De Silvestro Provides Surprise In St. Petersburg

| , RacinToday.com Friday, March 22 2013

Simona de Silvestro had a good day in St. Pete on Friday. (File photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)


Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay were at the top of the time chart on the opening day of preparations for the IZOD IndyCar Series’ season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. No big surprise.

The driver who ranked third, Simona de Silvestro, the first-year KV Racing Technology driver, was a bit of a surprise.

Power, who has earned the pole at St. Petersburg the past three years, led 25 drivers with a best lap of 1 minute, 1.4467 seconds, while Hunter-Reay, the reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion, checked in second at 1:01.6252.

De Silvestro, driving the No. 78 Nuclear Clean Energy car with Chevrolet power, had a best lap of 1:01.6895 on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit. It was a welcome result for the Swiss driver after a frustrating 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season.

“It’s a big difference. Last year we came in here and we knew it was going to be a struggle, and this year we come after a really good Barber test and it showed right away,” said de Silvestro, whose career high of fourth came at St. Pete in 2011 (one spot behind new teammate Tony Kanaan).

“Even this morning I thought we were pretty quick even if we still have a little bit of work to do on the car. It’s definitely a relief to know we can be fast and we can be right up there with the other guys.”

In all, 18 were within 1 second of Power. His best lap was only seven-hundredths of a second off his pole-winning speed of 1:01.3727 last March.

“We are still fighting to find the right balance handling-wise on the Verizon car,” said Power, who has captured the last three poles in St. Pete. “We put a good lap in there early but we weren’t that good on older tires so we have a bit of work to do.”

Hunter-Reay, who topped Power in last year’s run to the championship, said, “It feels great to be in the first official IndyCar session of the year. It’s still early days, we’ve only done a total of five runs so far between the two sessions. The guys have done a great job in the offseason, the car has a lot of grip in it, but we just need to refine it a bit. We need to make it work for the drivers where they need it. We’re struggling a little bit coming off the corners, so we know there’s lap time there, we know where it is, we just need to go get it.”

Sebastien Bourdais will drive the No. 7 Dragon Racing Chevrolet for Dragon Racing this season in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Bourdais lives in St. Petersburg – a short 10-minute bike ride from the circuit – 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 from 2003-2007. “But winning here in the States is equally as important. It would be great to win here in St. Pete.”

Another French racing driver, rookie Tristan Vautier also makes his home in St. Petersburg.

Dale Coyne Racing confirmed that Justin Wilson will compete for the team in the IZOD IndyCar Series as driver of the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America/Sonny’s Bar-B-Q Honda.

“I’m very excited to be back with Dale Coyne Racing in 2013,” said Wilson. “We had a great season last year highlighted by our first win at an oval track in Texas. The entire team back, so I am expecting good things to happen for the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America/Sonny’s Bar-B-Q Honda in 2013. In evaluating Dale’s commitment to the sport we have signed a long term agreement.”

Wilson is coming off a very successful 2012 IZOD IndyCar season with Dale Coyne Racing where he scored his first oval track victory at Texas Motor Speedway in early June 2012 and produced five other top-10 finishes in 2012. He also qualified a season-best second at Milwaukee.

Brazilian driver Ana (Bia) Beatriz joins Dale Coyne Racing in St. Petersburg for the first race of her season. She will compete for the team at Brazil, Indianapolis and other selected races in the No. 18 Ipiranga Honda.

“This is a great opportunity with Dale Coyne Racing and hopefully we can turn it into more than a few races for the season,” said Beatriz. “We are working on more races for 2013 and hopefully we should know something very soon.”

| , RacinToday.com Friday, March 22 2013
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