AT HONDA GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERSBURG
IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal made history at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, becoming the youngest driver to win a major open-wheel race at the age of 19 years, 93 days old.
The race was the Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing driver’s first in the IndyCar Series, after withdrawing last weekend from the season-opening race at Homestead-Miami Speedway due to damage to his primary car sustained during a test session at the track. Rahal, who started in ninth, overcame a setback on Lap 37 when he made contact with Will Power to win the IndyCar Series’ first temporary street course race of the season.
“It was tough,” Rahal said. “After getting hit by Will (Power) in the rain and everything, it was going to be a tough start. It doesn’t get any sweeter than this; to expect a win in our first race. We had the pace and we pulled away from them, so it wasn’t like we lucked into it. This is just awesome.”
Rahal, the son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal, becomes just the fourth driver in history to win in his first IndyCar Series start and the fourth rookie to win in their first IndyCar Series season.
“Do you think he’ll ever listen to any advice from me again?” said Graham’s father Bobby Rahal, the 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner. “He really thinks he knows everything now. Slowly he will take advice from me. He drove a phenomenal race and the crew did a great job. The engineer gave him a great car. He was fast at the end. That’s the best conditions, a lot of people banging each other, and he kept it together.”
Two-time defending race winner Helio Castroneves, driving the No. 3 Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone, finished second and Andretti Green Racing’s Tony Kanaan finished third. HVM Racing’s E.J. Viso and Conquest Racing’s Enrique Bernoldi, both rookies, rounded out the top-five.
Also on April 6, Richard Antinucci, the nephew of 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever, won the Firestone Indy Light’s St. Pete 100 Race 2. After the win, series officials penalized Antinucci 10 point for avoidable contact with teammate Ana Beatriz during the race. Oriol Servia has enjoyed his visit to St. Petersburg not just for the competition on the race course, but also for a side trip to the Salvador Dali Museum.
Servia has paid homage to the famous artist, a fellow Spaniard who was a leader of the Surrealist Movement, on his helmet. Part of a Salvador Dali self-portrait is outlined in black on the side of Servia’s helmet – an inspiration and testament to a strong work ethic and creativity. Both are from the Catalonia principality of Spain.
ORIOL SERVIA (No. 5 KV Racing Technology): “I’ve always liked his work for many reasons and I’ve always had something of his typical drawings on my helmets for the last 15 years. I’ve had the melting watches. For the last year and a half, I’ve had his face on the side. I think it’s very cool because it’s his typical crazy face and also the way he looks from the car it’s almost like he’s peeking out from the cockpit. It gives the helmet a different look.
“I’m not a big art person in general, but I love his work because there’s so much detail in it. He was so creative and he’s one of the few painters that got to see his success. It was always an inspiration to see somebody so creative and being successful doing his own thing. We only see his craziness, but he was a really hard worker.
“I believe there are some similarities. (As a race car driver) you have to be creative and you are doing something completely different than most people. You’re doing something that most people would tell you you’re crazy the first time you tell them you want to do it.”
*** Firestone officials have selected Team E as the winner of the Firestone Image Award for this weekend’s races. At each event, Firestone pays a bonus of $1,000 to the team that Firestone Racing officials vote as the best representative of Firestone.
Winners in 2008 are: Brian Stewart Racing (Homestead-Miami) and Team E (St. Petersburg).
FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS POST-RACE NOTES:
This is Richard Antinucci’s third career victory in Firestone Indy Lights. His previous wins came last season at Mid-Ohio and Infineon 2.
This is the 23rd Firestone Indy Lights victory for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. This is J.R. Hildebrand’s career-best finish in his fourth start in the series. This is the best finish in Firestone Indy Lights for RLR/Andersen Racing. Andrew Prendeville finished third for the team last year at Infineon 2. This is Logan Gomez’s best finish on a road/street course. The Chicagoland winner was fourth at Infineon 2 last year. Gomez tied the Firestone Indy Lights record for greatest advance from start to finish (20). Jaime Camara set the record at Homestead-Miami in 2007.
FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS POST-RACE QUOTES:
RICHARD ANTINUCCI (No. 7 Lucas Oil/Sam Schmidt Motorsports, finished first): “Rafa (Matos) was really quick this weekend. He and the AGR guys did a great job all weekend, but we were right behind them. We made a few changes to the car last night and I think that helped. We slowly took our stride today. Things got a little bit hairy with my teammate (Ana Beatriz), which is the worst of all situations. We were fighting out there and I didn't want to make a dangerous move, but I just ran out of room. (About the incident with Ana Beatriz): “It was a racing incident, and I'm not going to start blaming Bea. She's a great driver and what she was doing was incredible. I'm going to apologize and hopefully have reasonable, mutual understanding that it was a racing incident.”
J.R. HILDEBRAND (No. 25 RLR/Andersen Racing, finished second): “We rolled out of the box really well. The first four guys have been at the top of the time charts most of the weekend. We've been struggling a little bit this weekend with the ALMS rubber on the track, but the IndyCar Series going out to practice before our race today made it a little bit easier. It was just a hectic, typical street course race. I'm just really glad to make it through all of the attrition and come out on the podium.”
LOGAN GOMEZ (No. 23 Menards Guthrie Racing, finished third): “The podium finish was definitely better than I expected since we've been having trouble all week. Homestead was a rough start to the season, and we had some gearbox issues in yesterday's race. It's great to comeback from dead last. From 23rd to third - 20 spots - that's a pretty good race.”
DILLON BATTISTINI (No. 15 Panther Racing, finished fourth): “I’m pleased to come away with that result after the way my weekend’s gone on. I thought I was just having one of those weekends where nothing could possibly go right. But luckily, I just managed to pick them off in that race. I kept my nose clean and let everybody else park it in the wall. I’m quite pleased with myself. Yesterday was a bit of disaster. I was going forward, but then I punched a hole in my oil cooler and it started spraying oil all over my rear tire. So I started to drop back and then eventually lost oil pressure and had to retire. It was a bit of a comedown after last weekend, but we’ve salvaged something today, so it’s nice to finish it on a bit of a high.”
SEAN GUTHRIE (No. 4 Car Crafters Guthrie Racing, finished fifth): “I sure am happy. The Guthrie Racing team has had a stroke of bad luck. From me spinning on the pace lap at Homestead, to the gearbox problems in both cars all weekend. Finally we just said, ‘Let’s just hold on.’ We drove a smart race. My teammate finished third, we finished fifth. We’re just ecstatic.”
RAPHAEL MATOS (No. 27 Automatic Fire Sprinklers, Inc.): “I was trying to outbrake (Jeff) Simmons and was already on the inside, and he just turned into me. I don’t think he had any business doing that. He knew I was at least a half-a-second faster than he was and that I was going to pass him anyway. I got a run on him on the restart and he just closed the door and ruined my race and his race as well. I’m very disappointed for everyone on the AFS Racing/Andretti Green Racing team. There’s no question we had the best car all weekend. We came out of the weekend with one win, but we would have liked to have won both races.”
*** #25 Roth will not start the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg due to damage from this morning’s accident during the warm-up session that cannot be repaired in time for the race.
*** Andretti Green Promotions, the Indy Racing League, American Honda and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker have reached an agreement to pursue an extension of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg for four more years. That is in addition to the one additional year already under contract, for a total of five more years of IndyCar Series racing on the Streets of St. Petersburg. The deal is pending approval from city council. The Mayor intends to present the plan to City Council within the next few weeks. All parties have expressed a commitment to work through any issues that may arise with the possible construction of a new baseball stadium downtown.
RICK BAKER (Mayor of St. Petersburg): “(The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg) is becoming, more and more, a tradition that is part of the fabric of our city. As children growing up become race fans, as people throughout the city get to know the sport, they see it as an improvement to the quality of life of our city. It’s for that reason that I am thrilled to be able to say that the folks at this table have agreed that we think the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg should continue to come to St. Petersburg for the next five years.”
KEVIN SAVOREE (Managing Director, Andretti Green Promotions): “On behalf of Andretti Green (Promotions), I can’t express how excited we are right now to have this piece of our model nailed down for the next several years. To say that we’re coming here through 2013, it really starts to speak to the stability of racing here in St. Petersburg. We’re here to stay. We’ve got a great product with the American Le Mans Series and with the IndyCar Series.”
TONY GEORGE (Founder and CEO, Indy Racing League): “We’re very fortunate to have this group of partners come together to create what has become a signature event in the Indy Racing League and IndyCar Series. We’re very happy to be a part of it. We consider it a part of our season-beginning events. It helps us all to get off to a great start. No one does a better job of showcasing the IndyCar Series, particularly on a street circuit.”
*** Firestone Indy Lights driver Raphael Matos injured his wrist during today’s race. He was evaluated by Dr. Michael Olinger, director of medical services for the Indy Racing League. X-rays were negative, and Matos is cleared to drive.
*** HONDA GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERSBURG POST-RACE NOTES:
Graham Rahal wins his first IndyCar Series start. He joins Buzz Calkins (Walt Disney World, 1996), Juan Montoya (Indianapolis, 2000) and Scott Dixon (Homestead-Miami, 2003) as drivers to win in their first IndyCar Series start.
Rahal is the youngest driver to win a major open-wheel event at age 19 years, 93 days. Marco Andretti was the previous youngest winner at 19 years, 167 days when he won at Infineon in 2006. Rahal is the 12th IndyCar Series driver to win in his first season.
Helio Castroneves finished in the top two for the third consecutive season at St. Petersburg. He won the previous two races.
Tony Kanaan finished third for the third consecutive year at St. Petersburg. He has not finished lower than third in any of the four races at the track.
Hideki Mutoh finished a career-best sixth. His previous best was eighth at Chicagoland last season.
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 06 Hole in the Wall Camps, winner of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg): (About Helio running in 2nd at the end of the race) “Obviously Helio (Castroneves) is very successful and has won a lot of races, but at the same time I knew we had the pace and I knew if I could just keep calm we could pull away. We were pulling away before and we were aggressively fuel saving, so I knew if I could attack the car we could pull away.”
(About the last lap) “First of all, there’s one more and you just don’t want your focus to get off of the car and the race, so for me I just needed to keep calm and make it through the last set of corners, especially since there was a yellow out on Turn 11. So I just wanted to be cautious, but I knew we had quite the gap so I wasn’t too worried. This has just worked out so well. It’s awesome.”
BOBBY RAHAL (1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and Graham Rahal’s father): “Do you think he’ll ever listen to any advice from me again? He really thinks he knows everything now. Slowly he will take advice from me. He drove a phenomenal race and the crew did a great job. The engineer gave him a great car. He was fast at the end. That’s the best conditions, a lot of people banging each other, and he kept it together. I’d hire him, but I can’t afford him. I’m really pleased. Pleased for him and pleased for the team.”
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske, finished second): “It was so close. Team Penske did everything we could to get that car set up well, and I’m extremely happy to be a part of this organization. But in the slow section, the car was really pushing and I couldn’t take a chance. I’m happy because this proves that good teams with good drivers can do well. I’m extremely excited with the two series coming together. Second place is good. I wanted to win the race, but I’ll take it. In terms of the season championship, second is worth a lot.”
TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven, finished third): “Obviously things did not work out for us today. When you take risks, some days it works out for you, some days it doesn’t. We’re not very happy with our calls today, but I support the 7-Eleven team 100 percent because we win together and we lose together. Finishing third is not bad, but I think there is a curse on me here at St. Pete. I’ve finished on the podium every time I’ve been here but not in the right spot.”
EJ VISO (No. 33 PDVSA HVM Racing, finished fourth): “It went very well. We’re very happy. We know that we have the potential to be up there at the road courses. Now we just have to work harder on the ovals. I think the rain affected everybody. It was just about trying to keep the car in one piece and be as smooth as possible. There are many races left, and now we know that we can be at the top. We were almost as quick as the rest. We need to work a little bit more on the road courses and we will be on the podium soon.”
ENRIQUE BERNOLDI (No. 36 Opes Prime/Sangari, finished fifth): “I’ve been racing in the wet and the dry and changing situations my whole life, so I was used to it. I knew if I could stay on the track I could have a good race and fight for a win. I think after last week at the oval where I was so bad, I think it’s a big week for the whole team to be leading the race and to finish fifth. I’ve been out of open-wheel racing for more than two years. So it takes a while for me to get back. But I think this was good practice. Two hours in these conditions, it’s a big lift for us.”
HIDEKI MUTOH (No. 27 Formula Dream, finished sixth): “I was glad when the race started, but soon after I didn’t really know what was happening since it was so hard to see. The Formula Dream team gave me a great car in the dry condition, so I did my best to manage the car in the rain. When it started to dry up, I was looking for an opportunity to move forward and was able to make a good pass in the end. I enjoyed the race very much and I am looking forward to the next race.”
ORIOL SERVIA (No. 5 KV Racing Technology, finished seventh): “It was a decent race for the KV Racing Technology team, but one of those that leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth because we had a car that we could definitely fight for a win with, but it was such a crazy race. Not only did it rain, but people were on slicks at different times and then we had all those breaks with yellow flags. It was a big gamble. There was no right or wrong strategy I think. But, good for Newman/Haas/Lanigan and Graham Rahal. They took a gamble and won. I finished in the same place I started. We had a better car than that, but the whole weekend and the final result were encouraging.”
WILL POWER (No. 8 Aussie Vineyard-Team Australia, finished eighth): “It was a pretty wild race because of the weather. To come back and finish eighth was very good considering where we were at one point. I am very happy for the whole KV Racing Technology team and the Aussie Vineyards-Team Australia crew. At least we bought the car back in one piece for the second race in a row.”
JUSTIN WILSON (No. 02 McDonald’s Racing Team, finished ninth): “I’m a little disappointed with the result but very pleased with the way that everyone has worked. I felt that the McDonald’s car was very quick and we are capable of winning. But circumstances didn’t work out, so if I didn’t win I was very pleased that Graham (Rahal) did. It is obviously a great car and he’s a great teammate to have. I am very happy that he was able to win in his first IndyCar Series start. I think we will see a lot more of Graham.”
DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 Motorola, finished 10th): “We had an up and down race day. I am proud of myself for moving up in the positions at the end of the race. I was able to hold my own when we were on the wet tires. I think half the battle in races like these is just to stay out of the wrecks and to stay on the lead lap, which the Motorola car was able to do. We have some work to do. We need to fine tune our pit stops. We have to start putting it all together or we are not going to win races. Congratulations to the 7-Eleven team for making the podium today.”
*** The 2008 IndyCar Series season continues with the Indy Japan 300 on April 19 at Twin Ring Motegi. The race will be telecast in High Definition at Noon (EDT) by ESPN. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network, Friday, April 18 at 11:30 p.m. (EDT).
A Spanish-language telecast of the race will be carried by ESPNDeportes. The IMS Radio Network broadcast also is carried on XM Satellite Radio and www.indycar.com. The 2008 Firestone Indy Lights season continues April 27 at Kansas. The St. Pete 100 doubleheader will be telecast at 2 p.m. (EDT) on April 10 by ESPN2.