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Happy And Sad - St. Petersburg

It’s my intention to provide the ims.com website with short, sharp reaction following each round of the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series.

But in this politically correct world, I’ve decided against calling out weekly winners and losers, Instead, let’s think about who came out of the weekend happy or sad.

With that short, sharp 50-word introduction in the books, let’s get down to business!

HAPPY: JAMES HINCHCLIFFE – Well, this one is pretty obvious. The Mayor of Hinchtown earned his first IndyCar victory in style, passing and beating St. Petersburg master Helio Castroneves in a straight-up fight. Working again with engineer Craig Hampson, this was Hinchcliffe’s first win. But it’s not likely to be his last.

Hinch has often joked that he has big shoes to fill; he replaced Danica Patrick as the driver of Andretti Autosport’s GoDaddy.com-sponsored car. But more accurately, Hinchcliffe took over a seat intended for the late Dan Wheldon, who had signed a contract to return to the Andretti team on the morning of his fatal crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“It hit me because it was a tremendous amount of responsibility I felt to honor Dan and do a good enough job to honor what he would have done in this car,” Hinchcliffe said. “To get the first win here in his hometown with his family here, who I’ve grown quite close to, it means so much more, to be honest. 

“Certainly following Danica was a big ask. I guess we put a lot of effort into making sure it wasn't the guy driving Danica's car. Hopefully when we get to the races this year, it will be, ‘That's Hinch’s car.’”

SAD: DARIO FRANCHITTI

Four-time IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti was the first retirement of the 2013 season. Immediately following a Lap 18 pit stop, Franchitti clouted the wall near Turn 3 on cold tires.

The Scotsman was trying to make up for what was pretty much a lost weekend. Never happy with his car throughout practice and qualifying, Franchitti qualified 10th and was never a factor in the early stages of the race.

“We’ve really struggled with the Target car this weekend,” Franchitti said. “I was trying to make up for it somewhere on the track, and I just stepped over the line there on cold tires. I hit a bump, and with the ride height being so low with the tire pressures, I just got in the marbles and in the wall. It was totally my mistake.”

It was a rough start to the season for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Scott Dixon qualified 20th but salvaged a fifth-place finish, one day after team owner Chip Ganassi criticized engine supplier Honda for “not wanting to win bad enough.”

Honda put two cars into the Firestone Fast Six, with Takuma Sato qualifying on the front row and Firestone Indy Lights champion Tristan Vautier making a solid impression on his IndyCar Series debut. Dixon was the top Honda finisher in the race as Chevrolet claimed six of the top seven places.

HAPPY: THE ANDRETTIS – Michael Andretti saw three of his Andretti Autosport entries finish in the top seven at a track that has always treated his team well. Aside from James Hinchcliffe’s breakthrough win, Marco Andretti took third place and E.J. Viso overcame a practice crash to move from 22nd to seventh.

In fact, the only downer was defending IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, who struggled with gearbox and throttle problems on the way to an 18th-place finish.

“I think all weekend, all of our cars were showing they had strength,” Andretti said. “For Hinch, especially, he just was on it from the first practice on. He just did a heck of a job. He did not put a wheel wrong all weekend. He drove his butt off. Then to bring it home for Go Daddy, his first win, and Go Daddy’s first win as a primary sponsor, it was just awesome.”

Marco Andretti earned his best road-racing finish in nearly two years and looked more comfortable on a street course than he has in ages. Marco qualified seventh and never put a wheel wrong all day. Running fourth in the closing laps, he pressured Simona De Silvestro into a mistake on the run to the white flag to earn himself a place on the podium.

“It’s a selfish business,” Marco Andretti said. “I felt for her, but I needed this so bad. It feels like a win.”

SAD: HELIO CASTRONEVES – Helio Castroneves knew he had no right to complain after he finished second to James Hinchcliffe in the Honda Grand Prix of. St. Petersburg. And he did an excellent job of keeping it diplomatic.

Castroneves, a three-time winner at St. Petersburg, seized the lead from his Penske Racing teammate Will Power with a gutsy outside move on the 27th lap. But during the final restart, Helio made a small error by leaving his braking too late, allowing Hinchcliffe to make what was ultimately the victorious pass for the lead.

“I feel terrible,” Castroneves said. “If you asked me Friday about finishing second, I’d have been pretty darn happy. But not today.

“My car was fantastic. It’s just a shame when you make a little mistake, but you’ve got to keep learning. Even an old dog makes mistakes, but it was a great way to start the championship.”

HAPPY: SCOTT DIXON – If you had offered two-time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon a top-five finish after qualifying, he surely would have taken it.

As events transpired, Dixon got that top five. But he earned it. Using a combination of strategy and tenacity, Dixon dragged his crippled Dallara-Honda into the top five with the kind of drive that sometimes leads to championships.

“The Target car was generally pretty good,” he said. “The yellows didn’t really fall our way today. We went a little bit off sequence there at the end, but what killed us was the left waste gate on the turbo broke, so I had no boost. I was just getting killed on straight-line speed, and they just all got past me on the final restarts.”

SAD: WILL POWER

For the fourth year in a row, Will Power secured pole position at St. Petersburg for Team Penske. He’s batting .250 in that period in terms of race wins, and Sunday may have been the most frustrating result to date for the Australian.

Power got jumped by his teammate Helio Castroneves on the first restart but looked set to lock down a third-place finish in the season opener. That was before JR Hildebrand made a massive mistake while running behind the Pace Car and launched his car over Power’s machine, causing damage to the sidepod and rear wing.

Hildebrand took full responsibility for the bizarre incident, saying that he had been distracted while making adjustments on his steering wheel. But that was little consolation for Power, who was classified 16th.

“It’s too bad because the Verizon car was definitely fast,” Power said. “He came over and apologized after the race. He said he was just looking down at his steering wheel and he just ran over the top of me. It’s just a mistake, but that happens in racing. Then I made another mistake there at the end, and it cost us four more places.

“A tough day but we just have to move forward and look ahead to Barber.”

HAPPY: SIMONA DE SILVESTRO – What a difference a year makes.

After suffering through the 2012 season as the lone campaigner of the uncompetitive Lotus engine, Simona De Silvestro reminded everyone at St. Petersburg of her capabilities.

Backed by Chevrolet power, the “Swiss Missile” qualified an IndyCar Series career-best third and looked set to wrap up her first podium finish before fading to sixth place on the final lap.

De Silvestro ran strongly all afternoon, staying in the top five and moving up to third in the final round of pit stops.

But she could have done a better job conserving her tires. After chewing up her rear tires, she encountered wheelspin off the hairpin that concludes a lap of the St. Petersburg street course, allowing Marco Andretti to make the pass for third place on the final lap. De Silvestro’s KV Racing teammate, Tony Kanaan, and Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon also gained places on the final lap.

“Unfortunately we lost a few positions at the end there,” De Silvestro said. “We kind of ran out of tires at the end, but I think we can be pretty happy with sixth. Now we know what we have to work on for the next race. It was really cool to be up front all day with Will, Hinch and everybody; it was awesome.

“I’m really excited to get to Barber and see what we can do there.”
 

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Happy And Sad - St. Petersburg
 
Happy And Sad - St. Petersburg
The Mayor of Hinchtown earned his first IndyCar victory in style, passing and beating St. Petersburg master Helio Castroneves in a straight-up fight. Working again with engineer Craig Hampson, this was Hinchcliffe’s first win. But it’s not likely to be his last.
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