ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – It was a bad day in St. Petersburg for a lot of Indy fans as perennial pole-sitter and heavy favorite Will Power was forced to sit out the Grand Prix due to a concussion, leaving fill-in Oriol Servia to drive the number 12 Penske car in the inaugural race of the 2016 IndyCar season. Even if he hadn’t fallen ill, however, it wouldn’t have mattered because Juan Pablo Montoya delivered yet again proving he should be teaching a master class in racing for the win.
“I feel like we can get a lot of wins this year,” said Montoya, a two-time Indy 500 winner who lost the 2015 Drivers’ Championship to Scott Dixon on a technicality. “It’s nice to start the year with a win. To be honest with you, when you’re in Team Penske, there’s always that pressure that you got to win races. You have to win. You’re in the best car, you got to win races.”
Talk like that from a driver like Montoya must be pretty intimidating to his rivals. Perhaps even more so to his teammates, and fellow Penske drivers will have to come to terms with the fact that Montoya was driving faster than they were in a car with only three brakes (one of the rears reportedly went “cold” in the middle of the race) and a steering problem. “The steering dropped to the left,” said Montoya, after the race. “Every time I braked, I went straight. Something broke there, but that’s okay.”
“That’s OK,” is probably the most terrifying thing Montoya’s rivals will hear all month. “You look at my last three laps, I took it easy. I used the ‘push to pass’ to make up some time because I had like seven left with three laps to go. Just abuse it on the straight.”
That’s right, kids. Montoya had seven “push to pass” runs in his back pocket- you know, in case Pagenaud got close enough to make a run on him.
Further back, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Takuma Sato put in solid performances for the Honda teams that were overshadowed in qualifying. “It’s always physical here. This is one of those tracks that really takes it out of you,” said Hunter-Reay. “This is a good way to start the season. We got everything out of the car today. It was really nice to get by Helio at the end for the podium. That was a small, tiny little victory for us.”
Another bright spot for Honda was the surprising brilliance of rookie driver Conor Daly, who led a full 15 laps of today’s race in an under-funded Dale Coyne Honda that, frankly, nothing much was expected of. “It was nice to be up there. We got the Coyne strategy going,” said Daly. “The car was fantastic on (Firestone red tires), and I just kept learning the whole race … to follow Montoya? You don’t get a much better instructor than that.”
Simon Pagenaud in the No.22 Hewlett Packard Enterprises Team Penske Chevrolet started the race from pole position due to Power not taking part in the race and had a great start to the event leading a considerable number of laps before Montoya passed him for the lead.
Overall it was a great day. If you compare to last year, it’s been a massive improvement on the whole 22 crew. I’m super proud to represent HPE in our first race and be here on the podium in second place, leading the race for a while. But, yeah, Montoya is an old dog. He found a little good trick on me. I made one tiny little mistake and it lost me the race.
Helio Castroneves in the No.3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet started the race from the front row alongside Pagenaud and had a strong race ending the event in fourth place just behind Ryan Hunter Reay in Andretti Autosport DHL Honda.
Castroneves’ fourth place finish gave Roger ‘The Captain’ Penske three cars in the top four and speaking following the race the he said:
It was a great day for Team Penske. With three laps to go it was very difficult because I was on black tires and everybody else was on reds. I was hanging on with my life. The Hitachi Chevy was very good but a little bit difficult in some of the corners with some understeer. Great Strategy; great work! Everybody did a heck of a job. Ready for the next race.
IndyCar veteran Oriol Servia drove in place of Will Power in the No.12 Verizon car this morning with Spaniard also starting the race for Team Penske from the back of the grid. The 41 year old went on to finish the race in 18th place and speaking afterwards he stated:
It was not quite the finish we were hoping for, but it was still good to get a chance to race the No. 12 Verizon Chevy for Team Penske. I really enjoyed working with the team and the car was definitely fast. I thought we made some really good progress after starting from the back, but then we got caught up in the accident with several other cars and it was tough to come back from that. I want to thank Team Penske and Verizon for the opportunity and I hope my friend Will (Power) feels better soon and can get back to the team.
You can check out the rest of the official results of the 2016 IndyCar Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, below.
|INDYCAR 2016: ST. PETERSBURG RESULTS – FINAL|
|Car No.||Driver||Engine||Grid Pos.|
|2||Juan Pablo Montoya||Chevrolet||1|
|98||Alexander Rossi ®||Honda||12|
|18||Conor Daly ®||Honda||13|
|16||Spencer Pigot ®||Honda||14|
|8||Max Chilton ®||Chevrolet||17|