Verizon IndyCar Notes & Quotes: Grand Prix of St. Petersburg


ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. – The season-opening round of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ 2014 calendar is in the books, with Will Power opening the year on top.

Here are some of the other associated quotes and storylines following Sunday’s race. See Saturday and Friday’s notes and quotes linked in this sentence.

  • P2 for Ryan Hunter-Reay equaled a St. Pete best, also achieved in 2009 following a last-minute concluded with Vision Racing. In his usual No. 28 DHL Honda stead for Andretti Autosport, Sunday’s was a little more normal. “It was a good day; a little strange at times. Not really sure where we were at times but we just hung in there position wish and kept pushing 110 percent and just had a good little fight with Helio (Castroneves) there and got by him,” said the 2012 series champion.
  • Third for Helio Castroneves made it three podiums, in three different positions, in the last three Firestone Grands Prix of St. Petersburg (won in 2012, second in 2013). “I will take it. Obviously I started the race, the qualifying was a little tricky for us but I knew I had a very fast car, no question. And I was pushing as hard as I could during the race. Unfortunately, one of the restarts was a poker game with Will. But you know its ok, its good,” said the driver of the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet.
  • Defending series champion Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud grabbed the other top-five spots; for Dixon, it was a rather nondescript weekend filled with good points, while Pagenaud overachieved after a disappointing qualifying to grab a season-opening fifth place.
  • Polesitter Takuma Sato ended seventh, one spot better than in 2013; this after qualifying one spot better too (2nd/8th, now 1st/7th). Still, a solid points day. “The first stint I had a nice rhythm going but we struggled a bit on the blacks on the next two stints, but we tried hard. It was difficult to gain on the track today. After a great qualifying, we’re a little disappointed with the finish but we came away with some points for the ABC Supply team,” he said.
  • Your big movers on the afternoon? Justin Wilson ended eighth after starting 16th and Josef Newgarden a St. Petersburg-best ninth from 22nd and shotgun on the field. Graham Rahal had a big start too, advancing 10 positions in the early stages from 21st up to 11th; the National Guard Honda driver ended 14th.
  • Sneaky good finishes occurred for Sebastian Saavedra in 11th and rookie Mikhail Aleshin in 12th. Aleshin being top rookie in the results was a bit of a surprise considering Carlos Munoz and Jack Hawksworth’s respective qualifying efforts of seventh and eighth, and Carlos Huertas’ near immediate adaptation despite the late call to drive Dale Coyne’s second car. Munoz ended 17th, Huertas 18th and Hawksworth 21st after being eliminated in a restart accident.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya ended only 15th, but learned a lot in his open-wheel return. “We were just burning up the rear tires with the setup that we decided to run. It was just a little too aggressive. You know, we will learn and pass some people and some people passed us. There are a few things we have to do better but I didn’t feel my pace was too bad there at the end,” said the 1999 CART and 2000 Indianapolis 500 champion.

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

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