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INDY Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Race Report
Franchitti Begins Title Defense with St. Petersburg Victory
Reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti began his title defense in the strongest possible fashion Sunday, taking the lead on Lap 5 and going on to victory in the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
After passing pole qualifier Will Power around the outside in Turn 1, Franchitti led all but one of the remaining 95 laps around the Florida street circuit to claim his 27th career IndyCar win – all with Honda power. Franchitti is now tied with IndyCar legend Johnny Rutherford for 10th on the all-time victory list.
Today's race saw the successful debut of Honda Performance Development's new Refueling Safety Interlock System, which is designed to reduce the potential for fire in pit lane by preventing a driver from engaging first gear and leaving his pit box while the pit refueling nozzle is still attached.
In addition, continuing a five-year tradition of equality and reliability, all 25 Honda-powered drivers and teams completed the race weekend without a single failure of the Honda Indy V-8 engine. This weekend the teams logged a total of 7,531 trouble-free miles.
Behind the lead pair, a highlight of today's 100-lap contest was the spirited duel for third place between series veteran Tony Kanaan, making his debut with KV Racing Technology, and Simona de Silvestro, starting just her second season of IndyCar competition with HVM Racing.
Their battle over the final 20 laps brought the large crowd to its feet on several occasions, with Kanaan just holding off de Silvestro for the final podium position. Finishing behind de Silvestro in fifth was Kanaan's KV teammate, Takuma Sato, who today also unveiled his "With You Japan" motorsports initiative for earthquate/tsunami relief for his native land.
The IZOD IndyCar Series now takes a one-week break before resuming with the first permanent road course race of the season, April 10 at Barber Motorsports Park just outside of Birmingham, AL.
IZOD IndyCar Series Championship (after 1 of 17 races):
1. Dario Franchitti 52 points (1 win)
2. Will Power 41
3. Tony Kanaan 35
4. Simona de Silvestro 32
5. Takuma Sato 30
6. Alex Tagliani 28
7. Raphael Matos 26
8. Vitor Meira 24
9. Oriol Servia 22
10. Justin Wilson 20
Dario Franchitti (#10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) started 2nd, finished 1st, his 27th career victory:
"What a brilliant team. My mistake yesterday [a crash in practice] put us back, but this team just keeps fighting and fighting. This is a great championship, with a lot of quality teams and drivers. So you've got to fight all the way, and that's exactly what this team does time after time. The key to our race was making the outside pass on Will [Power] on the second re-start. The car was running like a dream. It's a great time to be an IndyCar driver, the series is on the 'up' and this will be a fantastic season."
Will Power (#12 Team Penske Honda) started 1st, finished 2nd:
"Dario was just crazy fast today. Shortly after he passed me, someone hit me from behind. That damage took a bit of downforce off the car and it took a while to work our way back up to second, with some great pit stops from the team today. But Dario was untouchable, so we'll take a solid second as a good start to our season."
Tony Kanaan (#82 KV Racing Technology Honda) started 8th, finished 3rd: "A lot of people worked very hard together to make this program happen. Jimmy [Vasser] and Kevin [Kalkhoven, team owners] really stepped up and I can't thank the team enough. This is only my third day on the job [Kanaan was announced as a KV driver earlier this week] and we still have a lot of work to do. I'll be going straight to the race shop so we can prepare for the rest of the season."
Simona de Silvestro (#78 HVM Racing Honda) started 17th, finished 4th, her career-best IndyCar finish, on her late-race contest with Tony Kannan for 3rd place:
"He's a veteran, and to be battling with him for third was such good fun. It was a bit hard to try and pass, there was a lot of dust on the inside of the track, and I didn't want to try a 'low-percentage' move and put a good result in danger. This is a great start for our team this year."
Erik Berkman (President, Honda Performance Development) on today's race:
"What a great way to start the season. We had a big crowd, perfect weather and an interesting race with a deserving victor and an exciting battle for third in the closing laps. Congratulations to Dario Franchitti and the Target Chip Ganassi team on starting off their title defense with a well-earned victory. Our associates at Honda Performance Development also have all earned a 'well-done' this weekend. We not only had the expected reliability from the Honda Indy V8 engine once again, but the new fuel safety interlock system performed flawlessly, as well. The entire weekend was an excellent start to the 2011 season."
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