|Franchitti wins IndyCar's opener in St. Pete|
|Written by Admin|
|Sunday, 27 March 2011 23:55|
The race provided a familiar one.
Dario Franchitti is still the one to beat in open-wheel racing.
The two-time defending series champion was perfect in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, leading 94 of 100 laps on the scenic, 1.8-mile street course and beating Will Power to the finish line by more than seven seconds. It was Franchitti's first victory and fifth top-five finish in six starts in St. Petersburg.
``When you have a day like today, with the way the team was just like clockwork - pit stops, the car was great and didn't make any mistakes - they are few and far between so you have to enjoy them when they happen,'' Franchitti said.
His competitors weren't as fortunate.
Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe and Marco Andretti were knocked out of contention in the first turn. Danica Patrick's chances essentially ended when she made contact with Justin Wilson midway through the race.
Even Power, the pole-sitter and one of the sport's best road-course drivers, was no match for Franchitti.
``He never makes mistakes,'' Power said.
Franchitti edged Power for the championship in last year's season finale and opened 2011 with another strong showing for Chip Ganassi Racing. He took the lead on the fifth lap and was dominant the rest of the way.
``Maybe that answers the question of how badly I still want to win races and championships and all that stuff,'' Franchitti said.
Kanaan, the 2004 series champion who joined his new team Monday, held off Simona de Silvestro over the final few laps for third. De Silvestro enjoyed her best finish in 18 career starts.
``To finish fourth is something unbelievable,'' de Silvestro said.
Patrick was 12th, a disappointing start to her seventh IndyCar season. She was penalized one spot on the final lap for making ``avoidable contact'' with JR Hildebrand.
That was nothing compared to the early chaos. There were four full-course cautions in the first 14 laps.
The first one was the most significant as five cars - all from the sport's top three teams - found trouble in the opening turn.
Penske teammates Castroneves and Briscoe were involved, as were two-time series champion Scott Dixon (one of Ganassi's four drivers) and Andretti Autosport teammates Mike Conway and Marco Andretti.
Andretti hit Dixon from behind, running over his rear wheel and sending Andretti for a wild ride. He flipped and landed upside down. Andretti escaped without injury, walked toward his pit, paused to watch a huge replay board, then cited three-time Indy 500 champion Castroneves for the melee.
``Helio just drove it in on all of us,'' Andretti said. ``He missed his braking point by a decent chunk. It's unfortunate.''
Castroneves accepted blame, saying he locked up his brakes.
``I apologize for everyone,'' Castroneves said.
The race was flagged several more times on restarts, all of them coming under the sport's new rules. In previous years, the series used single-file restarts. But this season, IndyCar switched to double-file restarts similar to those in NASCAR.
Drivers thought those dicey situations would be attractive to fans and figured they also would cause attrition. They were right on both accounts. Fans cheered the first-turn frenzy and several cars sustained damage on restarts.
Franchitti said team owners wanted the double-file restarts as much as anyone.
``That's conversations I'm sure they are having right now because nobody wants to see half the field taken out in some of these accidents,'' Franchitti said. ``There's probably a few (owners) sitting there scratching their heads just now looking at bills for loads and loads of carbon fiber and going, 'Why didn't I ever think of that?'''
Power echoed concerns of other drivers.
``It was a start, a NASCAR-style, and we are not NASCAR,'' Power said. ``That was the problem. We can't hit each other. We can't bump each other.''
Although most of the wrecks happened on restarts, there were other issues.
Patrick drove into the rear of Wilson on lap 44 and broke her nose wing. Her team fixed it, but she wasn't able to make up ground on the leaders.
Franchitti, meanwhile, was simply pulling away from his closest competitors.
``A lot hinged on that first or second restart, passing Will there,'' Franchitti said. ``I forced the issue fairly aggressive there. Yeah, I was going for it, and you know, that's what we are going to have to do.''