Franchitti Begins Repeat Bid Winning At St. Pete

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, March 27 2011

Dario Franchitti start the 2011 IndyCar Series season with a victory in St. Pete on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)


Dario Franchitti took his first step toward repeating as IZOD IndyCar Series champion Sunday when he won the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Franchitti took the lead four laps into the race and relinquished it for just two laps during a pittings equence.

The victory was the first for the Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver at the St. Pete street course.

So fast was Franchitti once at the front of the field that the best racing of the day was for second place.

Doing that racing was Team Penske’s Will Power – who had won the pole for the event and looked to be the driver to beat all through practices this weekend – Tony Kanaan of KV Racing Technolgy – Lotus and Simona de Silvestro of HVM Racing.

Those three went nose to tail for many of  the final 25 laps.

Power eventually opened up a bit of a gap and hung on to finish second – about 7 seconds behind Franchitti. “He was crazy fast,” Power said of Franchitti.

“Dario was so quick on the blacks (tires),” Power, who finished second to Franchitti in last year’s point standings, said.

Kanaan, who was hired to drive the KV car just days ago, finished a happy third.

“We have a lot of work to do but it was a good result,” Kanaan said.

“We drove a conservative race until five laps to go and then Simona was all over me. We chose to use the reds in the beginning and I knew that was going to hurt me a little bit at the end. We should have used the black tires in the second stint like they did because I knew she was going to be running hard at the end. But I am an old man and she is a young girl and I think the experience helped out today.”

DiSelvestro was fourth, but a close fourth as she spend the final several laps on Kanaan’s gear box.

“It was hard to pass because there was so much dust in the inside of the track,” de Silvestro said. “It was kind of a big risk to take to try to pass him so I was happy with fourth, but for sure I tried a couple of times.  I couldn’t make it.   But, since he has been in the series such a long time and I was battling with him for most of the race, it was pretty fun.”

Fifth was Takuma Sato, Kanaan’s teammate, while Alex Tagliani was sixth.

The early part of the race was marred by crashes which affected the running order. It was on an early restart where Franchitti made what turned out to be his winning pass.

“I was focused on what Will Power was doing and that was a good moment when we got around him on the second restart,” Franchitti said. “I thought we aren’t going to win this Championship by just sitting back. There are still a lot of races to go and we are taking it one at a time. I am ready to go back to Barber after the test there earlier in the season.”

Power said,  “Dario Franchitti got me fair and square at the beginning. When we had all of the restarts after caution periods, we got hit hard and (the car) went into neutral. We dropped to seventh position but were able to get back up to second again. I was in survival mode after getting hit. I struggled a lot on the black (tires) today and I was trying to hold (Tony) Kanaan off as he was hounding on me from behind.  It was a good start to the season for Verizon Team Penske.”

Also on March 27, Josef Newgarden, who started third in the No. 11 Robo-Pong/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car, led teammate Conor Daly across the finish line by 0.8552 of a second to win in his Firestone Indy Lights debut.

Peter Dempsey, who started fifth but jump to the point for the first 11 laps in the No. Pulse/O2 Racing car, finished third and David Ostella advanced seven positions to finish fourth in the No. 16 Global Precast Team Jensen entry.

Anders Krohn moved up two positions to finish sixth in the No. 9 Liberty Engineering Special for Belardi Auto Racing.

Polesitter Esteban Guerrieri, driving the No. 7 Lucas Oil/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car, who ran second to Newgarden from Laps 12-43, dropped to seventh as he was forced wide in Turn 1 on the second of two restarts in the 45-lap race.

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

1.  (2) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 100, Running

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

3.  (8) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Honda, 100, Running

4.  (17) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara-Honda, 100, Running

5.  (11) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 100, Running

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

7.  (16) Raphael Matos, Dallara-Honda, 100, Running

8.  (13) Vitor Meira, Dallara-Honda, 100, Running

9.  (15) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Honda, 100, Running

10.  (6) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 100, Running

11.  (24) JR Hildebrand, Dallara-Honda, 100, Running

12.  (19) Danica Patrick, Dallara-Honda, 100, Running

13.  (25) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara-Honda, 98, Running

14.  (20) Ana Beatriz, Dallara-Honda, 98, Running

15.  (22) James Jakes, Dallara-Honda, 97, Running

16.  (3) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 96, Running

17.  (12) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 96, Running

18.  (5) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Honda, 95, Running

19.  (21) EJ Viso, Dallara-Honda, 94, Running

20.  (9) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running

21.  (14) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Honda, 58, Handling

22.  (23) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Honda, 38, Contact

23.  (4) Mike Conway, Dallara-Honda, 1, Contact

24.  (7) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 0, Contact

Race Statistics

Winners average speed: 89.260

Time of Race: 2:00:59.6886

Margin of victory: 7.1612 seconds

Cautions: 5 for 13 laps

Lead changes: 3 among 2 drivers

Lap Leaders:Power 1-4, Franchitti 5-70, Power 71-72, Franchit ti 73 – 100.

Point Standings: Franchitti 52, Power 41, Kanaan 35, De Silvestro 32, Sato 30, Tagliani 28, Matos 26, Meira 24, Servia 22, Wilson 20.

(This story will be updated shortly)

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, March 27 2011
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