Monday, March 31, 2014

Notes: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

-Really, if you think about it, it was sort of fitting a Verizon car won the first-ever race under the Verizon Indy Car Series banner. It was a really strong start for Will Power, who had company all day, but also never looked like he wasn't at least equal to the task.

-I suppose we should address the issues with the restart after Charlie Kimball's yellow. It seemed as if the pace car shouldn't have been as gapped as it was, but there's no doubt the whole speed up/slow down/speed up business really made a mess of things.

-Mike Conway was immensely impressive in his debut for Ed Carpenter Racing. It's only been one race, but you just get the feeling that Ed Carpenter the Owner made the right decision. Yeah, a miscommunication late in the race cost them a chance at a podium or better, but tell me something--if they don't make that unforced error, would you have bet against Conway to win it all? I wouldn't have.

-Regarding the TV and radio coverage: I thought the TV pace was better, though Scott Goodyear could still stand to bring a bit more energy. It was well-produced, and I thought a much better product than last year. In terms of the radio coverage, Paul Page was a bit rusty, but he can get away with that for a bit, being Paul Page. Pippa Mann was excellent as the driver analyst, and it was nice having Sage Karam providing insight for the Lights race. On that note, do you think there's any serious chance we don't see Karam in a car for the Indy 500? I don't--why have him in the booth and out and about if he's just going to pine away for a ride all year? My guess is Sage will have a spot for himself in the field of 33.

-Chevy grabbed the first victory, but Honda was no slouch, either. In fact the Top 10 was perfectly split 5/5 between the two manufacturers. For all the talk about either Honda or Chevy looking to have the upper hand with this engine redesign, it's still felt like anyone's race so far. Honda grabs the pole, Chevy wins the race, Honda grabs P2. I hope the see-saw continues.

-Rookies, Rookies Everywhere: I thought it was a promising weekend for most of IndyCar's rookie crop. Mikhail Aleshin crept up to finish P12. Carlos Munoz started P7, and ran into trouble only later in the race. Carlos Huertas didn't look significantly behind the power curve, given his lack of seat time. Then there's Jack Hawksworth (see below)....

-Jack Hawksworth was caught in an absolutely horrible restart that wasn't his fault, but that shouldn't take away from a very good rookie debut. He was competitive all weekend, mixing it up with the veterans, and showing more of the skill he's always shown at St. Pete. Bryan Herta Autosport has to be very excited about his potential this year.

-That was a scary moment on the Marco Andretti crash. We've seen plenty of drivers injure their wrists by not releasing the steering wheels quickly enough on a snappy impact like that. Hopefully, it's nothing he can work his way through, but it didn't look good.

-Justin Wilson starts P16, finishes P8. Why is this man not in a Penske or Ganassi or Andretti car again?

-Newgarden! Starts dead last, finishes P9, with a great charge in the closing laps of the race. I still think we see Josef get that first victory at some point this year. There are a lot of reasons to think Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing could struggle this year--a small team, engineering changes--but they don't seem to care.

-Your Top 5 yesterday: Power, Hunter-Reay, Castroneves, Dixon, Pagenaud. That pretty much seems like the core of the title contenders, doesn't it? Heck, throw Tony Kanaan in P6 in there, too, and I think that still holds true.

-Back to the race itself: it was nice and clean through Lap 76, and I really felt like it was just a lot of really excellent professionals, each with a reasonable shot to win, running mostly hard and clean . While it wasn't in doubt down to the wire, it just felt like an optimistic, hard-fought opener, as if we all mostly picked up right where we left off.

-I think we're in for a fun year in Indy Lights (remember, Cooper Tires now, not Firestone!). Zach Veach did a nice job yesterday of running consistently fast laps--something he couldn't always say in 2013--and it was an impressive first victory.

-Big congratulations to Spencer Pigot for winning both races of Pro Mazda's St. Pete doubleheader. You also have to impressed with Kyle Kaiser finishing P2 in both races. That's going to be a fun series to follow again this year. 16 entrants is a pretty solid field for right now, too, I think.

Other Notes: As much as I enjoy IndyCar's Radio coverage, there were a few times this weekend where there were reports of some choppy audio from web browsers. However, it sounds as if the Verizon app audio worked well...Scary moment in the Lights race with an early hard crash from Fan Force United's Scott Anderson. Glad he's ok--the FFU machine, however, didn't look as if it could say the same...Congrats to RC Enerson and Florian Latorre for their USF2000 wins this weekend....Takuma Sato might have been caught up in some traffic exiting the pits and finished P7, but still, that's got to be a very nice opening weekend for the Foyt crew. They just have to hope they not only start strong like last year, but finish strong, too.

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