Helio Castroneves drove his Team Penske Shell IndyCar to the win at St Petersburg to open the season. [Scott Schleh Photo]
St. Pete - New Season, New Cars, Rubens And Memories Of Dan
by Eddie LePine
St. Petersburg, FL (March 25, 2012) - The Izod IndyCar series started the season at the Honda Grand Prix in St. Petersburg, Florida. This is a transition for the teams and drivers to the new DW12 cars, sporting the DW12 chassis and new specification engines from three engine suppliers, Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus. When the cars went out for the first practice session, it was great to hear the turbo-charged engines.
This weekend, the loss of Dan Wheldon at the end of last season was on everyone's mind. Dan was a resident of St. Petersburg and was in everyone's heart. The fans and drivers lost a really special person-he always went out of his way for the fans and will be sorely missed. Holly Wheldon (Dan's sister) waving the green flag to start the race was a nice touch.
So, with new cars and new engines to figure out, IndyCar racing should be very interesting. I predict that teams like Team Penske, Target-Chip Ganassi and Andretti AutoSport (all three car teams) will rise to the top because of the resources they have available. These are the teams that, during practice, can run three different setups to evaluate which is best.
Danica Patrick has left the building to go Nascar, but the Izod IndyCar series welcomed Formula One veteran, Rubens Barrichello to St. Petersburg. There were plenty of folks on board to greet him. The media and fans see his participation as a big boost for Izod IndyCar series. Barrichello has almost 20 years of experience under his belt in F1 and 322 starts to help him along.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Rubens on Thursday, when he told me "I am happy to be here and looking forward to racing in the series." Rubens quickly acknowledged that "to be a winner in IndyCar you have to be a complete under a whole range of conditions and in various configurations. Despite my experience, I will start as a rookie, but I think I will get better as the year progresses." Most heart-warming to Rubens was what he described as a "very warm welcome the fans and the series [that] has really made me feel like I belong."
A great staff at St, Pete greeted the enthusiastic fans and made for a festive atmosphere. I am convinced the Izod IndyCar series will this year will experience one of the most competitive and exciting seasons in its history. The hiring of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk as one of three new race stewards along with new race director, Beaux Barfield will help with making the right call when there is an incident. This addition, along with Mario Andretti being back doing P.R., adds to the overall positive direction in which the series is being taken by IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard.