Sunday, March 13, 2016

First Impressions: St. Petersburg 2016

1. Juan Pablo Montoya is back on top. After losing the championship in the final race in 2015, Juan Pablo Montoya finds himself back on top of the IndyCar championship as he scored his second consecutive victory at St. Petersburg. He drove a smart race and had to nurse the car home after having something break in his steering. His team had great pit stops and he made a great restart to pass Conor Daly for the lead. He never really felt any pressure once he got out in front. I don't think we are seeing 2015 repeat itself but Montoya on top of the podium at St. Petersburg is the one thing that is the same from last year.

2. Simon Pagenaud had a great race. He was up front all race and led a bunch of laps at the start. He kept his nose clean while others found trouble. He did nothing wrong all weekend but now Pagenaud has to take the great results from race one and turn it into something in race two. He couldn't stay at the front last year and that is why he finished 11th in the championship. This is Penske's first victory and first 1-2 finish since last year's Indianapolis 500

3. Ryan Hunter-Reay was consistently in the top ten and he squashed Penske's hopes of a 1-2-3 by passing Hélio Castroneves in the closing laps. This is Hunter-Reay's fourth podium at St. Petersburg. This is a much better start than 2016 and IndyCar heads to Phoenix and Andretti Autosport excels at short tracks. Honda appears to have closed the gap to Chevrolet and hopefully a less political and controversial IndyCar season than last year.

4. Hélio Castroneves finished fourth. He had a good race but not a great race. He never seemed like a threat for the victory. He stayed at the front though and it paid off. One thing I noticed was the primary tires really didn't work for Castroneves. He lost a lot of positions at the start and lost a lot of time in the final stint which allowed Hunter-Reay to get the final podium spot.

5. Mikhail Aleshin finished fifth and was all over Castroneves for fourth. If they hadn't run into lap traffic, Aleshin very well could have finished fourth. He showed he hasn't lost his touch despite only running the season finale last year. I think Aleshin is a driver to keep an eye on for the rest of 2016.

6. Takuma Sato finished sixth despite a flat tire on the opening lap of the race. Unlike other races where Sato finds trouble, he didn't in this one and it paid off. A.J. Foyt Racing had a great weekend as a whole but this team also has one or two great weekends a season and then 11 duds. Can this team have five or six great weekends with only three or four duds?

7. Scott Dixon finished seventh after being hampered by overheating issues late in the races and he wasn't alone. All the Ganassi cars struggled with overheating and they appears to be the only cars on the grid to have extra long pit stops to clear the radiators. Not a bad day despite having to make a 27-second pit stop at one point.

8. Carlos Muñoz finished eighth despite running into the back of Graham Rahal and causing a parking lot at turn three. It is kind of amazing Muñoz was able to finish eighth after that accident. He also benefitted from three or four innocent bystanders stalling because of that accident and falling a lap down as the marshals scrambled to restart cars.

9. Tony Kanaan finished ninth after starting in the back, pitting early, ending up in the front, almost ending up a lap down, ending up in the front after pitting off strategy and then falling to the middle of the pack after overheating issues.

10. Charlie Kimball was around the top ten all race and ended up tenth and in the tires as he spun on the final lap. The race was so hectic that only nine cars finished on the lead lap and an incident like the one Kimball had wouldn't be a gut-punch.

11. Jack Hawksworth finished 11th but could have finished better. He was one of those innocent bystanders because of the Muñoz incident. Not bad and hopefully he can make an improvement at Phoenix.

12. Alexander Rossi was the top rookie in 12th but Conor Daly in 13th had the best race of the rookies. Went off strategy, ended up in the lead after a caution, hung with the big boys of Penske and ran second to Montoya for about a dozen laps and then a slow pit stop and another pit stop for overheating dropped him from a possible podium to outside the top ten. Daly should have a lot of confidence heading into Phoenix. And Spencer Pigot finished 14th in his debut despite getting bumped around a bit. I wish Pigot would be at Phoenix but it appears we won't see him again until May.

13. Quick recap of the field. Marco Andretti had a great race going and one ambitious move on Luca Filippi ruined his birthday. He was a lot better than 15th and could have finished in the top five. Graham Rahal recovered to 16th despite being ran over by Muñoz. Max Chilton finished 17th after making a late pit stop. He was quiet all day. Oriol Servià was caught up in the Muñoz incident and could only manage 18th substituting for Will Power. He did a great job despite being thrown in the car this morning. James Hinchcliffe had a flat and then was caught in the Muñoz incident. Luca Filippi had a much better car than 20th shows. He could have had a top ten. Sébastien Bourdais disappeared after being caught in the Muñoz incident and Josef Newgarden set fastest lap but had electrical gremlins end his race after 47 laps. A lot of drivers will be looking for a do-over at Phoenix.

14. ABC improved its graphic but not its announce team. Eddie Cheever is an ass. Scott Goodyear is a broken record. ABC should put Jon Beekhuis in the booth, move Goodyear to the pit lane and get rid of Cheever. Cheever mentioned the Indianapolis 500 over 700,000 times in this race. Why? Focus on the race in front of you. That is what makes the NBCSN broadcasts so great. There is no point about talking about the Indianapolis 500 during a race that isn't the Indianapolis 500. Focus on the race in front of you and give it the respect it deserves.

15. A week off for the 12 Hours of Sebring and another week off for Easter after that. This was better than the typical St. Petersburg race. Now we get two weeks off. To be honest, I need to be eased into the season.