Will Power picked up right where he left off last season, in Victory Lane, for the fourth time in the last six IndyCar Series races.
Power won the IndyCar Series season-opening race Sunday through the streets of St. Petersburg with a dominating run. He passed pole-sitter Takuma Sato for the lead with an outside move headed into the second turn on Lap 31, and the Australian was never really challenged again.
Power had to beat Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves off pit lane during stops under caution, and it seemed easy from there, even though he said he was exhausted.
“I’m pretty tired, actually. There was only one yellow period,” Power said. “Mentally tired, it was physical.”
Power won three of the final five races last year, including the final two. And it was fitting that he continued it on the temporary street course through St. Pete, where he has always been a factor for the win.
He started on the pole four consecutive years, but only had one win to show for it, in 2010. He led 26 laps a year ago, but was run over from behind under caution to lose a shot at the win.
Power did have one hiccup — he was the leader and was slow to restart the field with 28 laps remaining. It caused traffic to stack-up behind him and led to a crash involving rookie Jack Hawksworth and Marco Andretti.
Power said he never braked and was confused because the field went green earlier than it should.
“They threw the green early. I thought we were meant to go in that (starting) zone,” Power said. “I was surprised. I didn’t even know what happened behind me. I lifted a little, I didn’t check the brake at all. They can review my data, I didn’t touch the brake.”
Castroneves, who was behind Power on the restart, wasn’t so certain.
“I have to see the restart. I have to be political,” he said, shrugging because Power is his Team Penske teammate. “He played a little bit.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay finished second, Castroneves was third and defending IndyCar champion Scott Dixon fourth.
Juan Pablo Montoya finished 15th in his return to IndyCar for the first time since he left for Formula One following his Indianapolis 500 win in 2000. He spent almost five seasons in F1 and seven in NASCAR before returning to open-wheel with Roger Penske.
Reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan finished sixth in his debut race for Target/Chip Ganassi Racing. He replaced three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti in the car when Franchitti was forced to retire because of injuries suffered in a crash in October.
The first caution didn’t occur until Charlie Kimball went off course on Lap 78, and what had been a Power-parade suddenly got interesting.
Everyone but Mike Conway ducked onto pit lane for a final stop, and it was a Team Penske race between Power and Castroneves back onto the track for the lead. Power narrowly won that race and was the leader when action resumed with 28 laps remaining.
Power had control of the restart and he said race control called the start earlier than he expected. He didn’t go and traffic stacked up behind him. Deep in the field, Hawksworth lost control when trying to slow to avoid the stalled cars ahead of him, and it sent him spinning into the path of Marco Andretti.
Andretti had a hard hit into the wall, and seemed to be limping and favoring his wrist as he climbed from the car. He blamed it on hitting at a bad angle and not getting his hands off the wheel fast enough before the impact. It was a fitting ending, he indicated, after he ran poorly the entire race.
“It’s hard to see because I was pretty far back, but Will just stopped. Once you go, you gotta go,” he said. “It looked like an accordion effect. I had a good restart going, but we were junk all day, so what are you going to do?”
Hawksworth blamed the accident on the leaders stopping at the front of the field.
“We went when they said green, and all of a sudden the leaders stopped. I don’t know what was going on at the front,” the rookie said.
1. (4) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 110, Running
2. (3) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Honda, 110, Running
3. (10) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Chevy, 110, Running
4. (5) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Chevy, 110, Running
5. (14) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 110, Running
6. (2) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Chevy, 110, Running
7. (1) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 110, Running
8. (16) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 110, Running
9. (22) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Honda, 110, Running
10. (9) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Chevy, 110, Running
11. (11) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara-Chevy, 110, Running
12. (15) Mikhail Aleshin, Dallara-Honda, 110, Running
13. (13) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Chevy, 110, Running
14. (21) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 110, Running
15. (18) Juan Pablo Montoya, Dallara-Chevy, 110, Running
16. (12) Mike Conway, Dallara-Chevy, 110, Running
17. (7) Carlos Munoz, Dallara-Honda, 110, Running
18. (17) Carlos Huertas, Dallara-Honda, 110, Running
19. (19) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Honda, 109, Running
20. (20) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Chevy, 108, Running
21. (8) Jack Hawksworth, Dallara-Honda, 83, Contact
22. (6) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 82, Contact
Winners average speed: 93.572
Time of Race: 02:06:57.6288
Margin of victory: 1.9475
Cautions: 2 for 10 laps
Lead changes: 7 among four drivers
Sato: Lap 1 – 26
Castroneves: Lap 27 – 28
Sato: Lap 29 – 30
Power: Lap 31 – 52
Sato: Lap 53 – 57
Power: Lap 58 – 76
Conway: Lap 77
Power: Lap 78 – 110
Verizon IndyCar Series Point Standings:
- Power: 53 points
- Hunter-Reay: 40 points
- Castroneves: 36 points
- Dixon: 32 points
- Pagenaud: 30 points
- Kanaan: 28 points
- Sato: 28 points
- Wilson: 24 points
- Newgarden: 22 points
- Briscoe: 20 points