Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Return of Spider Man

IndyCar/LAT USA Photos
It’s hard to imagine a better start to the season for IndyCar – Helio Castroneves winning and climbing the fence at Dan Weldon Way in celebration.

That’s just what happened in Sunday’s Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.  It was the first race for IndyCar since Weldon, the popular two-time Indy 500 winner, was killed at Las Vegas last year in a season-ending 15-car accident.  Not only did the race and finish honor Weldon, it served as redemption for Castroneves, still IndyCar’s most popular driver, coming off the worst season of his career, a winless 2011.

The race itself was ok, mostly follow-the-leader stuff.  A couple of early caution flags forcing teams into strategic pit decisions and then a long green flag run to the finish.  Somehow the television broadcast missed the only pass for the lead (and it was a good one, shown on replay), Castroneves getting around the outside of Scott Dixon in turn one.  Then he cruised home to the finish.

After a disastrous 2011, more than a few questioned Castroneves’ position as leader of the Penske Racing team.  It didn’t help when teammates Will Power and Ryan Briscoe qualified on the front row at St. Pete, relegating Castroneves to a fifth starting position behind a pair of drivers from Andretti Autosport.  But all that was forgotten by the end of the race.  

We never lost confidence, we never stopped believing,” said Castroneves.  Last year, unfortunately because of many issues, some of them were mine, some of them were bad luck, some of them were because of the new rules (double-file restarts).  I have to say I did not felt comfortable at that point.

“I never stopped believing.  Trying to search for answers, to be honest, it would be hard. You have to work to get the results that you want.  As I said, everything played very well together.  The yellow played in our favor.  But at the end of the day we have to make a pass, to go for it.  I'm happy one pass was important enough to be here today.
The rear view of DW12 is least attractive
A good crowd turned out for the race and the debut of the new race cars at St. Petersburg.   Chevy engines powered the first five cars in qualifying and four of the five top finishers, only Dixon breaking ranks with a Honda.  The Batmobile rear fender flares on the DW12 are going to take some getting used to.  Especially from the rear, the cars look much more like a sports car than the classic Indy car.  More than a few teething problems with the new cars, mostly the electrical gremlins.  Missing so far is the “push-to-pass” technology the cars had the past couple of seasons.  The series will consider adding the feature if necessary in the future.

Pit Stops:  Rain, the great equalizer, made for a heck of a Malaysian Grand Prix Formula One race. Fernando Alonso and his Ferrari team played the tire dance perfectly, after appearing uncompetitive in qualifying. The most interesting moment came late in the race when young Mexican driver Sergio Perez was reeling in Alonso, closing to less than a second of the leader. “Be careful, we need this position,” came a cryptic team radio transmission. The Speed TV commentators immediately wondered if the message was some sort of code, pointing out that Perez’s Sauber was powered by a Ferrari engine and that Perez himself is rumored to be in line for a ride at Ferrari. Within a lap Perez ran wide in a turn, falling well back of Alonso.  But afterwards Perez didn't appear to be someone who had been ordered to settle for second, just someone who had screwed up with victory within grasp.  Regardless, he became the first Mexican driver to finish on the podium since Pedro Rodriguez in 1971...Rains also figured in on the finish of the Sprint Cup race in California, ending the race just past the halfway point.  Tony Stewart had the dominate car and won his second race of the season, two more than he had before the Chase last year...What!?!  Roger Penske told USA Today he’d be willing to set up a separate engine shop and continue building Dodge engines for NASCAR teams next year if the company is interested, even though his team will be running a Ford.  Now let me get this straight.  Penske wants to race a Chevy in IndyCar, race a Ford in NASCAR, and build Dodge engines for other NASCAR teams.  Hmmmmm.

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