The three-time Indianapolis 500 champion now adds another triple threat to his career, since he is the first three-time winner on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn St. Petersburg street circuit.
Castroneves showed exceptionally enthusiasm as he took the winner's podium after the race since this the 2011 IndyCar season was not good for him. Castroneves was not a name that was being uttered at many races last year since he finished 11th in the overall standings. His last victory was the Twin Ring Motegi in September of 2010.
“It’s been a little while, but it never gets old,” said Castroneves. “I did say out loud, ‘If I start in the top six, I’ll win this race.” And we did it; we are here in Victory Circle.” The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg marks Castroneves 26th overall career win.
Castroneves started fifth in the No. 3 Shell V-Power/Pennzoil Ultra Team Penske car, and beat Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon across the finish line by an impressive 5.5292 seconds. Following the final round of pit stops, Castroneves overtook Dixon on the outside of Turn 1 for second place on Lap 72, and three laps later passed JR Hildebrand entering the sharp right-hand turn for the lead and kept Dixon at bay the remaining 25 laps. (Ironically Dixon has been the runner-up in all of Castroneves' victories at St. Petersburg.)
“We seemed to have the strategy right, and Helio was just really fast,” said Dixon.
In third place came Ryan Hunter-Reay in the No. 28 Team DHL/Sun Drop Citrus Soda car. Andretti Autosport teammate James Hinchcliffe had an impressive showing coming fourth in his IndyCar Series debut. “It’s good to get a podium under our belt.” said Hunter-Reay.
A notable driver in the IndyCar lineup was Rubens Barrichello, a former F1 driver. The Brazilian was racing in the No. 8 BMC KV Racing Technology car, but was not able to complete the race due to running out of fuel. “ I enjoyed the race and dicing with other cars, but would have liked to have been able to push more." He finished in 17th place.
“I learned a great deal about racing in the Izod IndyCar Series in just one race, and now we're off and running to the next race.” wrote Barrichello in a dairy entry on USA Today.
What was on most drivers minds yesterday was the late race car driver Dan Wheldon. “We have Dan on our minds and that wound is still fresh.” said Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Dan Wheldon was a IndyCar driver that died at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway last year in a horrible crash involving 15 cars. Yesterday's race was a reflection on the past and represented new beginnings for the sport.
At the start of the Honda Grand Prix the person who waived the green flag to kick off the race and IndyCar season was Holly Wheldon, the sister of Dan Wheldon.
After winning the race, Castronves performed his well known fence climb in front of the Turn 10 grandstand to thank IndyCar fans, then he jumped on top of the concrete barrier and patted the street sign that was unveiled March 7 to honor the memory of the 2005 Honda Grand Prix winner and IndyCar series champion. This part of the track and street was named, “Dan Wheldon Way.” in honor of the late race car driver.
An emotional Castroneves raised his head and pointed to the sky as he stood next to the green and white sign. “Honestly, I did not plan it. It was just the way it happened, and there was the sign Dan Wheldon Way. For me, and for all of us, the drivers and the fans, not having him here certainly we’ll miss.” Castroneves added “But we’ve got to remember him as he lived, the way he lived, and continue to pray for his family.”
Dan Wheldon was instrumental in designing the new race cars for the 2012 IndyCar season. They have slightly wider bodywork which is designed to increase downforce and grip. The new designs also allow for more bumping between cars without accidents or crashes. Probably every driver had Wheldon on their minds when they took to the street circuit of St. Petersburg yesterday.
Image source of Helio Castroneves: Wikipedia