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Castroneves unstoppable in St Pete opener

Helio Castroneves' salute to Dan Wheldon after emerging victorious at the end of 100 laps of racing action was the perfect way to cap the start of a new era for IndyCar.
Sunday's 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season opener at St Petersburg seems to have generated as many differing reactions as there were fans watching.

For some it was dull and processional, a real "snoozefest" as drivers tip-toed around the tight street course, frightened of damaging their car when there are so few spare parts around; for others it was a thrilling, unpredictable event with more overtaking in one two-hour race than some past seasons managed in a whole year - although the TV coverage did seem remarkably averse to showing any of it, especially the considerable turn 1 action.

Others leapt on the number of technical failures (seven in total) as evidence that the series had overreached itself and that cars and engines were simply not roadworthy yet; but others pounced on a different view of the same statistic - that 18 cars ran to the finish - to comment admiringly just how well the series, teams, drivers and engine manufacturers had done in completely overhauling the series' technical specifications over the past five months since the end of the 2011 under the worst of clouds at Las Vegas.

Could it have been better? Of course, and it doubtless will be as the teams and drivers get more used to their new hardware and get better at setting it up and operating it. As it was, the lack of the same sort of experience base that the series had with the old equipment meant there would be all sorts of miscues and uncertainty in how to approach this race, with no one quite knowing how they stood in relation to anyone else out on the track. It made it all very difficult for the teams to know what to do about pit stops, tyre selection and the like.

In such a situation, the odds always favoured the biggest teams in IndyCar and the oldest, wisest heads getting to grips with the situation first - and so it proved to be when Helio Castroneves emerged as the winner of Sunday's race, ending up with a 5s lead that he had gradually pulled out over an extended green flag period during the latter half of the event. Helio's such a familiar name and face in the series that it could almost be overlooked that this "predictable" result was anything but, considering that Helio hadn't been victorious since Motegi in 2010 and many had started to consider him to be past his prime and even "washed-up".

Try telling that to the man who climbed the catchfence after the race, combining his trademark "spiderman" victory celebration with the touching salute to the memory of a fallen comrade, by doing it at the spot where he could point to the street signage reading: 'Dan Wheldon Way.'

"You can never question God's mysteries, and today for me, I ended up stopping on turn 10, and honestly I did not plan it, it was just the way it happened, and there was the sign," he said afterwards. "So for me, and for all of us, the drivers and the fans, not having him here certainly we'll miss. But we've got to remember him as he lived, the way he lived, and continue to pray for his family."

As for his return to victory circle after such a long winless streak, he was understandably thrilled.

"It's been a little while, but it never gets old. Certainly it's good to be back in victory circle," he said. "I did say out loud, 'If I start in the top six, I'll win this race.' And we did it, we are here."

Setting his sights on winning the war and not getting too over-invested in the minor skirmishes, Castroneves had decided on a quiet start and intentionally kept his nose clean in the opening laps - even if it cost him the odd position or two.

Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
Helio Castroneves in the #3 Shell V-Power/Pennzoil Ultra Team Penske Chevrolet during pre-season testing at Sebring. March 2012. [Photo Credit: Michael Levitt - LAT for IndyCar Media]
Helio Castroneves celebrates victory in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 25 2012, and salutes Dan Wheldon. [Photo Credit: INDYCAR/LAT USA (c) 2012, Scott LePage. LAT Photo]
Helio Castroneves 2017 Indy 500 practice
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Scott Dixon [credit: IndyCar Series]
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Fernando Alonso, McLaren-Honda-Andretti, [Credit: McLaren]
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Don - Unregistered

March 28, 2012 4:01 PM

It was a very entertaining race. Congrats to Helio, loved the tribute at Dan Wheldon way. It will be very interesting to see how Rubens qualifys at Barber. He should feel right at home at that beautiful road course.

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