The first race of the season is in the books, and there's plenty to discuss. Here are some notes and thoughts from Sunday's Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg:
Helio Is Back: After a horrific 2011, Helio won going away Sunday for his first win in 20 starts. A couple of fans seemed mad that he punted Ed Carpenter earlier in the race, but to me, it looked like he didn't have anywhere to do when Ed didn't move to the pits quickly enough. In any case, it was a welcome win for Helio, especially in a contract year. Watching him tap the Dan Wheldon Way sign after winning was one of those special, emotionally powerful moments, and you could tell he was choked up (I admit to having something in my eye then, too). I'm sure you'll get your well-worn "Death Star" comments from a Penske driver winning, but honestly, the Penske and Ganassi drivers had to fight alongside everyone else most of the day.
Engine/Tech Update: Chevy clearly won this round, though Honda at least satisfied honor grabbing P2. However, the Chevys also had some electrical issues (both Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay reported some issues), but all in all, there was no definitive, obvious engine grenading. Other issues seemed to revolve around the gearbox (Sato)or fuel pressure (Hildebrand/de Silvestro), so we'll see if those are sorted out by Barber. For Lotus, they've got to have some hope after Sebastien Bourdais ran well near front for a while, but it's clear they don't have the same straight-line speed as the other manufacturers right now. All in all, not a bad debut for new cars and engines. (Remember to check out our updated Engine Power Rankings as well).
Staying Green: One of the happiest portions of the weekend was seeing a clean start to the race (Marco Andretti had to be as thankful as anyone), and very few on-track incidents overall. What yellows there were came about largely due to mechanical issues, and that's a change from the last couple openers we've had.
Taking A Pass: Personally, you're going to have some people say this race wasn't a passing fest. I honestly didn't think it was too bad, especially as the race wore on. We saw a number of great duels, such as Briscoe and Pagenaud, Helio's pass on Dixon for the lead, and a spirited fight between Sebastien Bourdais and EJ Viso (more on him in a bit). Honestly, I thought there was a lot of change through the field, as different fuel loads, strategies, and tires began to tell. Unfortunately, the viewing audience probably missed out on several key passing moments, which brings us to....
ABC's Coverage: ABC did a fine job on the opening segment, introducing the drivers, mentioning the new cars, and doing well during their preview show. While that was nice to see (including the fine Dan Wheldon tribute segment), several missed passes really marred their coverage later in the race. They have a way to go to have their coverage be considered "good", but they at least seemed a little more into it than last year. Now, they need to not follow tangents away from the on-track action.
(And yes, let's admit it: James Hinchcliffe wearing the wig during the intro was a highlight).
Viso's Good Day: EJ Viso gets a lot of grief online, so it is only fitting and proper that we mention his good races as well. Despite needing a late splash of fuel, Viso ran a patient, largely clean race--and he did it while fighting off food poisoning. The aforementioned duel between EJ and Bourdais was also one of the better ones we saw. Now, he's got to go out and duplicate that effort next weekend.
Woes For Simona: Simona de Silvestro had a great run here last season (P4), but had to drop out early with fuel pressure issues. One of the hard-luck teams in IndyCar will have to wait at least another week for their luck to turn around.
Sunoco Rookie of the Year Update: Both Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud had excellent debuts. Pagenaud came back from starting P16 (due to his engine change penalty), and finished a very impressive P7, after an enjoyable back-and-forth on the track with Ryan Briscoe. Josef Newgarden also acquitted himself very well, dueling Dario for part of the day while just missing out on a Top 10 finish in P11. Kat Legge was never really a factor in this one, getting out of her car for good and finishing 41 laps down.
Mazda Road to Indy: Spencer Pigot swept the USF2000 races this week, with his teammate Matt Brabham finishing P2 in both events. Their team, Cape Motorsports With Wayne Taylor Racing, is simply putting on a clinic so far this year.
In Star Mazda, Connor De Phillippi impressed with a win in the first race, but it was all Jack Hawksworth in the second contest. Hawksworth has a narrow 10-point lead over De Phillippi after the weekend's results, but with drivers like Gabby Chaves, Martin Scuncio, Sage Karam, and Petri Suvanto wheeling it out there as well, this is going to be a battle all season long.
Other Quick Notes: Mike Conway was having a fine day before his mechanical issues; don't sleep on that Foyt team.....Charlie Kimball was the big mover of the race, trading in a P22 starting position for a P9 finish.....I'm predicting James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay will both win a race this year.....Pippa Mann was at St. Pete this weekend, and her trackside tweets were an excellent source of info; NBC Sports should get her in the booth until she gets her ride sorted out.....Bummer about Tony Kanaan losing power in the car early. That ends an impressive string of finishes at St. Pete.....Scott Dixon also was the St. Pete runner-up in 2006-2007. Until yesterday, the best he had finished there since '08 was P16.....Our Last Driver Standing competition has been updated.....
As always, your thoughts and observations on the race are very much welcomed. Next up, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.