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The Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg

by • April 1, 2013 • UncategorizedComments (0)1267

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IndyCar has a new star, a 25-year-old Canadian with a great sense of humor and a great deal of talent. James Hinchcliffe scored his first IndyCar win at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg last Sunday, in a race which introduced a cadre of quick young drivers who will take IndyCar into the future.

James Hinchcliffe, No. 27 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet: “I don’t think you can get much better than winning the first one because as soon as I crossed the line I burst into tears, and I never thought that was going to happen when I won my first race. But that was a hard battle in fighting off those Penske cars because they were strong and to get the GoDaddy.com Chevrolet to victory lane and the first win in IndyCar is just so special. Everybody at Go Daddy is so incredible and everybody did such a good job. I am exhausted, but just elated at the same time.”

Hinchcliffe drove a strong race last Sunday, even overtaking Will Power, who many feel is the quickest road course driver in IndyCar. Then on the last restart, with 30 laps to go, Hinchcliffe capitalized when Helio Castroneves ran wide into Turn One and took the lead. Through the final 30 laps of the race, Hinchcliffe held off Castroneves, a three-time St. Petersburg winner who was desperate for his fourth win here. Hinchcliffe passed Helio Castroneves on the final restart to take the lead and held on to win by 1.09 seconds over the defending race winner. He became the first Canadian to win since Paul Tracy’s 2007 victory at Cleveland in the CART Series, and Hinchcliffe waved the Canadian flag as he climbed from his car.

Hinchcliffe didn’t crack under the pressure. Despite Castroneves being on the quicker Red tires while Hinchcliffe was on Blacks, the AA driver stayed in front until finally the Penske driver’s tires were spent. As important as Hinchcliffe’s win were the performances of several other young drivers. AA’s Marco Andretti finished second, Simona di Silvestro qualified third and finished sixth, and rookie Tristan Vautier was running fourth up until his retirement. It was Andretti’s career-best finish on the downtown street course, and he used a late push to pass Simona de Silvestro with two laps to go to get the podium finish. “I’ve been working so hard in the offseason, not just in the physically, but on places where I’ve been lacking and these places have been a weak point for me,” said Andretti, who praised de Silvestro but said in the closing laps, “I had to muscle her a little bit. I needed a podium.”

Regarding Hinchcliffe’s win and the team’s performance, Andretti bubbled, “It is awesome to see him win, and it makes you feel so good. To come out the way we did and with all of our cars running good is great. James (Hinchcliffe) was on it from the start and he showed to be very determined. He didn’t put a wheel wrong all weekend and he drove his butt off. I am very happy that GoDaddy got its first win with us.” Tony Kanaan got fourth with Scott Dixon, who started 20th, steadily moved through the field to gain fifth place on the last lap. The top-four finishers drove Chevrolets while Dixon gave Honda its best finish. “It’s been a good weekend for us,” she said. “Unfortunately, we lost a few positions at the end as we kind of ran out of tires. I think we can be pretty happy with sixth. It was really cool to be up front all day with Will (Power), (James) Hinchcliffe and everybody; it was awesome.” Seventh through 10th were E. J. Viso, Takuma Sato, Justin Wilson and Alex Tagliani.

An accident during a caution flag damaged the third-place car of Will Power, forcing him to pit for a flat tire and a mirror replacement. In the incident, J. R. Hildebrand drove over the side of the Power car. Although dropping in the standings, he rebounded only to spin out of race on the 103rd lap, finishing 16th three laps behind. Dario Franchitti, another fan favorite, crashed out of the race early, finishing last in the standings. Said Franchitti, “We really struggled with the Target car this weekend. I was trying to make up for it and just stepped over the line on cold tires. It was totally my mistake.”

In the Pirelli World Challenge Alex Figge was declared the GT class winner following post-race technical inspection, meanwhile Jack Baldwin, took the GTS win in the opening round of the Pirelli World Challenge Championships at the St. Petersburg Sports Car Challenge presented by StopTech. On the track, Ryan Dalziel made the most of a late yellow flag brought out by the stranded No. 51 Nissan/Motul/OSGiken/SPL/Sparco Nissan 370Z GTS of Ric Bushey on lap 26. Dalziel got the jump on the lap 31 restart and passed the No. 9 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60 of Figge for the lead, taking the checkered flag in first.

The front splitter of Dalziel’s No. 46 Privacy Star/Entrust Porsche 911 GT3 was declared out of compliance in post-race technical inspection, however, resulting in a disqualification and elevating Figge to his third career victory. “I don’t know what to say about winning a race in the tech shed,” Figge said once the results had been made final. “Ryan and I are close friends, and I’ve known the guys at TrueSpeed for a long time. I know they didn’t do anything intentional, and you hate to win this way.”

Tony Gaples scored the Sunoco Hard Charger award, improving five positions in the No. 11 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro.

James Sofronas and Jack Baldwin took home Pirelli World Challenge GT and GTS class wins, respectively, in Sunday’s Round Two at the St. Petersburg Sports Challenge presented by StopTech.
Sofronas scored the first Audi win in GT since 2004 when Michael Galati drove an RS6 to victory at Road America, and the latest Audi win since Adam Pecorari won in the Touring Car class in an A4 at Mosport in 2007. Sofronas crossed the line just 0.301 second ahead of Randy Pobst in the 34-lap race at the 14-turn, 1.8-mile street course on the streets of St. Petersburg.

“I got a lot of help from my teammate Alex Figge, who won yesterday. He was quick this weekend, and I learned from his data and got better. I feel bad for Alex, he had a little problem today and something took him out. But it’s a long season, and I just tried to keep my nose clean and darn near got another win for the K-PAX Volvo.” Defending Driver’s Champion Johnny O’Connell, of Flowery Branch, Ga., finished third in the No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac CTS-V.R. O’Connell finished the race weekend with a pair of podiums, bringing his Pirelli World Challenge career total to 16 top-threes.

Sofronas leaves the weekend as the Drivers’ Championship leader in GTS with 259 points, ahead of Figge (207), Pobst and O’Connell (190 each), and Pilgrim (165). Audi and Volvo each scored 17 points in the Manufacturers’ Championship, with Cadillac third with 10. Baldwin’s 294 points came on two GTS wins to lead the class, with Aschenbach and Cunningham tied for second with 190. Lee (154) sits fourth after the opening weekend, while Wilkins scored a pair of sixth-place finishes worth 152 points. Chevrolet leads the GTS Manufacturers’ Championship with 15 points, over Acura (10) and Kia (3).

Round Three of the Pirelli World Challenge will take place April 19-21 at the Long Beach Grand Prix presented by Kia, as part of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

No one could touch Matthew Brabham on the downtown streets of St. Petersburg. The 19-year-old third-generation racer – grandson of three-time Formula 1 World Champion Sir Jack Brabham and son of sports car champion Geoff – won both legs of the Allied Building Products Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to claim a commanding lead after four rounds of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires.

“It was an awesome race,” said the Florida-born Brabham. “The team has been working so hard. The guys at Andretti are doing such a great job and to get a one-two in this race just shows how hard they have been working and how good the cars are. It has been a special weekend for the team with James [Hinchcliffe] winning”

Andretti Autosport teammate Shelby Blackstock (#28 Team Starstruck) finished a career-best second this afternoon after starting from the pole position, backing up his third place from Saturday, while Round 1 winner Diego Ferreira finished a distant third in Juncos Racing’ s #57 Team Vi5o Venezuela/Mindeporte entry.

After four races, Brabham leads Ferreira by a 13-point margin, 118 to 105. Blackstock holds down third place on 82 points ahead of Pigot on 64. The Pro Mazda competitors will now take a mini-break before resuming for Round 5 at the Lucas Oil Raceway oval in Indianapolis, part of the traditional “Night Before the 500” event on Saturday, May 25.

The IndyCar Series races again in two weeks at the Barber Motorsports Park, in Birmingham, Alabama, for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

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