Some of the IZOD INDYCAR Series drivers just couldn't wait to start the 2011 season. Now, ironically, they must wait another two weeks to really begin their season.
Dario Franchitti led 94 of the 100 laps at St. Pete, with Will Power leading the other six. Power was able to hold on to second place, but nobody had anything for Dario Franchitti today. Dario got his first win at this race and did so in dominating fashion.
Dario took the lead early on during the chaos that was the first 15 laps of the race. He was hardly challenged at all during the remainder of the race. He went on to beat second-place Power by more than seven seconds. It was his first victory, and fifth top-five finish, in six starts at St. Petersburg.
The most exciting duel in the final 15 laps was between Tony Kanaan and Simona De Silvestro. Kanaan was able to hang on and take third, while Simona settled for fourth. Kanaan's teammate Takuma Sato rounded out the top five.
The season got off to a slow start, with the double file starts dominating the early headlines of the race. The green flag dropped on the opening lap, and going into the first turn, chaos followed. Helio Castroneves seemed to get loose under Marco Andretti, which sent Marco sideways into Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe and a few other drivers. He got lifted onto the side of Dixon's car, then turned over and came to a rest upside down. He was fine, but many of the series' top drivers were out after just one turn.
In all, there were four full-course caution flags in the first 13 laps, but only one more for the rest of the entire race.
For some reason, drivers were treating the first lap like the last lap. Nobody seemed to show any patience for anyone else, as cars were bombing each other entering the first turn five cars wide. After the fourth caution flag to start the race, the drivers finally seemed to settle down. They began to ween themselves out and get into more of a single-file line coming out of the first corner.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the weekend went to Andretti Autosport team. Not only did Marco flip over and call it a day on the first turn, but Mike Conway was also taken out in that wreck. Conway had been turning heads all weekend and was one of the strongest cars heading into today's race.
While those two were done after the first lap, Ryan Hunter-Reay was next. He got bumped from behind and broke a part of the suspension just a few laps later. He would come back much later in the race, but his day was essentially done.
The last of the four Andretti drivers on the track was Danica Patrick. She had a couple of early incidents in which she had to come in and replace her front nose after clipping off a couple of wings. She finished outside of the top ten, which completed a horrible start for Andretti Autosport's 2011 season.
Alex Tagliani, Rapha Matos, Vitor Meira, Oriol Servia and Justin Wilson rounded out the top ten finishers of Sunday's race.
Of the top ten finishers at St. Petersburg, only two drivers came from the same team. Tony Kanaan and Takuma Sato both finished in the top five for KV Racing. The top ten featured only one driver from Penske (Power), one driver from Ganassi (Franchitti) and none from Andretti Autosport.
Most of the attention was on Simona de Slivestro after the race, and for good reason. She had her best career finish, and did it without a teammate and an engineer that she just started working with this weekend. It was a great race for her as she battled Tony Kanaan for third all the way 'til the end.
E.J. Viso caught some negative flack for making an "unprofessional move" late in the race that separated his teammate Kanaan from Silvestro. Viso was six laps behind the leader, and instead of moving over for both drivers on the main straight he waited until the last second and let Kanaan go by before shutting the door on Silvestro.
Simona took the high road after the race, but most of the other drivers were aware of what happened. Silvestro's crew was upset with the move and the fact that Kanaan wasn't called for blocking in the final few laps. Even so, everyone got a glimpse of what she is capable of, and just how talented she is.
It is well documented that the first race of the season can get really crazy and today proved that. With so many bone-headed moves and lack of patience by the drivers, many of the top contenders in the series were taken about before they could even complete the first turn. Who knows how well Marco and Conway would have done today. Both had fast cars, proving it in qualifying and practice. Helio Castroneves has won this race multiple times, yet he too found himself out without completing a single lap.
The next race will basically be their first races of the season, and perhaps they will be a little more patient on the restarts. The drivers and teams are going to criticize the rule change of the double-file restarts, some already have. Maybe instead of complaining and changed the rules so much, they should just be more patient and show each other more respect on the track.
The next race for the IZOD INDYCAR Series will be on April 10th at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. The start of the race is scheduled for 3:00 PM. The next telecast for ABC will be the Indianapolis 500 on May 29th.
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