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Featured INDYCAR: Montoya Triumphs in Penske-Dominated St. Pete Opener

Discussion in 'IndyCar' started by R.J. O'Connell, Apr 2, 2015.

  1. R.J. O'Connell

    R.J. O'Connell
    Commentator/Contributor Staff Premium Member

    Juan Pablo Montoya seized victory in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, in a performance that reminded fans that even in the twilight of a legendary career, he still possesses most of the ruthless aggression and poise that made him one of the greatest driving talents of a generation.

    Montoya's win was the thirteenth in his American open-wheel career, his second since returning to the category from NASCAR just last year, and his first at a street circuit since the 1999 Molson Indy Vancouver, fifteen long years ago.


    He gained the lead from defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power after the final round of green-flag pit stops, and drove a calm, collected final stint to resist his Penske teammate. Power, who led 75 of 110 laps from pole position, threw everything at the former champion in an attempt to seize back the lead, but in making his move with eleven laps remaining, he clipped the back of Montoya's car (seen above), suffering just enough wing damage to put a halt to his charge and relegate the reigning title holder to a second place finish in a race that he largely dominated.

    “Roger (Penske) hired me to get the job done and I do my best to get the job done,” Montoya said.

    In victory, a reinvigorated Montoya showed no signs of a driver who looked like he'd lost a step as he did for most of the 2014 IndyCar season, nor did he look like a frustrated driver who endured seven largely luckless seasons in NASCAR's top division. Instead, he began to remind race fans of the young phenom that stormed to the CART series championship as a rookie in 1999, then again in his first attempt, blitzed the field in the 2000 Indianapolis 500, before moving on to Formula 1 -where for five and a half seasons he would be one of the most aggressive and dynamic talents in the series, driving for Williams BMW and McLaren Mercedes. The fiery Colombian was one of the handful of elite drivers who could challenge a prime Michael Schumacher at the height of his powers for Ferrari.


    "Last year was very disappointing - it was tough not only here, but generally on the street courses," Montoya said after the race. "I'm a guy that always excelled at street courses everywhere I raced. To come here and have a year with really bad street course racing, it was pretty tough. I was never happy with the car. If you told me this morning I was going to win the race, I would have said 'no'...I just wanted to get some good points, have no mistakes, have good pit stops, see where we finish."

    After the race, Power said of his ill-fated pass attempt: "It was the only place that I could kind of get a run on him. It was the only chance I had. I think he saw me and it was kind of optimistic. If he gave me some (room), I would have taken it, but he didn't. It was kind of my only chance. If I didn't damage my wing, I maybe would have another shot."

    Montoya and Power led the charge for Team Penske, who saw all four of their cars finish in the top five places and lead all but five laps on the day after locking out the front two rows on the starting grid after Saturday qualifying. Three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves finished forth, while perennial contender Simon Pagenaud finished fifth in his first race for his new team. While it is still early in the season, all four of Roger Penske's drivers could end up battling for the title in the final race of the season, and it's very certain that one of them will ultimately win the IndyCar Series championship when all is said and done.

    Chip Ganassi Racing driver Tony Kanaan busted up a potential Penske 1-2-3-4 finish with a third-place result, and quadruple Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais finished sixth to secure a top six lockout by Chevrolet in the first race for IndyCar's new manufacturer aero kits.


    The highest ranked Honda belonged to seventh-placed Ryan Hunter-Reay, the defending Indianapolis 500 champion and ace driver of Andretti Autosport. He finished one spot ahead of sensational sophomore Jack Hawksworth (pictured above), who led the only five laps not led by a Penske driver on the road to an eighth-place finish in his first drive for AJ Foyt Enterprises. CFH Racing's new road course specialist and noteworthy "Will Buxton Guy" Luca Filippi recorded his best IndyCar finish to date in ninth, and Marco Andretti completed the top ten finishers.

    Other drivers were less fortunate. Three-time IndyCar champ Scott Dixon endured a difficult race and finished well down in fifteenth, one spot ahead of the ever-popular Canadian James Hinchcliffe, who was sixteenth in his debut drive for Schmidt Peterson Racing.


    It was also a tough race for the returning former Sauber F1 tester Simona de Silvestro (above) and for series rookie Sage Karam, who in their one and only confirmed appearances for the season as of this publication, finished a woeful 18th and 19th place respectively. De Silvestro powered through to the end despite a drive-through penalty for punting another returning driver, James Jakes, two front wing changes, and a tyre puncture. Meanwhile, the 20-year-old Karam gutted it out to finish one lap down, driving with a broken wrist sustained in testing just two weeks ago. Though they are not guaranteed any future entries, the door is not yet shut for either De Silvestro or Karam to redeem themselves in the next round at Louisiana's new NOLA Motorsports Park.

    Reigning Indy Lights champion Gabby Chaves (17th) and GP2 Series sprint race star Stefano Coletti (20th) also endured difficult first outings in their IndyCar Series debuts at St. Pete.

    Dale Coyne Racing suffered the indignity of being the only team to retire a car, as both Carlos Huertas and Francesco Dracone failed to finish. Huertas, the Cinderella rookie winner of last year's Grand Prix of Houston, retired after just nineteen laps due to a steering column failure, while Dracone retired after seventy laps to cap off what can be described as a race of Shigeakian proportions for the Auto GP graduate, who was well off the pace of the rest of the field all weekend.

    In the rejuvenated Mazda Road to Indy, former European Formula 3 standout Ed Jones swept both races in the Indy Lights series' first round, marking a successful debut for the brilliant IL-15 chassis, and a sensational American debut for Trevor Carlin's team - as Jones beat his ex-Formula 1 teammate Max Chilton in both outings. Neil Alberico swept both races in Pro Mazda, and Jake Eidson made it a hat trick of dual-race dominance in the USF2000 series.

    The 2.67 mile NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale, Louisiana will host the next round of the IndyCar series, the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana, to be held 12 April.
    • Like Like x 4
  2. Sk3ptik0n

    Premium Member

    Are those CD racks on the wings? Nothing like a little music when racing.
  3. Rob

    XBO: OctoberDusk06 Premium Member

    Twilight my ass. lol. He's still better than 95% of the F1 field.
  4. R.J. O'Connell

    R.J. O'Connell
    Commentator/Contributor Staff Premium Member

    It's Gillette's covert series sponsorship in action. ;)
    • Haha Haha x 1
  5. Shawdad

    PSN ID: Shawdad

    Go JPM!

    O.K. I'll say it. Man those cars are ugly! Just my opinion of course.