Honda GP of St Petersburg News and Notes

Honda GP of St Petersburg News and Notes

Driver to win the Honda GP of St Petersburg

701 Dan Wheldon   +300     
702 Sam Hornish Jr +400     
703 Helio Castroneves +465     
704 Scott Dixon      +600     
705 Tony Kanaan    +650     
706 Dario Franchitti  +1000     
707 Marco Andretti   +1000     
708 Vitor Meira      +1400     
709 Danica Patrick    +3000     
710 Thomas Sheckter +3000     
711 Scott Sharp      +3500     
712 Buddy Rice      +3500     
713 Field (All Other)  +2000 

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Re: Honda GP of St Petersburg News and Notes

First street race of the season brings new challenges
By John Oreovicz
Special to

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- In just two years, the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg has become one of the most popular events on the IndyCar Series schedule.

St. Petersburg plays a significant role in the history of the Indy Racing League because it hosted the series' first non-oval race in 2005. For a series reluctant to move into road racing, St. Pete proved to be the perfect venue for such an introduction, convincing even the most steadfast traditionalists at 16th and Georgetown back in Indianapolis that there is life beyond turning left all the time.

The St. Pete GP actually started out as a Champ Car race in 2003, but the demise of CART later that year seemingly killed it after a promising single running. Andretti Green Promotions picked up the baton for '05, and with a generous infusion of Honda cash, the St. Pete race is now a jewel in the IndyCar crown -- and one of the top street races in North America.

The 1.8-mile street course utilizes runways on the Albert Whitted Airport to create passing zones, it's not too bumpy and there are some interesting corners. And the action all takes place within walking distance of downtown hotels, restaurants and shopping, a formula successfully used by the Champ Car series for the last 20 years.

With several of its oval venues struggling to draw fans, the IndyCar Series is adding two more former Champ Car road racing venues -- Belle Isle and Mid-Ohio -- making for five road races out of a total of 17. But unlike St. Petersburg, which really got a chance to get off the ground due to CART's problems, Mid-Ohio and Detroit were already well on the downswing when they were dropped from the Champ Car schedule and it will be interesting to see if the change in branding to IndyCar will revive those events.

Only 18 cars are entered at St. Petersburg, but the two that have dropped out since the season opener at Homestead weren't likely to bother the leaders anyway, unless it was in the course of being lapped. Of course, that happened in the inaugural St. Pete race to Team Penske's Helio Castroneves, who gained redemption by convincingly winning the 2006 running.

"I didn't have fond memories of St. Petersburg after the 2005 race, but I definitely made up for it in 2006," the excitable Brazilian said. "We had some issues on pit road, but we bounced back and made it to victory circle. It felt fantastic."

Within Team Penske, the pressure will be on defending series champion Sam Hornish Jr., who is still branded with the "oval specialist" tag. Hornish has qualified well for his six IndyCar Series road races, missing out on the Firestone Fast Six shootout only once. But he has yet to finish on the podium.

"One of my goals heading into this season is to win on a road course, and of all of the road/street courses that we run on in the IndyCar Series, St. Petersburg is the one that seems to suit my driving style the best," Hornish said. "Had we not had brake problems at the end of the race here last year, we feel we would have finished in the top three."

Instead, Hornish wound up accidentally punting rival Dan Wheldon off during a full course caution. The 2005 St. Petersburg winner (and local resident) was not impressed, and like Hornish, Wheldon knows he needs to improve his road course finishes in 2007 if he wants to land another IndyCar Series title.

His toughest competition at St. Pete and other road racing venues might come from within the Target Chip Ganassi Racing team. Scott Dixon is the only driver to have won two IndyCar road races, and his overall finishing record is best in the series.

Andretti Green Racing is the other team that has really found the setup for its Dallara/Hondas in road racing trim. AGR scored an unprecedented 1-2-3-4 finish at St. Pete in 2005 and last year Dario Franchitti took pole position before a suspension failure eliminated the Scotsman from the race after barely 10 laps. AGR's Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti have both won IndyCar Series road races, and of course, Danica Patrick's elusive first win is always a top story line.

Beyond the big three teams, it's difficult to imagine anyone contending for the win unless they get out front through radical pit stop strategy. Chamber of commerce weather is in the forecast, so the variable of rain won't affect things either.

On the technical front, the switch to an ethanol-fueled, 3.5-liter Honda engine will be more apparent on the twisty Sun Coast street course.

"The biggest difference will definitely show on the road and street courses and some of the shorter ovals," Wheldon said. "Anytime you're lifting out of the power and getting back into the power, when you have more torque there, it asks more from the rear tires. I think the change will definitely bode for real close racing, which is what the fans like to see."

In truth, even if you sported the back half of the IndyCar field 50 horsepower, they would still have trouble keeping up with the Penske and Ganassi teams. But even if the Honda Grand Prix turns out to be a two- or four-driver, show, St. Petersburg in the springtime is still a mighty fine place to enjoy a motor race.

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Re: Honda GP of St Petersburg News and Notes

Castroneves gets pole after Kanaan crashes
March 31st, 2007

St. Petersburg, FL (Sports Network) - Helio Castroneves won the pole for Sunday's Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The Brazilian benefited from an accident by fellow Brazilian Tony Kanaan and the AGR driver was by rule dropped to sixth overall.

The No.3 Penske Racing driver circled the 1.806-mile, 14-turn, temporary road course in one minute, 01.6839 seconds (15.052 m.p.h.). Kanaan's best time was slightly better at 1:01.5955.

The pole victory was Castroneves' first of the season and 18th of his IndyCar career.

Starting alongside Castroneves will be Marco Andretti who posted a best time of 1:01.7317.

Dario Franchitti (1:01.8775) and Scott Dixon (1:01.9791) will make up row two with Darren Manning and Kanaan making up the "Firestone Fast Six."

The top six qualified for the final shootout after Kanaan won the initial one- lap qualifying session. But in the second session Kanaan clipped the inside wall of turn nine and it shot him straight into the outside wall demolishing his race car. Kanaan walked away without any apparent injuries but will start sixth if the car can be repaired or 18th if he uses his backup car.

"Driver's mistake," said Kanaan simply.

Dan Wheldon crashed his primary car in practice and could no better than 14th in the one-lap qualifying session.

"This is disappointing, I didn't do a particularly good lap after going off earlier," said the winner of the first race at Homestead.

Wheldon didn't just win the race last Saturday, he demolished the competition. It was a "Michael Schumacher-like" effort. In all Wheldon led 179 of 200 laps and won by a whopping 6.4993 seconds. And that was his teammate Dixon he beat so badly. The closest competition outside the Ganassi Racing family was Sam Hornish Jr., who was more than 17 seconds back.

The race is set to drop the green flag at 2:45 p.m. (et) on Sunday.

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Re: Honda GP of St Petersburg News and Notes

St. Pete Repeat for Castroneves
Jorge A. Mondaca
Assistant Editor

Dominant performances and repeat winners appear to be the theme of the 2007 IRL IndyCar Series season.

Just one week after Dan Wheldon led the way on the 1.5-mile oval at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Helio Castroneves did the same on the streets of St. Petersburg.

Despite a late challenge from Scott Dixon, polesitter Castroneves was the class of the field, leading 95 of 100 laps on his way to a repeat victory in the St. Petersburg Grand Prix.

"It was all about consistency," Castroneves said. "The car was very consistent; a little bit tough on the cold tires. Almost everything was working perfectly. The gears started to wear a little and I had to be careful to not make any mistakes, especially on the brake point where the gears were tough. It was a great weekend. We worked very hard and it paid off in the end."

With the victory, Castroneves became the first polesitter to win on a road course, breaks a tie with Wheldon for most victories at the 1.8-mile temporary street course (two) and takes over the record for leading the most laps en route to the checkered flag, breaking his old record of 40 circuits from last season.

The driver of the No. 3 Penske Racing Dallara-Honda also joins Dixon as the only two-time winners of IndyCar Series road/street events in history. Dixon has won the past two races at Watkins Glen International

Castroneves’ victory was not without controversy, however. Following the second full course yellow of the day, the Brazilian lost the lead for the first time to Wheldon, who had pitted before the caution, allowing him to stay out while the leaders went in for service.

The Englishman did not stay up front for long though as Castroneves bumped him just as the field was approaching the green flag. Wheldon lost control of his No. 10 Target Dallara-Honda briefly, allowing Castroneves to pass him and regain the lead.

"I don't know what happened," Castroneves said. "I was very surprised when I hit him. Maybe it was a brake test or maybe it was cold tires. My team was yelling 'green, green, green' in my head and I just went. It happened very fast."

Although the Penske driver did not get penalized for the maneuver, he was contacted by Race Control shortly afterwards.

Wheldon, a resident of St. Petersburg, battled his car throughout the day and settled for a ninth-place finish.

Andretti Green Racing drivers swept the remaining top five positions with Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti and Dario Franchitti finishing behind Dixon.

For Kanaan and Franchitti, it was a remarkable turnaround as both had troubles on the first lap of the event.

Kanaan, who started sixth despite setting the fastest lap in qualifying, was attempting to charge through the field from the outset but was bumped by Franchitti, who hit a curb, and spun. Although not suffering damage, Kanaan fell to the back alongside A.J. Foyt IV, Scott Sharp and Kosuke Matsuura – all of whom collided as they attempted to avoid him.

"I think we had a car to win this race, but a lot of things put ourselves behind," Kanaan said. "This is a street course and it is very tight. Everybody is fighting for the same spot and two cars don't fit in the same place at the same time. This is racing, so if we're not racing hard then we're not racing.

Franchitti also fell back, as he came into the pits on the next circuit due to a mechanical issue, losing two laps to the leader in the process.

Nonetheless, both drivers worked their way back into contention for a solid finish.

Andretti, the 20-year-old driver of the No. 26 NYSE Dallara-Honda, also put in a solid race. Not only was he the only other driver to lead laps on the day, three total, but he also set the fast lap of the day, 102.914 mph, on lap 86.

Tomas Scheckter, Sam Hornish Jr., Danica Patrick, Wheldon and Buddy Rice rounded out the top 10.

Scott Sharp was the final driver to finish on the lead lap, establishing a new record for the circuit. Another record mark was created when 17 of 18 drivers where running at the end of the event.

With today’s results, Target Chip Ganassi’s Dixon takes over the championship lead with two races in the book. Castroneves and Wheldon are tied in second place, five points behind, with Kanaan (15 points behind) and defending series champion Sam Hornish Jr. (19 points behind) rounding out the top five in the standings.

The IRL IndyCar Series is now on a three-week hiatus until the running of the Indy Japan 300 at the 1.5-mile Twin Ring Motegi oval on April 21, where Castroneves is also the defending race winner.

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Re: Honda GP of St Petersburg News and Notes

Both races today were as boring as they come and put me to sleep.  :-","xx

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