Ryan Briscoe kicked off the 2009 IndyCar Series season with a victory in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The win was Briscoe’s third and Team Penske’s 30th in the IndyCar Series. The combo also won the non-points race in Australia after the 2008 season.
Briscoe led 46 of 100 laps and held off Ryan Hunter-Reay by 0.4619 of a second to claim the victory. Justin Wilson finished third after leading a race high 52 laps.
Wilson took the lead in the first turn of the race as the field went four wide into the first corner. Graham Rahal, who a day earlier became the youngest pole winner in IndyCar Series history, was hit and spun sideways into the grass and fell back to 21st. The defending race winner drove back through the field to a seventh-place finish.
Wilson led the first 34 laps on alternate tires. Known as “reds,” the tires will be used on all road/street course races as an alternative to the primary tires. The red-sidewalled tires offer more grip but less durability.
Briscoe took the lead when Wilson pitted and held the lead until the next round of pit stops when Wilson came out in front. Wilson was the leader on a Lap 86 restart when Briscoe moved to the inside heading into Turn 1 and passed for the lead. Hunter-Reay got past Wilson in Turn 4 for second.
Hunter-Reay turned in the best finish ever for Vision Racing, coming just one week after signing with the team. Wilson turned in the best IndyCar Series finish for Dale Coyne Racing in his debut with the team.
Dario Franchitti finished fourth in his first race since winning the series championship in 2007, and Tony Kanaan finished fifth.
The race was the first televised on VERSUS.
Also on Sunday, Junior Strous won the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Race 2 Firestone Indy Lights event, completing a sweep of the doubleheader weekend. Strous edged pole sitter Sebastian Saavedra by .4428 of a second to become the third Firestone Indy Lights driver to open a season with two victories.
FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS POST-RACE NOTES:
· Junior Strous sweeps the doubleheader set of races at St. Petersburg. He is the third driver to win the first two races of the season, joining Mark Taylor (2003) and Alex Lloyd (2007). Both of those drivers went on to win the championship.
· This is the third time a driver has swept a doubleheader weekend in the 11 times the format has been used. All three of the sweeps have occurred at St. Petersburg. Raphael Matos won both races in 2006, and Lloyd won both races in 2007.
· Sebastien Saavedra finished second, earning the first podium finish of his career.. He finished 26th yesterday due to mechanical problems.
· James Hinchcliffe finished third, earning the first podium finish of his career. He finished sixth yesterday.
· Jonathan Summerton finished fourth, improving 12 positions from his 16th-place starting spot.
· The top four finishers are rookies.
· Daniel Herrington finished fifth, the second top-five finish of his career.
· Charlie Kimball finished seventh, improving 11 positions from his 18th-place starting spot.
· Rodrigo Barbosa improved 12 positions to finish 13th after starting 25th.
· Sergey Mokshantsev improved 13 positions to finish 14th after starting 27th.
FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS POST-RACE QUOTES:
JUNIOR STROUS (No. 18 Shell V-Power Knaus HTP, first): “The team has done an amazing job. We're a new outfit so this gives us a lot of confidence for our next race at Long Beach. We saved our tires in qualifying, so for both races we had a new set of tires while the other guys ran used tires. Both races it was hard to get the temperature in, but after about ten laps the Firestones really gave me enough grip to win the race.”
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA (No. 27 Automatic Fire Sprinklers, Inc., second): “I'm much more happy than yesterday. The team did a great job with the setup. We had the perfect car, and I was able to push it as hard as I could. In the last restart, I don't think I had as much temperature as I would have liked in the tires, so I was not able to break him (Strous). But I'm happy. It is a great success for AFS/Andretti Green Racing. We'll hope for the best next race.”
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 7 Hinchtown/Sam Schmidt Motorsports, third): “It's a really tough track, especially in this heat. It was slippery out there. I don't think we had the quickest car, but the No. 7 Hinchtown.com car was very consistent. We just managed to drive smart and stay out of trouble. I think that was the key today. I don't know if I would have been able to make it in front of some of the guys without that. We were running seventh for a good part of the race. But like I said, I was able to keep my nose clean. There were some close calls out there. The team did a great job. They worked hard on this car all weekend long, so for us to finish on the podium is just awesome.”
JONATHAN SUMMERTON (No. 9 Andersen Racing/Allied Interior Products, fourth): “It was awesome – tons of fun. We went from 16th to fourth. I don’t think you could have asked for much more. My goal was top five and we did it. We had a car that I know could have won the race. It’s just a shame we couldn’t get clear air to run the lap times, because I know we had the fastest car out there for sure. The car was awesome. Allied and Andersen have done a good job putting the car together. I really thank them this weekend. We started off rough and ended on a high.”
DANIEL HERRINGTON (No. 28 LeBleu/Bryan Herta Autosport, fifth): “It went pretty well. We obviously took advantage of some incidents out there and made one or two passes. We made some changes overnight that really helped out the car. The car was much faster than it showed, it’s just really hard to get around this place with other cars. So we took advantage where we could and ended up fifth, which was great. We got a pretty solid result out of it. It’s too bad we couldn’t have started further up, because I think we could have run in the top three speed-wise.”
Junior Strous is the first driver to win the Firestone Repeat Bonus for winning back-to-back races since the program was introduced at the start of the 2008 season. Strous wins $5,000 and is eligible to win another $5,000 if he wins on the streets of Long Beach on April 19.
A large contingent of U.S. Armed Forces servicemen and servicewomen who recently returned from tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan watched the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg from grandstand seats on the frontstretch grandstand.
Bobby Rahal attended Friday and Saturday’s activities in St. Petersburg and had intended on returning to New Albany, Ohio to watch today’s race on TV. After his son Graham won the pole, however, Bobby changed his mind and decided to stay.
BOBBY RAHAL (1986 Indianapolis 500 winner, father of Graham Rahal): “It would have been tough to go home and watch it on TV with Graham on pole. Luckily, I have a very understanding wife.” (About the knockout-style of qualifying): “I think the qualifying process these days is a lot of pressure for the drivers. I was really thrilled for Graham that he did such a good job. Beating the guys that he beat, that’s the crème de la crème.” (About the possibility of Graham winning the championship): “A lot has to go there way. You have to finish races. It’s pretty early to try and make prognostications like that. I think they’ve had some good oval tests last fall, so I think they’ll be a lot stronger this year on the ovals. For Graham, I think it’s going to be one year later, just that much more experience. He’s got a new engineer, who came from AGR, so I’m sure he’s got a lot of information that was used over there. I think there’s no reason they can’t be equally as strong on the ovals as they are on the road courses.” (About how often he communicates with Graham): “We talk quite often during the day each day. We’ve always had a very close relationship. I don’t provide advice unless asked for, really. We’re always talking something about cars.”
Veteran driver Roberto Moreno has been working with rookie Stanton Barrett this weekend.
ROBERTO MORENO: “It’s for this race. I’m hoping to drive at Indy if I can find a break. A relationship with a team and a driver now helps me to stay involved and helps him on the road courses. If he asks me to go to the next race (in Long Beach), I will. I’m working on sponsorship at the moment. With a bit of luck, we’ll put it together.
Andretti Green Promotions and the City of St. Petersburg announced today they will discuss an extension of their current agreement in the near future.
“We met as recently as last night to discuss our interest in adding an additional year to our current agreement, which runs through 2013,” said Kevin Savoree, co-owner of Andretti Green and Managing Director of the Honda Grand Prix. “Our agreement provides a timeline for that process and that timeline begins April 30. Mayor Baker and I share a passion for this event, for sure, and we’re looking forward to sitting down later this month.”
Andretti Green also confirmed it is working with Indy Racing League officials to determine the date for next year’s event, with full knowledge that Easter Weekend falls on the first weekend of April, 2010.
INDYCAR SERIES POST-RACE NOTES:
Ryan Briscoe wins his third IndyCar Series race. His other victories came at Milwaukee and Mid-Ohio last year. Briscoe also won the non-points race at Surfers Paradise after the 2008 season. This is the 30th IndyCar Series victory for Team Penske. This is the third time a Team Penske driver has won in the five events at St. Petersburg. Helio Castroneves won in 2006 and 2007. Ryan Hunter-Reay finished second, his second career top-five finish in 24 starts. He won last year at Watkins Glen. Hunter-Reay recorded the best finish in Vision Racing history. The team’s previous best was third at Kentucky in 2007 with A.J. Foyt IV and at Milwaukee in 2006 with Tomas Scheckter. Justin Wilson finished third, his third career top-five finish. Wilson recorded Dale Coyne Racing’s best finish in the IndyCar Series. Its previous best was sixth at Watkins Glen last year with Bruno Junqueira. Dario Franchitti finished fourth, his fifth consecutive top-10 finish in the IndyCar Series dating back to Kentucky 2007. Tony Kanaan finished fifth, his 67th career top-five finish. He is the all-time leader in top-five finishes. He had been tied with Helio Castroneves. This is Kanaan’s fourth consecutive top-five finish, dating back to Infineon 2008. Kanaan has never finished outside of the top five at St. Petersburg. The top five finishers came from five different teams. Will Power finished sixth in his Team Penske debut. Power has three consecutive top-10 finishes dating to Belle Isle 2008. ***
INDYCAR SERIES POST-RACE QUOTES:
RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 Team Penske, first): “At the end there, we had some restarts and I was able to get Justin Wilson down on the inside. Team Penske gave me a great car today. Roger Penske calls my strategy, and it was just absolutely perfect today. This is our first race of the season, and it’s such a great feeling to kick it off with a race win. The conditions were tough – it was very tricky on restarts. The tires would get very cold, and it would be very slippery. It was a challenge to keep it between the white lines and off the wall. I had some strong challenges from behind, but my car was very strong today, and I was able to hold them off.”
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 21 Vision Racing, second): “It was a good, clean race for us. Late in the race, I was thinking long term with points. You couldn’t step a foot off line without jeopardizing your car, so I kept it line for the team. It’s been a long week for everyone on the team and everyone who worked on getting the car here deserves the credit.”
JUSTIN WILSON (No. 19 Sonny’s Bar-B-Q, third): “It’s been a fantastic weekend. The Sonny’s Bar-B-Q car has been working fantastic. On that restart, I got out-dragged on the front straight. There’s not much you can do. You can’t block. It’s just one of those things. I was just disappointed because you can’t do any more.”
DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Air Wick, fourth): “The Air Wick car was pretty quick, especially at the end, but we lost track position. Some of the other guys maybe caught a lucky break there and jumped us in the pits. But all through the day we made it a little better. The one thing it wasn’t doing well was using tires. You could see that at the start when Justin (Wilson) and I were fighting and Justin was able to pull away further and further. That last stint was good for us because we had a chance to cool them down again. We’ve got a little bit of work to do, but it was definitely a good start.” (About the start of the race): “I went out this morning and practiced where I needed to brake in order to get into the corner without locking the wheels, and then everyone just stood on the brakes and I saw a gap o pen up so I went for it. The biggest problem we had all day is anytime someone would go on your inside or you would go on someone’s inside, if you went off line, you were just done. The track was so dirty it was probably the worst marbles I’ve ever seen. And that was why you saw a lot of people go slightly off line and then crash in the next corner.”
TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven, fifth): “It was a tough race, flat out from lap one to the last lap. I feel sorry for Graham (Rahal), but he got chopped up. He had to stop in the middle of the corner, but I wasn't expecting him to do that. It cost us a few spots. The beauty is, it's so competitive right now that it's so much fun. I am dead tired. My arms are cramping because we had to push the whole way. I've got to thank my guys, the whole 7-Eleven team on the pit stops and the strategy. It's a shame, on the start, Dario (Franchitti) dive-bombed everybody and Graham (Rahal) tried to avoid him, and he came to a stop. I couldn't do anything. I couldn't avoid him, and unfortunately I ended up breaking my front wing and I had to come in. It was a fun race. I cam e all the way from the back to finish fifth." (About the alternate tires): "They're definitely a lot of fun. There is a little bit of a difference. I know Firestone is going to make a bigger one. It just makes it more exciting for sure. It brings extra excitement for the fans and a lot of work for us.”
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 02 McDonald’s Racing Team, seventh): “The race started bad right from the beginning for the McDonald’s team. I was conservative on the start, and I’m guessing it was (Tony) Kanaan that punted me. It’s absolutely ridiculous, and you would expect a guy like that with experience to know it’s the first corner of the first lap of the first race of the season. Why make moves like that? From there it was just battling back all day trying to find a way to get the car back up to the front. We certainly inched away at it to get back up to seventh from last place, and I’m pretty happy with that, but I think the results should have and could have been better. Our race car was pretty good, but it could have been better. The tires were really good, but they wore out towards the end of a stint. One was out of balance and started vibrating like crazy. On one set of tires near the end of the stint, the car didn’t want to turn right whatsoever and I lost a lot of positions. I was supposed to come in one lap later but I said, ‘Hey, I have to come in now.’ It had been that way for about 10 laps. We had a couple of little issues here and there, but we made it to the end.”
VITOR MEIRA (No. 14 ABC Supply Co. AJ Foyt Racing, ninth): “It was a survivor's race. I almost went out when (Alex) Tagliani blocked me. We had to replace the nose, which put us to the rear. It is so hard to recover from that. I had the pace and was able to run with people, but once you're behind it is really hard to catch up. I feel we had a little luck just to finish today.”
ALEX TAGLIANI (No. 34 Rexall Edmonton Indy, 10th): “We had bad luck today. It was unfortunate at the start. I tried to avoid a free for all. I had to get on the inside of the track to avoid not wrecking with Graham (Rahal), who was spinning in front of everyone. That cost us a couple of positions, and then I got a puncture because (Vitor) Meira punted me from behind on the back straightaway. I don’t know what he was thinking. That cost us our race right there. I went a lap down because of that. We were just unlucky, because the Rexall Edmonton Indy car was really quick. We put in the second-fastest lap of the race at the end. I think if we would have been in the mix, we would have had a good run. I just wasn’t at the right place at the right time. I want to thank the team for doing a fantastic job this weekend. I wanted to give them, as well as Northlands and the Rexall Edmonton Indy, a better result than this, but at least we showed that Conquest Racing is a very competitive team and that we can fight with the best of them.”
The 2009 IndyCar Series season continues April 19 with the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on the streets of Long Beach, Calif.. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) by VERSUS. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network, XM channel 145 and Sirius channel 126. The radio broadcast also will be carried on indycar.com. The Firestone Indy Lights Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be telecast at 6 p.m. (EDT) on April 6 by VERSUS. The 2009 Firestone Indy Lights season continues April 19 at Long Beach. The race will be telecast at 4 p.m. (EDT) on April 20 by VERSUS.