The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season started with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Will Power Leads Team Penske 1-2-3-4 In Qualifying
After crashing in the first practice session of Friday, Will Power of Team Penske had been the quickest driver in all sessions when coming into the qualifying. That continued in the qualifying; in the Round 2 he set a time of 1:00.0658 which now stands as the lap record of St. Petersburg. In the Round 3 Power was once again the quickest and qualified the Chevrolet-powered No. 12 Penske machine on pole. All that when feeling ill that day, having considered not participating the qualifying.
Power was followed by his three Team Penske teammates in the qualifying results; Simon Pagenaud qualified in second place, Helio Castroneves in third, and Juan Pablo Montoya in fourth. The reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon qualified his Chevrolet-powered Chip Ganassi Racing machine in fifth place while the only Honda driver in the Firestone Fast Six was Ryan-Hunter Reay of Andretti Autosport in sixth place.
Oriol Servia Replaces Power In The No. 12
Will Power still had nausea on Sunday morning and he was replaced by Oriol Servia in the No. 12 Penske machine for Sunday morning warm-up. Per INDYCAR, Power suffered a mild concussion as a result of the Friday crash, causing the nausea.
Servia finished the warm-up session in 12th place while the quickest time was set by Takuma Sato in the Honda-powered No. 14 A.J. Foyt Enterprises machine. Later in the day it was announced by Team Penske that Power will not participate the race and the No. 12 car will be driven by Servia while the car will be moved from pole position to the rear of the field. Subsequently Power’s Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud became the new polesitter.
Team Penske suffered another setback at the end of the warm-up session when Juan Pablo Montoya crashed into tire barriers, leaving the No. 2 Chevy with front damage. The damage wasn't still too big to get repaired in time for the race.
Pagenaud Controls Race Early, Alternative Strategy Pays Dividends For Daly
The start of the race saw no changes in the lead. Simon Pagenaud led ahead of his Penske teammates Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya. Castroneves started to struggle with tire wear and by his first pit stop he had fallen into sixth place behind Montoya, Scott Dixon, Ryan-Hunter Reay, and Marco Andretti who started from 14th place.
A very early first pit stop for sticker red tires allowed the Dale Coyne Racing drivers Conor Daly and Luca Filippi to run as high as fourth and fifth respectfully after others had made their first stop. Once again pitting early for the second stop, Daly became the race leader during a caution following an incident between Andretti and Filippi. The incident happened when Filippi got overtaken by Hunter-Reay for fourth place and also Andretti tried to overtake Filippi into the Turn 1. The two made contact with Andretti spinning and causing a caution. During the caution period, those who hadn't made their second stop pitted, allowing Daly and Tony Kanaan into the first two positions.
Montoya Takes The Lead In A Restart Following A Multi-Car Crash
At the restart, Daly and Kanaan remained in the lead while Montoya passed Pagenaud for third place. However, a caution came out again following a multi-car crash at the Turn 4. The incident involving almost 10 cars got triggered by contact between the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda of Graham Rahal and the Andretti Autosport Honda of Carlos Munoz.
Kanaan pitted during the caution so Daly led the field into the restart followed by Montoya. Yet another great restart by Montoya saw him claiming the lead while Daly in his sixth Verizon IndyCar Series start was doing solid job in second place before the final round of scheduled pit stops. Pagenaud was running in third place, Castroneves in fourth, and Hunter-Reay in fifth, while Dixon of the early frontrunners fell behind due to an unscheduled pit stop to clean the radiators.
Montoya remained in the lead after the final pit stops while his teammates Pagenaud and Castroneves climbed into second and third places as Daly had a long stop. Yet what finally cost Daly the chance to race for podium was having to pit one more time for a nose change.
The race stayed under green until the checkered flag and Pagenaud in second place wasn't able to put pressure on the leader Montoya. With three laps to go, Hunter-Reay made a pass on Castroneves for third place. In the end, Juan Pablo Montoya achieved his second consecutive win at St. Petersburg by 2.3 seconds to his Penske teammate Pagenaud. As the best Honda driver, Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay finished in third place, denying Team Penske and Chevrolet a 1-2-3 win with his late overtake on Helio Castroneves.
A driver that went mostly unnoticed during the race was Mikhail Aleshin in the Honda-powered No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports machine; starting from 17th place, he finished in fifth, less than a second from podium. As the third Honda driver in the top six, Takuma Sato finished in sixth place for A.J. Foyt Enterprises.
Despite having run as high as third at best, the reigning series champion Scott Dixon finished in seventh place following the unscheduled pit stop. The young star of the race, Conor Daly, eventually finished in 13th place following his unscheduled pit stop. Oriol Servia, the substitute driver for Will Power, was one of the drivers involved in the multi-car incident following the first restart; he finished the race in 18th place, a lap down from leader.