They may have been more expected had the roles been reversed, but Chip Ganassi Racing duo Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon experienced unfamiliar afternoons as the new IndyCar Series campaign opened in St Petersburg.

It's not that Franchitti would necessarily have been expected to run in the pack and end his race in the tyre wall but, given his relative lack of track time since returning from NASCAR, the Scot might have been listed as second choice at Ganassi to run strongly and come close to taking a podium.

That's exactly what he did, however, the unfamiliar green AirWick Dallara making a daring pass on polesitter Graham Rahal from fifth into turn one first time around and hanging on to the coat-tails of fellow Briton Justin Wilson as they ran 1-2 in the early stages. Although he never actually got to lead a lap, the 2007 series champion showed that he had lost none of his open-wheel ability while 'on secondment' to the stock car world, and was probably only denied a podium in his first points race since returning by the way the various cautions worked out.

"The Air Wick car was pretty quick, especially at the end, but we lost track position," Franchitti lamented, "Some of the other guys maybe caught a lucky break there and jumped us in the pits.

"But, all through the day, we made it a little better. The one thing it wasn't doing well was using tyres - you could see that at the start when Justin and I were fighting and he was able to pull away further and further. That last stint was good for us because we had a chance to cool them down again, so we've got a little bit of work to do, but it was definitely a good start."

Dixon, meanwhile, made the uncharacteristic mistake. Having qualified poorly - missing the Firestone Fast Six - he was unable to make up too much ground as he dealt with the accordion effect of cars avoiding the subsequent Rahal spin as he attempted to come through from eighth starting position.

Although he came out of the melee in sixth spot, he then made contact with rookie Mike Conway, spinning the Brit into the wall at turn two before continuing into a far from smooth race. Will Power's Penske car overshot its pit box on lap 36, impeding Dixon and costing him track position. The Kiwi dropped back outside the top 15 and was forced to adopt an alternate strategy, but his day ended after contact with the turn three while pressing on and making contact with Hideki Mutoh's #27 car.

"The car was really quick at the start, but I think we had a lot of close calls diving in for the first turn - and maybe even a little contact from behind," he reflected, "And I was obviously upset about the Penske car coming into our pit box, which pretty much took away all our track position at that point.

"As a result, we had to go off sequence and change strategies, but the only problem was that a lot of other cars were doing that as well. That, and when you're that far back, you just tend to get held up by slower cars and can't pass. I just lost the suspension at the end after the contact with Mutoh. I thought I was alongside him for the pass, but we got together and, in the next turn, I caught the wall."


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