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IndyCar Breakdown: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

IndyCar Breakdown: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

In A Nutshell: It is fitting perhaps that the Verizon car with Will Power at the wheel won the season opener in St. Petersburg, the first race of Verizon’s shiny new IndyCar Series sponsorship. Power did it in dominating fashion, too, taking the lead from Takuma Sato on lap 31, holding the top spot by as much as eight seconds, and relinquishing it only during green-flag pit stops. This marks the third consecutive victory for Power going back to the end of last season.

Green was the color of the day, with the first 75 laps running caution free. Two back-to-back yellows in the late going (see Key Moments for more on that) made no difference at the top of the podium though, with Power driving away from Ryan Hunter-Reay for the victory. Helio Castroneves finished third for the final top-3 spot while Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud rounded out the top 5.

Will Power is starting to make this winning thing look easy – that’s 3 in a row going back to last season.

Key Moment: You are most certainly going to be hearing a lot about the restart off the first caution period. Once the pace car leaves the track, it’s up to the leader to pace the field to the green flag. Cones mark the acceleration zone, the area where the drivers, starting with the leader, are to begin getting up to speed to take the green as presumably the flag is thrown. On this instance, the pace car left the track, officials threw the green flag, but Power, as the leader, did not accelerate and the field bottled up behind him, causing contact that took Marco Andretti and Jack Hawksworth out of the race.

Power said he was not yet in the cone zone and when officials threw the green flag, that he was taken by surprise because it was early. He says he did not brake, but did let off the accelerator momentarily. Others felt there may have been some gamesmanship at work and that the leader did not accelerate on purpose. The next restart, with Power in front, was clean and, whether intentional or not, he was not penalized for the earlier miscue.

Highlight Reel

  • It’s a welcome thing to have Allen Bestwick in the ABC booth this year. Bestwick has been a favorite on the broadcast teams in NASCAR over the years and thanks to overlap, many fans are happy to see him come to IndyCar. Bestwick is happy to admit he’s a “newbie” and maybe doesn’t quite get all the nuances of the sport just yet. But he also didn’t hesitate to lean on his knowledgeable color commentators, Eddie Cheever and Scott Goodyear for help rather than overly speculate.
  • Did everybody in the field have an in-car camera? There were only 22 cars in the race but ABC had a sizable list of drivers with cameras.
  • There was one DNS already. Mario Andretti and the 2-seater never got going on the parade laps. My question is: Does the contest winner who was in the car get a do-over?
  • Old news maybe, but the Takuma Sato and A.J. Foyt partnership is entering its second year and it seems to still be working great. Sato started on the pole and Foyt was pleased as could be. Who could ever have guessed it would turn out like this? Anyone?
  • It was a tough first day back in American open-wheel racing for Juan Pablo Montoya, with mechanical issues plaguing him for much of the afternoon. He came home 15th. It is worth remembering, however, that Montoya has not piloted an open-wheel car since F1, in 2006 and he’s actually never driven this kind of Indy car.
  • INDYCAR tweaked a few rules since last season, and one of them is in regards to pit procedure under caution. They’ve essentially gone NASCAR style, closing the pits when a caution comes out (although, like NASCAR, if you are out of fuel or have a flat tire, you may come in to perform just the needed service). Then, they open them to the field which will pit all at the same time. There were a couple of close calls on pit road, but everyone pretty much made it through the new caution pit stops in one piece.
  • A star is born, it seems. Jack Hawksworth was making a good impression for his moves on track, but his day ended early when he got caught in the wreck on the first restart. And then, Hawksworth made an impression off the track as well. First, he gets the award for cool word of the day, talking about how he got caught when there was a bit of a concertina (that’s accordion to most of us) on the restart. Second, he made an impression in the Twittersphere. Bryan Herta Autosport is pretty keen on their new driver and he made everyone else take notice the first week out. Not bad for a new guy…
  • Mikhail Aleshin was the highest finishing rookie driver in 12th.
  • Mike Conway was having a great run, making the Ed Carpenter partnership look like a stroke of genius, but it was spoiled through a series of miscommunications on the first caution. Conway did not pit with the rest of the field because he did not hear the call from his team to come in. He also misinterpreted the signal from the pace car to a lapped competitor and passed the pace car, drawing a drive-through penalty.
  • Also penalized under that first caution was Sebastien Bourdais for not packing up. I’ve been at this for a good while, but I have to admit that I have never heard that term before. It means not closing up to the car in front of him in a timely fashion under the caution. What I found odd was that Allen Bestwick and company explained Push to Pass early in the race, with Bestwick noting that the explanation was for others like himself who are new to the sport, but they never explained what “packing up” meant. Surely, I cannot be the only person who never heard the term before.
  • You’ve got to love live TV. Yeah, I am pretty sure that Helio Castroneves did call Will Power a wanker in his post-race interview. If I had to guess, I’d say he got the term from Power, but I’m wondering if Power told him what it actually means…

Notable Driver: Ryan Hunter-Reay. Hopes were high for the 2012 champ at the start of last season and while they had some great performances, the team just stumbled way too many times, particularly early in the season, and posted too many DNFs to overcome. 2013 was not the season they’d hoped for to defend their championship. So, Hunter-Reay and company were determined to come out strong and not get themselves behind from the start this year. It may have seemed like a tall order, with the offseason switch from Chevrolet to Honda power but RHR and team never missed a beat and put together a strong weekend, starting third and ending the day in second. Consider this notice served that RHR is back in the championship fight.

Across the Twitterverse:

Robin Miller (@NotRobinMiller) Wow, you know it’s bad when even Helio thinks you’re a jerk, Will. #IndyCar #FirestoneGP

Howard Scott (@thehowardscott) Ok so did any Americans understand Jack Hawksworth?#IndyCar

Tom Bellingham (@TommyWTF1) Bourdais got a penalty for not packing up. So he just left his stuff everywhere? How rude. #IndyCar

Nick Chapman (@nicartis) ABC’s #indycar coverage is so much better with Allen Bestwick commentating.

Quotable:

“It’s hard to see because I was pretty far back, but Will just stopped. Once you go, you gotta go. It was a bit of an accordion effect, and I just got caught up. That’s what happens when you’re in the back, so I’ve really got no one to blame but myself.” Marco Andretti on the restart incident that took him out of the race.

“They threw the green early, I thought we were meant to go in that zone. So that was – I was surprised. I don’t really know what happened behind me, what happened?” (Did he brake check Helio): “I left it a little, I didn’t touch the brake at all. They can look at my data, I did not touch the brake.” Will Power

“I didn’t hear a radio communication to come into the pits then. I thought the safety car waved me by but they were waving (James) Hinchcliffe by instead. I don’t know if there was a communication problem there, too. I didn’t know if they [were] waving at me or both of us. Then, they said it was only for Hinch. And that was it. It screwed up our whole day.” Mike Conway

What’s Next: It’s off to California for one of the series’ marquee events, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday, April 13. Coverage returns to NBC Sports Network. We’ll see if Takuma Sato can continue his strong start to the season by defending his Long Beach Grand Prix win of last year.

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Toni Montgomery
An editor for the Frontstretch since 2006, Toni heads up the open-wheel portion of the website along with its NHRA coverage. Creative Director for Open-Wheel Wednesdays, she’s also responsible for pre- and post-race columns along with special features highlighting IndyCar and Formula One. An award-winning writer for the Presbyterian Church, Toni freelances with both writing and web design in North Carolina.