St. Pete Report

St. Petersburg, FL (April 5, 2009) – The season began with a bang for the IndyCar Series as the season started at picturesque St. Pete. Once more it’s a very good setting for the first race, the crowd and the weather was great.

There were lot of drivers looking for rides and some made deals this week. Worthy driver, Ryan Hunter-Reay put together a deal this week, getting a ride from Tony George’s Vision Racing. The deal, put together five days ago, was deserved for the proven winner. Hunter-Reay did a great job giving Vision Racing their best finish (second place). Hunter-Reay was hungry for a victory, however didn’t want to throw it away, “It was a good, clean race for us. Late in the race, I was thinking long term with points. You couldn’t step a foot off line without jeopardizing your car, so I kept it line for the team. It’s been a long week for everyone on the team and everyone who worked on getting the car here deserves the credit.”

Another great job was Justin Wilson in the underdog Dale Coyne Racing ride. Wilson led 52 laps, giving Coyne Racing their best finish in the IndyCar Series. Its previous best was sixth at Watkins Glen last year with Bruno Junqueira. Wilson was pumped after the race, “It’s been a fantastic weekend. The Sonny’s Bar-B-Q car has been working fantastic. On that restart, I got out-dragged on the front straight. There’s not much you can do. You can’t block. It’s just one of those things. I was just disappointed because you can’t do any more.”

The street races are going to even out the playing field, along with the great job Firestone did with tires especially with the “reds” it has made for different pit strategies. It made for a great race, with a lot of passing something that usually doesn’t go together on the streets. Firestone’s post-race report showed the ability of the ‘reds.’ “The debut of the Firestone alternate tire program to the IndyCar Series caused a variety of strategy options involving tire use. Drivers ran stints as long as 35 laps (63 miles) on the primary (black-sidewall) specification and 37 laps (66.6 miles) on the alternate (red-sidewall) spec. Justin Wilson displayed the potential durability of the Firehawk alternates by leading the first 35 laps on a set of ‘reds.’ ”

Pole winner Graham Rahal was having a great weekend until the first turn of the race when he got passed by Franchitti’s great move who out-braked Rahal into turn one. Unfortunately, Tony Kanaan took out Graham, sending both to the back of the field. Graham wasn’t happy with the first turn incident, “The race started bad right from the beginning for the McDonald’s team. I was conservative on the start, and I’m guessing it was (Tony) Kanaan that punted me. It’s absolutely ridiculous, and you would expect a guy like that with experience to know it’s the first corner of the first lap of the first race of the season. Why make moves like that? From there it was just battling back all day trying to find a way to get the car back up to the front. We certainly inched away at it to get back up to seventh from last place, and I’m pretty happy with that, but I think the results should have and could have been better.”

Franchitti was delighted to be back from NASCAR, he said the learning curve in NASCAR is very steep. It appeared to me he wasn’t happy driving the sedans. However he’s happy to be back in the IndyCar Series and teamed up with defending champion, Scott Dixon. Perhaps distance does makes the heart grow fonder.

There still a lot of sponsor issues with many teams the biggest being Newman-Haas-Lanigan and their driver, Robert Doornbos. The car is unsponsored with blank sidepods, however they intend to keep him in the car for the year. There are a few rides for two or three race deals like Alex Tagliani and Darren Manning. Manning’s deal with Dreyer-Reinbold is for St. Pete and Long Beach only. In fact Manning had to borrow his old seat from A.J. Foyt Racing whom he drove for last year.

Ryan Briscoe is really starting the season where he left off last year. This is Penske’s 30th win the Indy Racing League’s IndyCar Series. This is the third time a Team Penske driver has won in the five events at St. Petersburg. Helio Castroneves won in 2006 and 2007. It was not the same without having Helio at the race track. Helio had made 155 straight starts for Team Penske, the team misses him.

The American LeMans Series was another story, the economics times really seem to be taking their toll as only seventeen cars in the four eligible divisions took the green flag. With no Audi and Corvette, it really made for weak field and there is talk about the Porsche Cup cars running at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah. However, I don’t think they are going to see a lot of them because of the cost of fuel, logistics and the personnel. I was told they’re going to be 22 cars for Long Beach, but after that, it’s going to be tough.

Long Beach is next and will be quite the event with it being a first time event for the IndyCar Series.

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