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Servia “very grateful” for Penske opportunity to fill in for Power

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – In the annals of Oriol Servia’s career, this one was an oddity.

Servia – who has unofficially now raced for his 13th different team in his 198-start IndyCar career with his first start for Team Penske on Sunday – went from trying to figure out an Indianapolis 500 deal to then making sure all his equipment was here, getting his seat placed in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet and fitting into a Verizon firesuit.

And then doing the warmup session maybe an hour after the end of the morning driver’s meeting.

But while Servia had made miracles happen before in a similar type situation – he filled in for Paul Tracy at Long Beach in the 2007 Champ Car World Series race, qualifying 14th and then driving to second – no such encore occurred Sunday in the Verizon IndyCar Series’ season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Servia started 22nd and last in taking over for Will Power, who was diagnosed with a mild concussion. It meant the polesitting car moved back to the rear of the field.

He’d already gained four spots by Lap 1 (up to 18th), and ran as high as 11th on Lap 56 before he was caught up in the Turn 8 “parking lot.”

He ended 18th, then, a lap down by the end of the day.

But all told, it wasn’t the result but the opportunity for Servia to embrace.

“It was crazy from the beginning to the middle to the end! I was pleased I had the pace in the warmup, although the last few tenths is what we just didn’t have time to find,” Servia said, via Chevrolet’s post-race quotes.

“In the race, I’d say I was the limit, my arms, not the car. I can tell you, I was very pleased to see that first yellow.

“But I’m very grateful to the team, it was a fantastic car, a fantastic opportunity, but I wish it didn’t happen because of Will. He is a good friend.”

Servia now lives in Los Angeles, but was in St. Petersburg instead of the FIA Formula E Championship race in Mexico City, which took place on Saturday. Servia serves as the managing director for Jay Penske’s Dragon Racing team and incidentally, Dragon Racing won on a disqualification with Jerome d’Ambrosio inheriting the win after Lucas di Grassi was bounced.

It’s the second straight race for Servia – spread over eight months with two different teams – in IndyCar. He got the emotional call-up to fill Justin Wilson’s seat in the No. 25 Andretti Autosport Honda at the Sonoma finale last year.

Ideally, his next IndyCar start – and two more would take him to 200 in his career dating to 2000 – comes under more normal circumstances.

Here’s more on Servia’s day from USA Today Sports’ Brant James – Brant and I wound up playing the new “find the Servia” game – this morning.

March 29 in Motorsports History: Scott Dixon wins first race after reunification

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Reunited and it felt so good.

That’s what drivers likely thought before the 2008 IndyCar opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

For the first time since 1995, major-league open-wheel racing in the United States was under the banner of a sole sanctioning body as Champ Car and the Indy Racing Leauge had reunified just a month prior.

Scott Dixon celebrates after winning the 2008 IndyCar opener at Homestead. Photo: Jim Hines/IndyCar.

The first race after reunification also saw a reversal of fortunes for Scott Dixon, who won the race after losing the 2007 IRL championship in crushing fashion.

In the 2007 season finale at Chicagoland Speedway, Dixon ran out of fuel while leading on the final lap of the race. The race victory – and championship – went to Dixon’s future teammate, Dario Franchitti.

But the tides turned for Dixon nearly seven months later, and the Kiwi was able to win with the help of another driver’s misfortune.

Tony Kanaan was leading with seven laps remaining when E.J. Viso spun and made contact with Kanaan’s car. Kanaan remained on track through the caution period despite suffering obvious damage to his right front suspension.

On the final restart with three laps remaining, Dixon and others cars easily passed Kanaan’s wounded car on the outside. Dixon then maintained his lead through the checkered flag to win at Homestead for the second time in his career.

“I think Marco (Andretti) and T.K. probably had a little bit better cars today, but we came through with the win, and that’s what counts,” Dixon told ESPN after his 12th career victory.

Following his victory at Homestead, Dixon continued to redeem himself through the course of the 2008 season. In May, he won the Indianapolis 500 for the first (and so far only) time. Following Indy, he went on to win four more times in 2008 and won his second series championship.

Also on this date:

1998: Mika Hakkinen won the Grand Prix of Brazil, the first of eight victories in his first championship season.

2010: Will Power won the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which was held on a Monday morning because of rain postponing the race on Sunday.

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