St. Petersburg flashback: Wheldon wins historic 2005 race

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At the city that he took as his adopted hometown, Dan Wheldon helped usher in a new era for the IZOD IndyCar Series.

The 2005 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was the series’ first-ever event on a road or street course following an all-oval existence that had dated back to its on-track debut in 1996. Not many knew what events to expect in this race, but the final outcome – Wheldon and his three Andretti Green Racing (now Andretti Autosport) teammates sweeping the top four positions – may have been the most unexpected one of all.

On a restart at Lap 91 of 100, Wheldon was sitting in third behind one of those teammates, Tony Kanaan, and leader Ryan Briscoe, then with Target Chip Ganassi Racing. As the field wound its way toward Turn 10, Kanaan would attempt to pass Briscoe for the point but the two made contact that sent Briscoe into the tire barrier.

As that was happening, Wheldon passed them both coming out of Turn 10 and went on to lead the rest of the AGR camp — Kanaan, Dario Franchitti and Bryan Herta – to the checkered flag.

“For the whole team, it’s fantastic,” Wheldon said afterwards. “I mean, forget my victory, but just to have me and my three other teammates, who are all very, very close friends, as a 1-2-3-4 is exceptional. It would be very difficult in this series for it to happen again.”

Wheldon’s victory was his second of six he would attain that year — one of which was his first of two Indianapolis 500 triumphs. He went on to clinch the series championship with one race remaining.

Since Wheldon’s death in the 2011 season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the city of St. Petersburg has remembered the man known as “Lionheart” and his accomplishments. Prior to last year’s race, Turn 10 was re-christened as Dan Wheldon Way (pictured), and later this afternoon, a permanent memorial to him will be unveiled at the track.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.

Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish

Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.

While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.

Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.

Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.

In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.