Mixed day at St. Pete for 2012’s IndyCar top five

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Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon opened their 2013 IndyCar seasons with top-five results achieved by different efforts. But the other three drivers from the 2012 series top five – champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, runner-up Will Power and rookie-of-the-year Simon Pagenaud – are already playing catch-up after challenging weekends in St. Petersburg.

The good first: Castroneves could afford to be disappointed with second after making a mistake on the last restart of the race, but still starting his account with a decent result.

“Unfortunately on the restart, it was a long restart, long yellow,” he explained. I don’t think I warmed up the tires enough. I was braking pretty much the same place. But if you’d have asked me on Friday if I would take second place, I would say yes.”

Dixon fought through a broken waste gate and a poor starting position of 20th to secure a fifth place finish for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, top Honda finisher on the day.

“The Target car was generally pretty good,” Dixon said. “We went a little bit off sequence there at the end but what killed us was the left waste gate on the turbo broke, so I had no boost. I was just getting killed on straight line speed and they just all got past me on the final restarts.”

The days were less successful for the other three. Power’s chances ended on a freak accident under yellow when JR Hildebrand contacted him, while Hunter-Reay had a stuck throttle and Pagenaud was one of many with mechanical issues.

“It wasn’t a great day,” said Hunter-Reay. “We couldn’t get our car into first gear on a pit stop for whatever reason. I don’t know if that had anything to do with the stuck throttle that we ended up having, but that’s what sidelined us in the end. I’ve heard some other guys have been having that issue so everyone is scratching their head right now, and trust me, on a street course it’s not the thing you want – it’s pretty scary to have one.”

“It was a bit of a nightmare weekend for us,” added Pagenaud. “We had no good sessions except the warm-up. We broke the exhaust, ran through the power and damaged the engine. We’re not well-placed for Barber. We have to work a bit and score some more points.”

NHRA Gatornationals: John Force has another spectacular motor explosion

Photo courtesy NHRA
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Legendary NHRA Funny Car driver John Force endured yet another spectacular motor explosion – his third in the NHRA’s first three national event races – during Friday’s qualifying at the Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida.

It’s the kind of consistency the 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ could do without.

The 68-year-old Force came to Gainesville hoping to break the jinx that saw him endure explosions in both the season-opening Winternationals and the second race of the season in Phoenix.

Both motor explosions sent Force to the hospital for examination before he returned to the race track.

Friday, even though the motor in his Chevrolet Camaro blew up again (in the second round of qualifying), at least this time, Force didn’t wind up in the hospital.

He did have his right hand bandaged from a cut suffered in the explosion, but did not have to go to the hospital this time.

He even joked about not having to add yet another ambulance bill to the nearest Gainesville hospital.

But the explosion still proved costly.

“That was another body and that hurts the financial (bottomline),” Force said. “I was out $500,000 to $600,000, and now we are probably out $800,000, going on a million. In drag racing, you have to be tough.”

He ended the day qualifying 14th, not a very comfortable position with two more rounds of qualifying set for Saturday.

Force continues to be mystified why the motors keep exploding.

“I really thought we had it, I thought we were there,” Force said. “In the first round we drove it 500 feet and shut it off. It looked great. We ran it again that run and I was only going to drive it 800 feet even if we didn’t make The Show.”

Force will attempt to improve his qualifying spot during Saturday’s final two rounds to make Sunday’s eliminations.

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