First, I apologize for the lack of photos. IndyCar moved the location of their media photos online and I haven’t received access to them yet.
It has been just over 5 months since the tragic events at the IndyCar season finale in Las Vegas where Dan Wheldon was killed. The series and fans have been itching to get back to the track and move past those events while remembering and honoring Dan in his adopted hometown of St. Petersburg. But, in the new IndyCar era with new cars and new engines, many questions circled as the new Dallaras rolled onto the track.
To no one’s surprise, Will Power sat on the pole position once again for the season opener. Add this one to the 8 poles he had this year. As many poles as he’s sat on recently he should be sore. The most surprising element of qualifying, however, was the fact that not a single Chip Ganassi Racing car qualified for the Firestone Fast 6. Also, 5 of the fastest 6 qualifiers were Chevy’s. Simon Pagenaud qualified in 6th position in a Honda, but had to drop 10 positions on the grid due to an unapproved engine change. Ugh oh, how many engines would we see blow up on Sunday?
In typical fashion, when the green flag fell Will Power took off leaving everyone else in the dust faster than a housewife after a shoe sale at the mall. And passing? Well, ABC wasn’t showing any of it that was going on. Just as the cars began to spread out, Katherine Legge’s car coasted to a stop on the front stretch on lap 13 bringing out the first caution. Was this the first engine death of the race? My guess was no. Legge was running in last well behind everyone else so she wasn’t pushing the engine hard enough for it to blow up in the first place. I kid, but she apparently had an electrical issue that ended up relegating her to 6 laps down when she returned to the track.
Only 4 laps after the restart, James Jakes brought out the second caution when he stuffed the nose of his Boy Scouts car into the turn 10 tire barrier. It is pointed out on tv that a brand new nose cone on the DW12 costs $12,000. As you pick your jaw up off the floor, you read that correctly. $12,000 for a new nose cone. That would more than pay off what I owe on my personal car. And actually, it would buy you a brand new Nissan Versa. The DW12 is an expensive mistress for sure.
During the caution period for Jakes, Tony Kanaan’s Chevy rolls to a stop from battery/electrical related issues. He comments that all of the electronics died in the car. Ironically, my first car was a 1996 Chevy Monte Carlo that had more electrical gremlins than a Soviet apartment building. My dashboard went dark on me more than once, so I understand TK’s pain. But, not long after Kanaan rolled to a stop, so did Simona de Silvestro. Anyone watching the broadcast wanting to know what the issue with Simona was would be out of luck. The amazing ABC coverage essentially ignored the fact her car died and never reported on what happened.
Due to the shuffling of positions during pit stops and varying strategy, Ed Carpenter found himself in front of a faster group of cars as he had yet to pit. While slowing to pull into pit lane off the final corner, he was tagged by Castroneves and spun around at the entrance of pit road. Race control made a smart move by not penalizing Castroneves as it was an unintentional spin.
I’m going to make this part brief. The rest of the race stayed green and as various fuel mileage and pit timing strategies played out, Helio Castroneves came out on top winning the race after a bold move in Turn 1. Frankly, he drove like beast and put a whipping on everyone else. After his worst IndyCar season ever in 2011, he returned to old form in St. Petersburg which was a welcome return. But, during the course of the green flag stage of the race, drivers like Sebastien Bourdais and JR Hildebrand had issues that were never reported by ABC. More on that in a second. Takuma Sato and Mike Conway had very strong runs going before suffering from gearbox issues and retired from the race. Both drivers were strong all weekend and should be contenders each week.
The best part of the race was Castroneves climbing the fence at Dan Wheldon Way and pounding the street sign hanging on the fence to honor his fallen friend. It was classy. It was emotional. It was very appropriate for Helio to do. I’m sure Dan was smiling.
My biggest complaint with the race rests solely on the ABC coverage. It is abysmal. Marty Reid and Scott Goodyear are as limp in the booth as Bob Dole’s no-no parts pre-Viagra. This is racing guys, not a golf game. Add that to the fact they never mention what happens to drivers that fall out of the race and don’t bring out a caution and never follow the action on the track, so you never see the passes. Pippa Mann was in the stands tweeting about all the passes happening in Turn 1, but you only saw 1 or 2 on tv. Was she at a different race because there was none of that shown on tv. For heavens sake, can we please get new people in the booth at ABC? I will say that Jaime Little is a flawless pit reporter. Always classy and never annoying.
I was also disappointed to not see Twitter integration in the broadcast. If we have learned one thing it is that Twitter is huge and NASCAR has proven that as a fact. I saw a quick statistic that the #GPSTPETE hashtag had over 9,000 tweets with a 5.6 million reach. That’s huge, but imagine how big that would have been if it had been fully integrated into the broadcast. It’s easy, free exposure.
So, with the first race in the books, IndyCar heads to Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, AL next week. The race will be on NBC Sports Network (which was Versus) and should be entertaining. The track doesn’t produce the most passing, but the facility is beautiful and it is great to see on tv. Tune in and catch the action to see if Will Power gets to set on another pole (lucky man) and if Helio and Chevy can make it two in a row.