ST. PETERSBURG – On a day when “new” was all the rage for the Verizon IndyCar Series as it opened its 2015 season, an old hand stole the show with a move reminiscent of his open-wheel heyday in 1999 and 2000.
Juan Pablo Montoya pitted earlier than his Team Penske teammate Will Power, who led the majority of the 110-lap season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, on the third and final pit stop sequence of the race.
But with Power suffering a slower pit stop on Lap 82 due to a slow air jack release and Montoya nailing both his in and out laps a lap earlier – the latter on cold Firestone red alternate tires after switching from the primary blacks – Montoya took the lead and seized the momentum heading into the dramatic final stages of the race.
Power began a dogged charge to catch his teammate, but was unable to pass the Colombian.
The battle between the two came to a head on Lap 99, following contact between Power’s left front and Montoya’s right rear quarter panels at Turn 10. Power got a monster run to Montoya’s inside, got into Montoya’s sidepod, but both continued.
It expanded the gap between the two to more than 1.5 seconds after it was mere tenths of seconds prior to that. Power made one final charge but was interrupted by lapped traffic, stuck for too long behind rookie Sage Karam on Lap 105.
Montoya held on to win his second race in his open-wheel return, his first street course race since the 2003 Monaco Grand Prix and his first street course race in IndyCar since 1999 at Vancouver, by 0.9930 of a second over Power.
“It was a good day. I was really good on blacks. I could push and open a gap to Will,” Montoya told ABC’s Dr. Jerry Punch in victory lane.
Of the contact with Power, Montoya added, “He was too far back. I wasn’t gonna give up the position. When I got to the turn he wasn’t even close. It’s all good. It’s racing.”
Power, who led a race-high 75 laps, told ABC’s Rick DeBruhl, “Yeah that was a place I could kinda get a run on him. Only chance I had. I think he saw me. It was kind of optimistic but it was possible. He didn’t give me anything. It was kind of my only chance.”
The ending saved the day in the debut of manufacturer aero kits after five full-course cautions – three for debris and two for additional accidents – peppered the first half of the race.
Tony Kanaan drove a solid race from seventh up to third, aboard the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.
Meanwhile the Penske party continued with Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud completing the top five.
Kanaan’s interruption left Penske one spot shy of a top-four sweep, a feat the team achieved in qualifying and a feat Kanaan’s then-team, Andretti Green Racing, did at St. Petersburg in 2005.
Behind the top five, Sebastien Bourdais ended sixth, with Ryan Hunter-Reay, Jack Hawksworth, Luca Filippi and Marco Andretti in the top-10. Hawksworth made it into the top-10 on an alternate strategy in his debut for A.J. Foyt Enterprises while Filippi scored an IndyCar career-best finish to date of ninth.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Results Sunday of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 1.8 mile St Petersburg street circuit, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):
1. (4) Juan Pablo Montoya, Dallara-Chevy, 110, Running
2. (1) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 110, Running
3. (7) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Chevy, 110, Running
4. (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Chevy, 110, Running
5. (2) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Chevy, 110, Running
6. (6) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Chevy, 110, Running
7. (8) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Honda, 110, Running
8. (21) Jack Hawksworth, Dallara-Honda, 110, Running
9. (19) Luca Filippi, Dallara-Chevy, 110, Running
10. (12) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 110, Running
11. (15) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 110, Running
12. (10) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Chevy, 110, Running
13. (5) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 110, Running
14. (14) Carlos Munoz, Dallara-Honda, 110, Running
15. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Chevy, 110, Running
16. (16) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Honda, 110, Running
17. (22) Gabby Chaves, Dallara-Honda, 110, Running
18. (11) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara-Honda, 110, Running
19. (18) Sage Karam, Dallara-Chevy, 109, Running
20. (17) Stefano Coletti, Dallara-Chevy, 109, Running
21. (13) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Chevy, 109, Running
22. (20) James Jakes, Dallara-Honda, 100, Running
23. (23) Francesco Dracone, Dallara-Honda, 70, Mechanical
24. (24) Carlos Huertas, Dallara-Honda, 19, Mechanical
Winners average speed: 86.735
Time of Race: 02:16:58.1079
Margin of victory: 0.9930 of a second
Cautions: 5 for 22 laps
Lead changes: 6 among 5 drivers
Power 1 – 21
Pagenaud 22 -23
Power 24 – 48
Hawksworth 49 -53
Power 54 – 82
Montoya 84 – 110
Point Standings: Montoya 51, Power 44, Kanaan 35, Castroneves 33, Pagenaud 31, Bourdais 28, Hunter-Reay 26, Hawksworth 25, Filippi 22, Andretti 20. .