ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (March 27, 2011) – Verizon Team Penske’s Will Power battled back from a difficult start, that also affected his teammates, to finish second Sunday in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – the 2011 season opener for the IZOD IndyCar Series.
The defending champion at the 1.8-mile St. Petersburg street circuit, Power started from the pole position but was shuffled back during a mishap on an early restart during the 100-lap race. He fell back to seventh place but battled back to finish second behind Dario Franchitti.
Meanwhile, Team Penske teammates Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves also saw their cars damaged due to contact at the start of the race, but after making repairs, both drivers returned to action and finished in 18th and 20th place, respectively.
Power’s effort was a solid start to the 2011 season for the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Honda team, which finished a close second to Franchitti in last season’s championship standings. “I’m just glad to get good points in the first race,” said Power, who won the pole Saturday and produced a victory from the pole last season at St. Pete. After his car was hit from behind early in the race, Power fell back in the field but he recovered to post his ninth podium result in his last 10 road or street course races.
“It was a very interesting start today,” added Power, the series’ defending Mario Andretti Road Course champion. “Dario Franchitti got me fair and square at the beginning. When we had all of the restarts after caution periods, we got hit hard and (the car) went into neutral. We dropped to seventh position but were able to get back up to second again. I was in survival mode after getting hit. I struggled a lot on the black (Firestone tires) today and I was trying to hold (Tony) Kanaan off as he was hounding on me from behind. It was a good start to the season for Verizon Team Penske.”
Team Penske’s other two entries battled hard to recover from early damage suffered in a first-lap incident that claimed several cars. Briscoe’s No. 6 IZOD Team Penske Dallara/Honda suffered suspension damage and lost a portion of its front wing early in the race, and the resulting repairs left Briscoe five laps down to the race leaders. He made up several spots on track before taking the checkered flag in 18th place.
“It was a frustrating day today for the IZOD Team Penske team,” said Briscoe. “It’s a shame because we had one of the quickest cars on the track. The guys made some adjustments to the car last night, and it paid off because we were fastest in the morning warm-up session. Overall, it’s a shame because IZOD has come on board this year, and I wish we could’ve had a better result for them today. It’s not the finish we wanted today but we’ll come back ready to win some races.”
Castroneves’ No. 3 Guidepoint Systems Team Penske Dallara/Honda was also involved in the melee in the first turn. The team was forced to the garage area to repair the front left suspension before Castroneves returned to the track 15 laps behind. The three-time Indianapolis 500 champion also fought back to salvage a top-20 result.
“Our Guidepoint Systems car was fast today after the first-lap incident – you could see it in our lap times,” Castroneves said.”The guys did an incredible job putting the car back together after the left front suspension damage. The Team Penske guys were amazing. As far as the incident, I’ll have to look and see what happened, but it seems like I locked up the rear on the car. It’s very disappointing, but we never gave up and we know we’ll have better results next race.”
The IZOD IndyCar Series resumes April 9 at Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, Ala. Team Penske returns as defending champion of the race as Castroneves won in the inaugural event at the challenging road course in 2010.