Dreyer & Reinbold Racing's 200th race start went with a bang at the Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg, full of the ups and downs that characterise motorsport.
However, despite losing rookie Mike Conway at the second corner of the race, the team was able to celebrate as last-minute acquisition Darren Manning kept the DRR flag flying high, initially in the top five and then, after minor contact, in a top ten position worthy of the double-hundred celebrations.
Manning wasted little time in getting acclimatised to the #23 machine, despite having only been called into the squad on the Tuesday of race week. Proving right away that he was the correct choice to partner Conway, in St Pete at least, the 33-year old started from tenth position and immediately jumped three places as the leaders tripped over themselves at the first corner. Not long after that, the Briton was into the top five, giving the UK majority rule over the leading positions as he chased early leaders Justin Wilson and Dario Franchitti.
Starting his first stint out on the black-walled primary Firestone tyres proved to be the right decision for Manning, as he ran through to lap 34 before making his first stop and switching to the new 'red' option rubber. Unfortunately, the number of yellow flags that began to mount up did not play in the team's favour, but that didn't prevent Manning from fighting his way back up the order before pitting again on lap 66 to fit another set of the alternate tyres.
Just as he appeared poised for a strong result, however, the Briton had to pit again on lap 83 after making contact with Hideki Mutoh, which caused his left front tyre to puncture. He rejoined to finish the race on the primary tyres and continued to make passes, eventually coming home eighth overall.
"We had a very good race," Manning enthused, "We were fast, and I was racing with everybody. I was up to P3 at one point but, as all the pit strategies were playing out, everybody stayed out and did a different strategy to us, so we might have lost out a little bit with those guys getting lucky with the yellows towards the end. We were a little unlucky with the puncture as well and lost a spot because of that but, all in all, we were strong all the way through the race and the car was good on both sets of tyres."
Conway, after a longer pre-season than Manning, was hoping for good things from his race debut but, having shown good speed all weekend, the 25-year old rookie tagged Dan Wheldon in the melee between turns one and two, spearing off into the tyre wall. The team tried to repair his car, but substantial damage to the right rear suspension meant that the former British F3 champion's day ended early.
"Mike just had an unfortunate incident on the first lap and it's too bad, because we really wanted him to get out and run all day, get some experience and learn what the stints feel like as we go through them," co-owner Dennis Reinbold commented, "We will just have to pick it up in Long Beach and just go from there. We anticipate that he will be very good.
"Darren, meanwhile, did a great job all day, but the yellows didn't help us very much, and we had some bad cycles with them. We got up to fourth place early on and then we kept fighting back - he dropped back to 14th and fought all the way back up to eighth. The guys made some great pit-stops too, but we were disappointed with eighth place because we felt that we had more in the car. We will be ready for Long Beach."