Will Power has won the first round of the Verizon IndyCar Series at the airport circuit of St Petersburg but not without bringing his own share of controversy.
Much of the race was dominated by Takuma Sato until the second round of pitstops – around lap 58 of 110 – when Team Penske’s Power took the lead and charged off without threat for much of the remainder of the race.
“I’m stoked to get the first win for Verizon as a series sponsor,” said Power, who has now notched up his 22nd win in 122 starts. “That’s how you want to start the season. Last year was horrible, and this year it’s good to get a points lead.”
In the race there were only two yellow flags to provide the majority of the talking points after the checkered flag. The first full course caution came with 35 laps to go, Charlie Kimball went too hot into turn one and hit the tyre barriers, beaching his Dallara.
After a number of laps behind the Corvette safety car, the most controversial move of the race happened just as the field was about to go back to green. Power, who was controlling the pace, slowed to an almost walking pace just before the start line – this lack of acceleration made the entire 21 car field behind him check up but unfortunately a number of cars behind him couldn’t slam on the anchors in time.
The driver most caught out was Bryan Herta Autosport’s rookie Jack Hawksworth who span under braking and saw himself and Marco Andretti crash into the wall.
After all that, and the second caution to clear up the cars, Power was followed closely by both Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves but Hunter-Reay was unable to pressure the Kiwi coming up to the end with Power’s margin of victory almost two seconds.
Indeed the highest placed rookie was Mikhail Aleshin who – for SMP Racing – is the first Russian to start a Verizon IndyCar Series race and finished a respectable 12th.
Aleshin said: “I think the biggest struggle was the start. After the start I was close to being lost in the first corner but we had good strategy and a quick pace that helped us climb through the field. I think the team did a great job today. The car was very good and all of our pit stops were smooth. We were a bit unlucky with the yellows but that’s just racing. Overall I’m very happy because we were close to a top-10 and we know we have a good race car. And now that I have experience with how a rolling start works I’ll be ready for it the next race. I’m happy to be the highest finishing rookie today too.”
The next IndyCar race will be on April 13th as the series buddies up with the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship at Long Beach.