Dario Franchitti and Helio Castroneves were back in Long Beach for the first time since 2002 and 2001, respectively, in 2009. Both were overjoyed with the reasons for their returns.
After a lackluster St. Petersburg to start his season, Franchitti took the win in Long Beach to prove to himself, team owner Chip Ganassi and the IndyCar community that he still “had it” after a one-year sojourn to NASCAR. The win kick started his championship season, the first of three in a row from 2009 through 2011 after he won the 2007 series crown.
Castroneves, meanwhile, was back for different reasons. The Brazilian was exonerated on charges of tax evasion, as the legal issues had surrounded the Indianapolis 500 and “Dancing with the Stars” champion throughout the offseason.
Castroneves’ team owner Roger Penske had a contingency plan in place for Long Beach in case Castroneves would be available to race. The team prepared a third car, run by crew that had serviced its sports car programs in either the American Le Mans Series or the GRAND-AM Rolex Series, to ensure Castroneves and his temporary substitute Will Power would both have rides.
Power – who filled in for Castroneves in the traditional No. 3 in St. Pete – shook down the No. 3 in Friday practice as Castroneves returned to Long Beach. Then he switched to the No. 12 Verizon entry for the first time on Saturday, promptly stuck the car on the pole, and finished an impressive second behind Franchitti.
Power hadn’t done enough yet to ensure his full-time status with Penske Racing, but that was about as good of a start as could be delivered. Four years later, Power and Castroneves are still teammates with Penske Racing once again prepping a third car for a potential future full-season driver, AJ Allmendinger.
This Long Beach race also marked the first under INDYCAR sanction, after the final Champ Car edition in 2008.