. The previous best was 13 in 2008. And eight drivers led at least one lap, tying the event record set in 2008.

Results Monday of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg IZOD IndyCar Series event on the 1.8-mile Strets of St. Petersburg Circuit, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (1) Will Power, Dallara-Honda, 100, Running

2. (4) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 100, Running

3. (19) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Honda, 100, Running

4. (5) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Honda, 100, Running

5. (13) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 100, Running

6. (8) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 100, Running

7. (21) Danica Patrick, Dallara-Honda, 100, Running

8. (23) Raphael Matos, Dallara-Honda, 100, Running

9. (16) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 100, Running

10. (2) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Honda, 100, Running

11. (7) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Honda, 100, Running

12. (6) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 100, Running

13. (18) Mario Romancini, Dallara-Honda, 100, Running

14. (12) Hideki Mutoh, Dallara-Honda, 100, Running

15. (17) Vitor Meira, Dallara-Honda, 100, Running

16. (14) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara-Honda, 99, Running

17. (9) EJ Viso, Dallara-Honda, 97, Running

18. (3) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 73, Contact

19. (10) Mike Conway, Dallara-Honda, 64, Contact

20. (15) Dan Wheldon, Dallara-Honda, 46, Contact

21. (20) Mario Moraes, Dallara-Honda, 45, Contact

22. (11) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 24, Contact

23. (22) Alex Lloyd, Dallara-Honda, 14, Contact

24. (24) Milka Duno, Dallara-Honda, 7, Handling

Race Statistics

Winners average speed: 84.975

Time of Race: 2:07:05.7968

Margin of victory: .8244 of a second

Cautions: 5 Cautions for 23 laps

Lead changes: 10 between 8 drivers

Lap Leaders: Power 1-4, Andretti 5, Dixon 6-26, Meira 27-33, Matos 34-36, Franchitti 37-39, Briscoe 40-48, Power 49-66, Meira 67-71, Viso 72, Power 73-100.

Point standings: Power 103, Wilson 59, Hunter-Reay 59, Franchitti 59, Matos 56, Castroneves 54, Briscoe 51, Meira 50, Wheldon 42, Patrick 41.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, March 29 2010


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