27 March 2012
Castroneves unstoppable in St Pete opener
Their success along with Castroneves' win meant that three of the top four were Chevrolet-powered cars, confirming that the bow tie brigade have the edge at this early stage of the new era of engine competition in the series. But broadening that out to the top ten it becomes a somewhat more balanced picture six Chevys to four Hondas.
Perhaps the biggest shock was that reigning champion Dario Franchitti was not among those four in the top ten: you had to look all the way down to 13th place to find the Scotsman, and it came down to running short of gas at the very end.
"It was a tough day for the Target Honda," said Franchitti. "We ran out of fuel leaving that last corner. You have those times where it's close and you get across the start-finish line, and sometimes you don't.
"We didn't have the best day in the Target Honda today overall, but we'll do some work and be back strong in Barber," he added, looking ahead to this coming weekend's race in Alabama at the Barber Motorsports Park.
Franchitti's arch rival in 2011, Penske's Will Power, was ruing the lost opportunity of a pole position start that had yielded only seventh place by the chequered flag. Power had actually had a good start and pulled out a near-three second lead over team mate and fellow front-row starter Ryan Briscoe by lap 10, but then gambled on an early opportunistic pit stop under a yellow flag on lap 11 for Katherine Legge's Lotus Dragon Racing car stalling on the front straight.
Power was joined by around half the field including Franchitti, while Briscoe, Hunter-Reay, Dixon, Hinchcliffe and Castroneves all stayed out at the front. Power immediately tried to make up some of the lost positions, but ran wide in turn 5 trying to make a move on James Jakes that instead lost him a bunch of places and left him down in 17th place.
"We just got shuffled back a bit there after the first pit stop and we just couldn't make up the ground we needed," Power explained. "It was very tough to pass. We were able to gain some track position toward the end and it's good to finish seventh."
Ironically, a few minutes later Jakes ran wide himself and into the tyre wall at turn 10 to bring out the second caution of the afternoon on lap 19, and the only retirement of the day that was put down to 'contact'.
"I'm not really sure what happened, but my brakes seemed to glaze over on me going into turn 10, and I couldn't make the turn, which left me nowhere to go, but into the tire barriers, said Jakes. "It wasn't the start to the season that the #19 Boy Scouts of America Honda team was looking for," the British driver now in his second season of IndyCar competition added.
Dixon took the lead when Briscoe was among those to put under the caution for Jakes' accident, with Hunter-Reay, Castroneves and Hinchcliffe also opting to stay out on track with him and make the 100 lap race into a two-stopper. It was to prove the right strategy, setting the membership of the top four for the end of the race.
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