Montoya repeats win at St. Pete IndyCar opener

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Perhaps not the outright fastest either on the day or the weekend, for the second straight year Juan Pablo Montoya was the cagiest driver en route to securing the win at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Montoya, in the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, won the Verizon IndyCar Series season-opener courtesy primarily of a Lap 64 pass to the inside of surprise leader Conor Daly in Turn 1 off a restart.

But he set it up courtesy of a well-timed move on erstwhile dominant force Simon Pagenaud on the previous restart, for second, to edge ahead of the driver who led the opening 47 laps.

Montoya was on course to lead a Team Penske podium sweep of its three full-season drivers, ahead of Pagenaud in the No. 22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet and Helio Castroneves in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet.

They got the 1-2 as Montoya beat Pagenaud by 2.3306 seconds after 110 laps, but Ryan Hunter-Reay made it up to third near the finish.

Hunter-Reay spoiled the Penske podium party with a dynamic move on Castroneves into Turn 4 with three laps to go in the No. 28 DHL Honda of Andretti Autosport, to finish third and get back on the podium.

Alas, the result followed a top-four qualifying sweep on Saturday for the second straight year.

Pagenaud inherited the pole position after teammate Will Power was ruled out pre-race, diagnosed with a mild concussion. Oriol Servia then took over the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet car.

Behind the top four, Mikhail Aleshin ended fifth in an impressive return to full-time competition in the No. 7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.

Daly, who’d been in a position to steal a win or more likely a podium, led the middle portion of the race but had a couple different pit stops back-to-back. He needed a new front wing on his second stop in the No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda to make the distance.

He’d been net fifth behind Montoya, Pagenaud, Castroneves and Aleshin prior to his last stop and ultimately ended in 13th.

Of note, Alexander Rossi was on course to deliver a debut top 10 in the No. 98 Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda in 10th place, but fell to 12th in the final stages.

Other rookies Spencer Pigot and Max Chilton were 14th and 17th.

Servia, filling in for Power, ended 18th, a spot ahead of the returning James Hinchcliffe.

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Meyer Shank Racing wins second consecutive Rolex 24 at Daytona to begin GTP era

Rolex 24 Meyer Shank
James Gilbert/Getty Images
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Grand Touring Prototype era began just as the previous one ended as Meyer Shank Racing’s Acura captured its second consecutive Rolex 24 at Daytona with star Tom Blomqvist emphatically starting and finishing the race.

The No. 60 ARX-06 won the 24-hour endurance classic at Daytona International Speedway by 4.190 seconds over Filipe Albuquerque of Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport, giving Acura a sweep of the top two spots.

The Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac V-LMDh cars took the next two spots with Renger van der Zande (the No. 01) and Earl Bamber (No. 02) as four of the nine new GTP cars finished on the lead lap within 12 seconds of each other – quashing the prerace hand-wringing of mass failures for the highly technical cars in the debut of the hybrid prototype premier category.

There were major problems for the manufacturer newcomers Porsche Penske Motorsport and BMW M Team RLL, whose two pairs of cars all finished at least a dozen laps down or more because of major mechanical problems in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener.

But there were no such failures for Acura despite the manufacturer skipping any endurance testing with the new LMDh car.

It’s the third Rolex 24 at Daytona victory for co-owner Mike Shank, who won his first in 2012.

Just as he capped the 2022 season by winning the Petit Le Mans season finale in the No. 60 Acura to clinch the final championship of the DPi division for MSR, Blomqvist was behind the wheel again for his third overall victory in IMSA.

“That was crazy,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. “I knew we had a fantastic car. I’ve been working hard. Unbelievable. Massive, well done, everyone being part of this project and worked together on this project. What a car we’ve built.

“I was just a bit nervous. The 10 was definitely second fastest car, but we held them off.”

It was the second consecutive Rolex 24 victory for MSR’s trio of Blomqvist, Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves, who were joined this year by Colin Braun (winning his first Rolex 24 overall).

Castroneves joined select company in winning the Rolex 24 in three consecutive years (his first win was with Wayne Taylor Racing in 2021). Castroneves and Pagenaud are entering their second consecutive year as teammates for Meyer Shank Racing’s Dallara-Hondas in the NTT IndyCar Series.

“Can you believe that?” Castroneves told Lee. “Big props to everyone. Everyone did an amazing job. Everybody worked so hard together. We got it! Another one. I can’t believe it. This is absolutely a dream come true.”

The four-time Indy 500 winner led the team in his signature fence-climbing celebration afterward — just as he had when he finished MSR’s victory in last year’s Rolex 24 and when he won the 2021 Indy 500 for the team.

“It’s always fun to climb the fence with Helio,” said Pagenaud, who drove the second-to-last stint before Blomqvist closed it out: “The competition as amazing. It was tough out there. So much fun. Hope you had as much fun as we had. I’m going to savor this one.”

Winners in other classes were the No. 55 ORECA 07 of Proton Competition (which triumphed on a last-lap pass by James Allen on Ben Hanley), WeatherTech Racing’s No. 79 Mercedes in GTD Pro, Heart of Racing’s No. 27 Aston Martin in GTD and AWA’s No. 17 in LMP3.