Team Penske blanks all other teams in winning races so far, two races in to the IZOD IndyCar Series season as Will Power wins from starting at the ninth position on the grid.
Last week, Helio Castroneves bested Scott Dixon in winning the season opener through the streets of St. Petersburg and this week, Will Power bests Target Chip Ganassi’s Scott Dixon who started the race from P3 while Power could not make it in to the Firestone Fast Six qualifications round (pre-race information HERE).
What a great race. From the drop of the Green Flag to the Checkered Flag to end the competition, the action on the track was anything but boring.
During the pre-race broadcast it was revealed that one of the many changes implemented for the 2012 season will be to recognize that if a driver is driving a line that is “pro-active” that this action may not be considered “Blocking” as it would have been in previous seasons. Many of the drivers expressed concern but after the race, most were pleased with the change in recognition that this relaxation to the rules against blocking and its enforcement led to actual racing and driving strategy on the track. The fans on Twitter reacted to this change as it related to the product they were seeing and many asked, in Tweets, wasn’t this was actual racing was all about? The drivers driving to win?
As for the product on the broadcast television produced by NBC Sports Channel (formally Versus), it was superior to what was seen from the ABC Sports (network broadcast) during the first race of the season from the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida. Some might argue that the major differences were because this race from Alabama was a closed road course as opposed to a street course and the loosening of the blocking rule allowed a better race to be seen. While these are good points, they are not the reasons that the NBC broadcast was superior to the ABC broadcast.
The major reason for the difference in the broadcasts was the actual production value. NBC followed the action on the track understanding that the action during the race isn’t just who might be leading and those who are contesting for the lead, but the races within the overall race.
Results – 90 laps (ht: autosport.com):
Pos – Driver – Team/Engine – Time/Gap – Lotus Legion in BOLD
1. Will Power Penske DW12-Chevrolet 2h01m40.1127s
2. Scott Dixon Ganassi DW12-Honda + 3.3709s
3. Helio Castroneves Penske DW12-Chevrolet + 19.1150s
4. Graham Rahal Ganassi DW12-Honda + 19.3395s
5. Simon Pagenaud Schmidt-Hamilton DW12-Honda + 20.1050s
6. James Hinchcliffe Andretti DW12-Chevrolet + 23.3093s
7. Mike Conway Foyt DW12-Honda + 24.5552s
8. Rubens Barrichello KV DW12-Chevrolet + 25.4023s
9. Sebastien Bourdais Dragon DW12-Lotus + 27.1815s
10. Dario Franchitti Ganassi DW12-Honda + 32.7377s
11. Marco Andretti Andretti DW12-Chevrolet + 33.5038s
12. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti DW12-Chevrolet + 35.8730s
13. Oriol Servia Dreyer & Reinbold DW12-Lotus + 37.8944s
14. Ryan Briscoe Penske DW12-Chevrolet + 41.6742s
15. JR Hildebrand Panther DW12-Chevrolet + 44.5059s
16. James Jakes Coyne DW12-Honda + 54.5343s
17. Josef Newgarden Fisher DW12-Honda + 1m00.6182s
18. EJ Viso KV DW12-Chevrolet + 1 lap
19. Justin Wilson Coyne DW12-Honda + 1 lap
20. Simona de Silvestro HVM DW12-Lotus + 1 lap
21. Tony Kanaan KV DW12-Chevrolet + 1 lap
22. Ed Carpenter Carpenter DW12-Chevrolet + 2 laps
23. Katherine Legge Dragon DW12-Lotus + 5 laps
Did not finish:
Takuma Sato Rahal DW12-Honda 52 laps
Charlie Kimball Ganassi DW12-Honda 45 laps
Alex Tagliani BHA DW12-Lotus 0 laps
NOTE: Twice as many Honda-powered DW12’s did not finish as Lotus-powered DW12’s.
This excerpted and edited from the TRANSCRIPT – Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Post-Race Press Conference conducted by the IZOD IndyCar Series (ht: IICS Media)
THE MODERATOR: We’ll get started with Scott Dixon. Scott, if you can, just walk us through the race today, especially that final restart there with Will Power.
SCOTT DIXON: It was generally a pretty good day. I think we did a good job of saving some fuel early on. The balance of the car I think was better than the other two. We could maintain a pretty good pace.
The first stop, Hinch (James Hinchcliffe) and I went a lap longer than Helio. We still pitted with probably two laps of fuel in the car. We were just trying to keep an eye on the degradation of the tires and how they fell off. We jumped Helio and Hinch obviously most of the race from that point on.
Strategies all kind of got mixed in the middle. Power and several others pitted, they got clear track, ran down the deficit they had earlier.
Once I caught Simona (De Silvestro), we slowed down two or three second a lap. We were trying to get past her. With the new car, when you get into the wake of another, especially on older tires, you lose so much rear grip and it’s hard to get around them. Once we had that, then (E.J.) Viso on the way out, then the yellow fell.
I’m kind of disappointed. I think we had the car to beat. We had the speed and for the most part the right strategy, but just wasn’t our day today.
The restart, got a good jump on them. But obviously being on the inside, all he (Power) had to do was drive in deeper. I had been really the first one to lift or he could have kept going and I would have run wide. Tried for a few laps there, burned the rear tires off with about five or ten to go. That was all said and done.
Good points for the first two races, but definitely disappointed with today’s result.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll open it up for questions for Scott.
Q. You said you had to wait for Viso on the last stop. Were there problems as well?
SCOTT DIXON: I believe the middle stop and the last stop we had a bit of a fumble on one of the tires where there was a wheel nut or something. The middle one took a lot longer. Tires are done normally about the same time as fuel. You feel the fuel pull out and you’re still on the air jack.
On the out-lap I would say Will gained two or three seconds just because he wasn’t in traffic. Then I think they were maybe a little bit quicker on their stop as well. Between that and trying to get out of the pits behind Viso, I’d say we lost three or four seconds in that, which gave Will the advantage.
Q. Scott, this is three straight second-place finishes here. Does that add to the frustration level?
SCOTT DIXON: Well, maybe last year we had a pretty good car. Barber is a funny place. I was talking to Will about it. If you get out front, it’s very hard to stay close. There are so many high-speed corners. Eventually you burn the tires off.
The first two years, I was kind of happy with those finishes. But today to have a dominant race and a car I think definitely if we were out front at the end would have led to the same thing and pulled away from Will. It’s frustrating when you’re in a scenario like that and you don’t collect on the win. I’d say the last two years, that was probably kind of as good as we were going to get.
Q. Do you take any solace being second in points at this point in the season as opposed to being in the hole you found yourself the last few years?
SCOTT DIXON: Every race pays the same amount of points. For me, my issue has been the start of the season, so we’ve tried to start strong. We’ve tried to be consistent, maybe not take as many risks as we should, but also emphasize qualifying in a good position and making the most of it.
All around as a team, with our package, I don’t think we’re there yet. But I think once we get a few things figured out on the car and the engine package, I think we’re going to be strong.
If we can put points in the bag at the moment, try and gain on that later in the year, we should be in a good position.
But points championships are so tough. Sort of taking out a page of Dario’s (Franchitti) notebook from the last few years and being consistent. He hasn’t won as many races as some others, but he’s always there on a bad day and a good day. We have to try to do the same thing.
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by Helio Castroneves, who finished third.
Helio, if you can, just take us through today’s race. Looked for a minute in the end Graham (Rahal) almost got you.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, it was a good battle. First of all, I want to thank AAA and Shell-Pennzoil, Verizon. Those guys keep supporting us. This is what we need.
Talking about the race, I started consistent and tried not to do anything outrageous. I had a little chat with the guys, they said, “Just save fuel when you can.” That’s what I was doing. Actually, we did have a yellow, so tried to extend as much as we could in case we could have only a two-stop strategy.
It was very difficult to keep the car because the tires were going away too fast. I think we stopped a little bit early, one lap early. We could go two more laps, but not without handing the lead to Scott Dixon. On the black tires, he was so good. He just took off. He got a good rhythm. Probably 12- 15-second lead. Suddenly we started coming back again. We pitted. Again, we put the black tires.
My car was very loose. It was very difficult. I was just trying to hold on. It was like the back fishtailing everywhere. When we put the reds on for the last run, those are the tires we used in qualifying, I kind of knew the left front was a little bit overshot. Unfortunately, that’s what happened. It was too much understeer right away, right at the beginning. I just tried to hold on at that point for the position three.
I was trying everything I could. Graham obviously in Turn 2 was much better. So I was trying to keep in one line. Thank God we were able to hold on and finish third.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll open it up for questions for Helio.
Q. After last season, how does it feel to be atop the points standings?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Pretty darn good. I’m not thinking about it right now. I’m thinking about the big picture. For Long Beach we’re really looking to have a better result, two spots better. But I’m happy. It was certainly a great effort today for the AAA machine. It was very difficult. (Engineer) Ron (Ruzewski) did a great job on the strategy.
But I’m not thinking at the moment for the present. I’m thinking one race at a time, and that’s what we’re going to be doing.
Q. Starting from the pole and doing so well the early part of the race, how frustrating is it to end up not on the top step?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: A little bit. But the way the car finish in the end of the day, I have to be very happy with a third. That’s the best we could do. For us, we brought the car to more points.
It’s always good to start in the front. It’s just a different rhythm. But I felt very good, very strong.
Q. I know you’re saying one race at a time, but this Wednesday you have an opportunity to test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Talk about that.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I’m extremely exciting about this. At this time I have not run on the oval with this car. It’s going to be my first time Wednesday. I don’t know the purpose of the test, but I think certainly we’re going to work together with other teams so we can see how the car runs in the pack.
But at this point for me it’s great, especially to be able to find a good seat and stuff like that because right now I have no idea how it’s going to go. But I feel good. I’m glad we’re able to do this test before the month of May at Indianapolis. I can’t wait to go.
THE MODERATOR: We are pleased to be joined by our race winner, Will Power.
Will, after a tough start in St. Pete, you bounced back with a win today. It was great work in the pits and great driving. Talk about today’s race.
WILL POWER: It was an absolute team effort. We went in thinking that we have to kind of be a little off strategy to the other guys to be able to pass around here. So we started on black tires, everyone else started on reds. We went to reds when everyone was on blacks. That got us a couple of spots.
Then just with good stops and good strategy calls put me out in clean air so we could use our speed. We slowly passed one by one. It was a very good team effort, absolute team effort. The strategy was perfect. The stops were perfect. We were quick when we needed to be, put ourselves in a position to win, which I did not think was possible this morning.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll open it up for questions.
Q. Second stint was really short. Was that to avoid getting bottled up from the guys ahead?
WILL POWER: The second, yes. Tim Cindric was looking at where he could put me out in clean air. It was short because he found a gap that we could lay down some good laps.
I think the other reason that the racing was really good today was because Firestone came with a really good tire to race, that has a good drop-off in lap time. That allowed people to pass because the tires actually went off.
I think you have to thank Firestone for good racing, allowing people to pass.
Q. On Friday you said you thought it was virtually impossible for anybody to win this race if they were starting beyond the first two rows. How glad are you to have proven yourself wrong? What does it say about the common perception that it’s just too difficult to pass here?
WILL POWER: I really thought, as green as the race was, you put it down to the tires really, the fact that the tires had a discrepancy from brand-new to old of up to two seconds, three seconds. That allowed for good passing.
It really eradicated fuel saving because often we go in, we start lifting, fuel saving. Doing that with the tires eradicated that. It was just hard racing. I ran hard the whole day, never saved fuel.
Q. You mentioned that you didn’t think it was possible to win this morning. As things started to come together, what did that do to you emotionally in the car after the first stop, second stop?
WILL POWER: It just keeps unfolding. It’s really an emotional thing. It’s a process. I think you just got to be really correct focused really on what you’re doing and just getting the most out of every single lap, because that’s how it was for me, to get the most out of every lap, just keep gaining on the guys.
Ultimately, I can’t think of a better strategy than what was given to me from the team. It was perfect.
Q. I think it was on the radio broadcast, they said your last set of red tires had more wear on them than your first set. At the end of the race, with 16 laps to go, were you worried about Dixon? What about the way the rules have changed, allowing you to defend your position?
WILL POWER: That was good for me, which I didn’t have to do. I definitely had that in my mind.
The second-to-last set of tires was very worn on my car. The last set was actually a good set.
Just from the information I gained in that second-to-last stint, I understood how I needed to look after which end of the tires, which was the rear.
I just think it’s great. I think that Firestone has got it dead on.
Q. Looking at the next two tracks, those are tracks you’re strong at. Talk about carrying momentum into those two tracks.
WILL POWER: You know, we really have been quick everywhere this year. I think you put this race out of your mind pretty quick and start focusing on it. I guess it gives the guys confidence that we can win if we don’t qualify on pole, and we can win from quite far back.
Yeah, that’s good.
Q. Scott said at the end he basically killed his tires trying to chase you down. Could you have kept that pace up much longer?
WILL POWER: Yeah. That’s the thing. It was actually reversed when I was behind Scott. My tires went off worse than his and he was quicker than me. He got in my turbulent air. Obviously clean air looks after your tires, you have more downforce and grip, so you’re not sliding, destroying them.
If he was in front, I’m pretty sure it would have been the same result for me.
Q. Traffic seemed to be pretty intense all day long. How was it from your perspective?
WILL POWER: Actually, it was good. You could actually pass. We were on reds, other guys were on blacks, I passed three or four people into turn five. I didn’t have a problem. I think that was the key to the race, keeping out of traffic, pitting at the right times, putting me in the gap.
Next race is the granddaddy of all temporary street races used in American open-wheel racing – the 38th Annual Toyota Grand Prix Of Long Beach … twitter hashtag:
Happy tweeting if you can not be in Southern California between April 13-15, 2012.
If you can be there, with the drivers getting the measure of the DW12, the new engines, and the changed attitudes on rules governing the action of racing on the track from an improved Race Control staff, the race may prove to be one for the ages, even after a previous 37 year history that included Formula 3000, F1, CART, ChampCar World Series and since 2009, IndyCar.
The race is scheduled for Sunday, April 15 at 12:30 PM local time and will be carried live on IMS Radio and NBC Sports Channel (cable).
… notes from The EDJE