With a long off-season, all the stars of the Verizon IndyCar Series were itching to get back to the track. None, perhaps, were more excited to get back to business than Team Penske’s Will Power, coming into 2014 with the momentum of having won the final two events of the prior season.
The Australian driver picked up right where he left off. Making his mark on the season early, Will Power took a convincing win in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg this past Sunday.
Will Power, driving the #12 Chevrolet engined Verizon entry completed the 110 laps over the 1.8 mile, 14 turn circuit with an average speed of 93.572 mph. He crossed the line with a 1.95 second advantage over second place finisher Ryan Hunter-Reay. Power was joined on the podium by his Penske Racing teammate, Helio Castroneves, who came home third. 2013 Series Champion Scott Dixon took fourth, while Simon Pagenaud rounded out the top-five.
“ Obviously the perfect way to start. Kind of struggled a little bit during the weekend with the setup. Definitely made a good race car, said Power. ”As a team I think we worked very well together to get the most out of our cars. It’s been a real team effort. Real happy to get the Verizon car in Victory Lane again.”
Throughout qualifying, A.J. Foyt Racing’s Takuma Sato was the man to beat. Sato easily earned the pole and dominated the first segment of the race. As various teams tried different pit strategies, Sato pulled out a comfortable lead. Sato seemed to get the most out of the softer Red tires and made them last longer than most. When he switched to the Blacks, the handling of his car became unbalanced, and he surrendered the lead to Power.
Sato ended his day with a seventh place, but the impressive drive should serve notice to the larger teams that Sato will be a force to be reckoned with through the season.
Many eyes were on Juan Montoya in his return to IndyCars. Montoya treated the day almost like a test session, getting himself comfortable with the car. Those hoping that Montoya would instantly return to the form he showed in 1999 must have been disappointed with a quiet, uneventful run to 15th place.
Montoya, however didn’t seem disappointed, “I thought it went pretty well,” he said. “We were just burning up the rear tires. We learned. We passed some people, some people passed us. There’s a few things we have to do better. But I didn’t feel my pace was too bad at the end. When I was pushing, my pace was good. I was keeping up.”
While the race seemed a bit devoid of excitement, certainly is was not without controversy. With Will Power leading the field to green on a restart at lap 82, the cars suddenly became bunched as the leader seemed to brake-check the field. When it seemed that Power should have accelerated, he slowed to a crawl instead. The accordion effect behind him resulted in Marco Andretti and rookie, Jack Hawksworth making contact with one another, ending their day.
Power explained that it was a snafu with the flagging “Basically the pace car pulls off and you can set the pace you want. We weren’t even in the zone that you have, the 200 yards or whatever it is, to decide for the leader to go when he wants. They actually threw the green before I was even in the zone, so it was confusing to me. I didn’t touch the brakes, did not touch the brakes.”
Power’s teammate, Helio Castroneves, had a different perspective from his second-place position. ” He did play. You got to understand, Will and I know each other for a long time.” said Castroneves, “He know my tricks. I didn’t quite know that trick from him, and he got me, which is good.”
Brake check or not, Power was not penalized and he continued on to win the event and take the early points lead. The Verizon Indycar season continues April 13 at the Long Beach Grand Prix.