Young guns challenge veterans Gomez drives through the pack to podium finish Public to vote for Firestone “Tire”-rific move of the race Drivers reap post-race awards
1. Young guns challenge veterans: If the old guard hadn’t already been put on notice, they are sure to be looking over their shoulders now. A new guard – led by second- and third-generation drivers Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti – is poised to assume the leadership in the IndyCar Series.
Rahal, who at age 19 years, 93 days became the youngest winner of a major open-wheel race in history Sunday at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and Andretti, who previously held the honor from his 2006 win at Infineon when he was 19 years, 167 days, are fourth and fifth in points, respectively, after the first two races of the 2008 season.
Sitting on top of the standings, but perhaps uncomfortably so, are veterans Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan.
“I think it's great,” said Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion. “We need the Rahals, we need the Andrettis, we need new names. Helio and I, we were far and away more stupid than they are when we were 19. I have to say it makes us look really old. Can you imagine when Graham was born, Helio and I were racing already. That's not cool, is it?”
The “kids” are succeeding despite the pressure of growing up in famous racing families.
“We're talking about Bobby Rahal's son,” Castroneves said. “Bobby Rahal is a legend. I remember watching him. Wow. Now all of a sudden his son followed in his steps. That's a big deal. It's a lot of pressure for him, for Marco, to repeat, for A.J. Foyt (IV), for those guys to repeat what their grandfathers and fathers did in the past.”
“There's always pressure, and having any last name, whether it's Marco, myself, A.J. (Foyt IV), anybody that's had a successful father or grandfather, or both in some cases, there's always pressure to do well, and there's pressure to get your first win and see if you really can do it,” said Rahal, who joined Dixon as one of only four drivers to win in their first career IndyCar Series start.
The pressure couldn’t have been greater than the closing laps of Sunday’s Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg when Rahal saw two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Castroneves in his mirrors. “I have to say, if I was 19 years old, restarting, three laps to go, and you have Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan behind you, I was going to be kind of worried,” Kanaan said. “He played it so cool, so I guess he proved how good he is.”
Despite the praise, the old guard won’t go away quietly. “I think they are very capable race car drivers,” Kanaan said. “They're going to give us a lot of hard times, so I wish them the best, and I'm looking forward to beating them in the future.”
*** 2. Gomez drives through the pack to podium finish: Logan Gomez expected to move up from his 23rd starting spot in the Firestone Indy Lights St. Pete 100 Race #2 on April 6. He didn't expect to pass 20 cars.
Gomez dodged the carnage of several on-track incidents en route to a third-place finish – his best finish of the season.
"A podium 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 come back from dead last. From 23rd to third - 20 spots - that's a pretty good race."
Race director Tony Cotman was equally impressed with the 19-year-old from Crown Point, Ind. "The driver of the 23 was the smartest driver in the race today," Cotman said. "He deserved to finish on the podium because he drove with his head today."
Gomez won't have time to rest on the laurels of his season-best finish. He and the Menards Guthrie Racing team will participate in a Firestone Indy Lights Open Test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on April 11.
"I'm looking forward to the test," he said. "I feel that this team is very well prepared for ovals. We have a few things to work out with the car that we saw at Homestead, and we'd like to improve. I think my teammate Sean (Guthrie) and I have a good shot at being the top-two during the test."
*** 3. Public to vote for Firestone “Tire”-rific move of the race: Fans will have the ultimate say in who receives a $10,000 race bonus from Firestone each week. After each IndyCar Series race, Firestone executives will pick three “Tire”-rific Moves of the Race, on-track moves where the drivers had to rely on their Firestone Firehawk tires. Fans can vote for the winner at indycar.com.
Marco Andretti won the fans’ vote from the race at Homestead-Miami by 1 percentage point and was awarded $10,000 during pre-race ceremonies at St. Petersburg.
From the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, fans can choose from: Graham Rahal running the final 38 laps on a set of slicks and pulling away to win. Helio Castroneves moving into contention by running on a set of slicks for 38 laps. Enrique Bernoldi making an early switch to slicks, helping him move from 18th to finish fifth. In past seasons, Firestone has awarded the bonus to the driver who led the lap that corresponded to the total number of races in IndyCar Series history.
*** 4. Drivers reap post-race awards: Graham Rahal reaped the benefits from winning the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Rahal was presented an IndyCar Series timepiece from Ritmo Mundo, the official timepiece of the IndyCar Series. Ritmo Mundo presents a timepiece to the winner of each IndyCar Series event in 2008. Rahal also collected the $2,000 XTrac Award and a $1,000 Bosch Award.
Tony Kanaan collected the PEAK Motor Oil Pole Award and its $10,000 prize, while Enrique Bernoldi claimed the Lincoln Welders Hard Charger Award and its $2,000 prize for being the race leader who started furthest back.
*** 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 3 p.m. (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.