Monday, March 28, 2011

St. Pete Recap: Rough Start, Great Finish

There were Civil War battles with less attrition than this race. Demolition derbies have been conducted at the Hamilton County Fairgrounds with less car damage. Entires seasons of Survivor had less elimination.

OK, so it wasn't quite that bad, but it was a bloody start to the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series, with multiple Penske and Ganassi cars being knocked out of contention early. Things did settle down after the crazy start. Dario Franchitti ran out in front, chased by a mix of Will Power, Tony Kanaan, and yes, Simona de Silvestro throughout much of the race. Long after Franchitti had showed himself the class of the field, with Power chasing after, TK and Simona gave us an awesome battle for 3rd place, with TK in his new KV Racing gig holding her off for the podium.

Still Standing After The Carnage!
It was still the best finish ever for de Silvestro, who continues to impress (and even trended on Twitter, along with Dario yesterday!). And although the early incidents turned the day upside down, there's no denying Franchitti and Power will likely be battling all year long, Tony Kanaan is an important, relevant, and key driver for this series, and the Swiss Miss is going to be a soon as they figure out how to market her.

Let's cover some of the other stories from the Streets of St. Petersburg, because there's plenty to discuss:

Mazda Road to Indy: It was an All-American weekend across the ladder series. In Indy Lights, Josef Newgarden won in his first Indy Lights outing, while Conor Daly rallied for second place. The fight among the first 6-7 positions this year in Lights should be pretty intense. In Star Mazda, Daly's old rival Conor DePhilipi started 2011 the same way he finished 2010--with a victory. (Congrats to Chris Miller and Chris Miller on their respective 5th and 7th-place finishes--we have recently done interviews with both!). In USF2000, Spencer Pigot grabbed the pole and won in only his third series start.

A Rough Start: EJ Viso crashed in the first three practice sessions of the year, survived qualifying, and then spun it in the race. Not a good omen for KV Racing, who was hoping to avoid the errors Viso had shown last year. He recovered enough to finish 19th, 6 laps down.

Bad news also followed Dale Coyne Racing, with Sebastien Bourdais wrecking twice and being unable to start due to extensive car damage. James Jakes also had severe car damage, but Coyne's team was able to have him start the race. Sebstian Saavedra totaled a car in qualifying for Conquest Racing after being the fastest rookie most of the weekend. I can only imagine how disappointing that sort of season start is.

Seriously, A ROUGH Start: An incident right at the start took out Marco Andretti, and smashed up the cars of Scott Dixon, Mike Conway, Ryan Briscoe, and Helio Castroneves pretty well. We saw 4 cautions in the first 14 laps. Not a single Andretti car remained unscathed, with Danica Patrick and Ryan-Hunter Reay limping home after damage. Mike Conway's comeback will need to wait at least one more week; he finished 23rd due to the first-lap incident.

Two-Wide Tantrums: Expect plenty--and I mean PLENTY--of argument over the two-wide starts and restarts this week. Look, what happened on the initial two-wide restart was the product of one or more drivers losing all common sense for a couple of seconds. We don't need to drop the Two-Wides; they aren't the issue. The drivers need to be taken to the Principal's office one more time and reminded to NOT SPAZZ OUT.

Injury Report: Ana Beatriz injured her wrist, potentially badly enough to be kept out of the next race. Teammate Justin Wilson also injured his wrist, but it sounds like he should be good to go for Barber. We'll have to see who might get the call for Barber if Bia can't go.We'll know more after they have some tests back in Indy.

Rookie Report: JR Hildebrand had a rough weekend before the race, but stayed largely out of trouble during it. He paced all rookies with an 11th-place finish (gaining a spot after Danica was penalized for "avoidable contact"). Saavedra (backup car and all) moved up to finish 2 laps down in 13th . Bia finished 14th, and Jakes 15th (with a pretty good run up until the midway point). Charlie Kimball tagged the wall to drop out and finish 22nd. The last was especially shame, as Kimball had quietly been putting together a solid outing.

Top 10 Who?: What a diverse and varied Top 10 this was. Besides your Top 4 mentioned above, 5th went to KV's Takuma Sato, who showed, yes, perhaps he can keep it all together. 6th went to Alex Tagliani, who made a strong initial showing for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. 7th went to Rafa Matos, 8th to Vitor Meira. Oriol Servia earned Newman/Haas 9th after a couple of early issues. Justin Wilson recovered from a late spin to finish a marginally disappointing 10th.

Simona was part of a diverse Top 10.
An "A" For AFS: With an IndyCar team less than a month old, AFS Racing had an excellent day, finishing an extremely consistent 7th. We'll have to see what their plans are for Barber, but Rafa Matos really did the most with his second chance in this series yesterday. It's a good story that probably won't get as much press as it deserves.

Plowey Driving?: Martin Plowman raised a lot of eyebrows when he was seen walking around with firesuit and helmet. Was it a last-minute ride? As it turned out, he was driving the two-seater. Plowey's still looking for that ride this year--single-seater variety, if you please.

Timing/Scoring: Yes, IndyCar Race Control had major issues this week, with intermittent radio for quals and practice, and timing and scoring that was spotty at best. Fans were frustrated, and rumor is Randy Bernard is hot under the collar to get the issues fixed ASAP. Let's see what we get in two weeks.

Not-So-Fun Fact: Marco Andretti has not made it off the first lap two season openers in a row. Last year ended with Mario Moraes' car on top of this; this one ended with him upside down. Maybe he should just skip to the second race on the schedule.

Next Up: The next stop is Barber Motorsports Park, for the Grand Prix of Alabama. We'll see if some of the big names of the series can make up for missed points opportunities in the St. Pete opener, and if some of the surprising names up front can keep it coming.

1 comment:

  1. Good Recap: thanks for the great coverage this weekend, I look forward to the rest of the season and your take on the races.