Power Powerful In St. Pete

| , RacinToday.com Friday, March 25 2011

Will Power was fastest in practice in St. Pete on Friday. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)


Team Penske’s Will Power pace the first day of practice for Sunday’s Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Friday.

Power, the defending champion in St. Petersburg, topped the speed chart with a lap of 1 minute, 3.3759 seconds late in the hour-long afternoon session on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street course.

“I was very surprised to be P1, honestly,” Power said. “I think I had a bit left in me to show in the Verizon Team Penske car. It was not a very good session for me, but it’s going to be a long weekend. The Verizon car is good, but you can see the competition is getting closer. Now we just have to managed the gap. I think it will be very tough to get in the (Firestone) Fast Six (Saturday). It’s going to be unbelievably close.”

Dario Franchitti, the reigning series title-holder, was second with a quick lap of 1:03.5180 in the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing entry.

“We were really making a lot of big changes today, a lot of changes,” Franchitti said. “Had we been closer at Barber we would have done them there. The Team Target car is pretty good actually. The driver is a little bit rusty. I’m probably about eight tenths right now. I’m going to go back and work with the guys tonight and see what we can come up with tomorrow.”

There were 16 drivers, however, within one second of Power’s No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car, including Mike Conway in the No. 27 Team Godaddy entry for Andretti Autosport. Conway, who was third (1:03.6660), is making his first start since being injured in the Indianapolis 500 last May.

Ryan Briscoe (1:03.7214), the 2009 race winner, was fourth overall and Scott Dixon (1:03.8734) fifth. Two-time event winner Helio Castroneves (1:03.9049) was sixth quick.

Marco Andretti, four-time Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais (making his IZOD IndyCar Series road/street debut with Dale Coyne Racing), Tony Kanaan (making his debut with KV Racing Technology-Lotus) and Danica Patrick (celebrating her 29th birthday) filled out the top 10.

Also on March 25, Anders Krohn and Conor Daly set the early pace in practice for the March 27 race on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit. Both competed in the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear last year on the racetrack.

Krohn, driving the No. 9 Liberty Engineering Racing Special for Belardi Auto Racing, had a quick lap of 1 minute, 9.0371 seconds in the hour-long session. Daly had a best lap of 1:09.1544 in the No. 77 Mazda Road to Indy/Sam Schmidt Motorsports entry.

Friday Notes

The IZOD IndyCar Series will compete in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, a 100-lap race at 12:30 p.m. Sunday. The Firestone Indy Lights series will compete in the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, a 45-lap race at 10:30 a.m. Sunday. The Star Mazda Championship and USF2000 National Championship – part of the Mazda Road the Indy ladder system – are also racing this weekend. Star Mazda will race at 4:10 p.m. Saturday. USF2000 will compete at 5:20 p.m. Saturday and 3:30 p.m. Sunday.

Drivers will have 240 seconds total of the Honda overtake assist at their disposal during the 100-lap Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday. Each press will have a horsepower boost for 12 seconds, with a 10-second recharge period between presses built into the ECU.

ABC will broadcast the first of its five IZOD IndyCar Series races this weekend. Marty Reid and Scott Goodyear will be the announcers.

ABC’s schedule also includes the Indianapolis 500 on May 30, marking the 46th consecutive year that “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” will air on ABC, as well as events at The Milwaukee Mile, New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Reporting from the pits will be Rick DeBruhl, Jamie Little and Vince Welch. For the Indianapolis 500, former race winner Eddie Cheever will be an analyst with Reid and Goodyear in the booth for the third year. Jerry Punch returns to Indy as a fourth pit reporter. Brent Musburger will host the Indy telecast.

Happy birthday: Andretti Autosport driver Danica Patrick celebrates her 29th birthday Friday. She has been running at the finish in 33 consecutive IZOD IndyCar Series races. She broke the series record at Infineon Raceway in 2010.

About her past results at St. Petersburg, Patrick said:

“I mean, I’ve never really been fast here, unfortunately, but I’ve had OK results, 6th or 7th , so it’s not like my results have been awful. It’s just seeing what comes to me in the race.

About how to better her results here and make it to the head of the pack, she said:

“It’s always been a track position kind of a series on road courses because it’s difficult to pass. Perhaps with the new rules like they are and the double-file restarts, that maybe some things will be different and maybe there will be some opportunities to make more passing happen, which would be great. That’s the reason why I think it’s a good decision to do that.”

Bourdais returns to adopted hometown: Sebastien Bourdais will drive the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America car for Dale Coyne Racing on road and street courses this season, starting with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Bourdais lived in St. Petersburg while competing in Champ Car from 2003-07, and he led the first lap of the 2003 race on the St. Pete circuit.

“My hometown is Le Mans (France), and to win there is very important to me,” said Bourdais, who won four consecutive Champ Car titles. “But winning here in the States is equally as important, and I want to thank Dale for the impressive effort he is putting forth in what is a very competitive series.”

For the second consecutive year, the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America car will represent the more than 4 million members of the world’s largest youth organization.

Race day tour: Helio Castroneves and Team Penske will host a group of about 40 local underprivileged children on race day as part of Shell’s “Fuel for Success” program.

Castroneves will meet with the “Castroneves Crew” and take them on a tour of the Team Penske garage at 9:30 a.m. The No. 3 Guidepoint Systems car will also carry a Castroneves Crew logo this weekend, honoring the names of three police officers that recently were killed in the line of duty.

New tire spec for street circuit: Firestone Racing has new specifications for both its primary and alternate tires for the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. That’s coupled with the new IZOD IndyCar Series rule of only one set of tires per segment of road/street course qualifications.

The primary Firehawks consist of the same tire construction as the 2010 St. Pete primes, paired with an improved tread compound formula.

The alternate tire program, part of the IZOD IndyCar Series since 2009, has a spec with the same construction as the primary but with a softer tread compound that provides more grip and faster lap times, yet trades off compound durability in exchange for those shorter-term advantages. Firestone’s alternate tires are easily identified by the red sidewalls.

Teams are free to use their tire allotment (six sets of primaries and three sets of alternates per entry) as they see fit, though the new rule limits cars to one set of tires (team choice of primary or alternate) for each of the three segments. Also, per series regulations, all cars must use at least one set of primary tires and one new alternate set during the race, each for a minimum of two green flag laps.


Twenty uses of Honda overtake assist: The system employed by Honda Performance Development is an ECU software alteration that is activated by the driver via a button on the steering wheel and provides an extra 200 RPM (about 10 horsepower) to the Honda Indy V-8 engine. Parameters are updated before each race weekend to meet the circuit layout.

For the 1.8-mile street course, 20 uses of 12 seconds each will be available. There is a 10-second recharge period between uses.One overtake assist push is available for the warm-up session on race morning.

Older but wiser: Johnny O’Connell glanced to his left and right and laughed.

“I was racing before some of their parents met,” the SCCA World Challenge GT driver said during the welcome luncheon for the race weekend.

The eight-time Sebring 12 Hour class winner was referring to 16-year-old Zach Veach and 17-year-old Spencer Pigot — USF2000 drivers who shared the stage at the Vinoy Golf Club.

McIntosh can walk to work: USF2000 driver Shannon McIntosh recently relocated to St. Petersburg and lives about a mile from the circuit. She plans to walk to it one day, just so she can say she did it. “It’s going to be the racing capital of the world,” she said of the weekend event.

Yacaman could clean up: Gustavo Yacaman was the only Firestone Indy Lights driver to remember his driving shoes for media photos on set-up day in St. Pete. Consequently, others borrowed his shoes for the shoot.

Charging rent crossed his mind. “I’m driving the remainder of the season on them,” he said.

Saavedra makes first non-oval start: Conquest Racing kicks off its 10th year in Indy car racing and 15th overall (five years in Indy Lights) with rookie Sebastian Saavedra, who will be making his third IZOD IndyCar Series start but his first on a street course. He competed in three Firestone Indy Lights races on the circuit, with a best finish of second in 2009.

“We had a good test a few weeks ago at Sebring and again at Barber so I’m confident going into the first race of the season,” Saavedra said. “I don’t want to create expectations for myself because the level of competition in the series is very high and I know it won’t be easy. I just have to focus on myself and soak up as much experience as possible, all while doing the best I can.”

Markers and milestones: With a victory this season, Helio Castroneves will extend his streak of consecutive seasons with a win to 12 consecutive seasons. Castroneves needs four earned poles to reach 40 in his Indy car career. With one earned pole, Castroneves will extend his IZOD IndyCar Series record of consecutive seasons with a pole to 10.

With his next victory, Dario Franchittiwill tie Johnny Rutherfordfor 10th on the all-time Indy car list with 27. He needs one earned pole to reach 25 in his Indy car career.

Tony Kanaanwill attempt to make his 132nd consecutive start, the active leader among IZOD IndyCar Series drivers. Scott Sharpholds the series record with 138. Jimmy Vasserholds the all-time record of 211.

| , RacinToday.com Friday, March 25 2011
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