Chevrolet, Montoya, Pagenaud all off to great start in 2016 IndyCar season

(Getty Images)

There may not be anything like a sure thing, but Chevrolet is pretty darn close to it when it comes to racing at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Not only did Juan Pablo Montoya repeat last year’s win in the season opener this past Sunday, Chevy has some significant bragging rights: it has now won on the St. Pete street course for five consecutive years since the company returned to the IndyCar Series in 2012.

Plus, Chevrolet drivers took three (Simon Pagenaud was runner-up, while Helio Castroneves finished third) of the top-four finishing positions and six of the top-10 (including defending series champ Scott Dixon, who finished sixth) to start the 16-race season, making the corporate folks back in Detroit quite happy.

“Juan Pablo Montoya and his No. 2 Verizon Chevrolet team executed flawlessly to capture their second consecutive win on the Streets of St. Petersburg,” said Jim Campbell, U.S. Vice President Performance Vehicles and Motorsports. “It was great to see Simon Pagenaud take the checkered flag behind his teammate resulting in a 1-2 finish for Chevy in the season’s opening race.

“Preparation for the start of the 2016 season began immediately after the checkered flag at Sonoma (at the end of last season).

“The Chevrolet engineering team, our technical partners, teams and drivers worked tirelessly to identify opportunities for continued improvement to both the Chevy IndyCar V6 engine and the Chevrolet Aero Kit to maximize power, durability and aerodynamic balance.

“While there is more work to do, that teamwork contributed to a strong start to the season.”

Montoya, in a sense, appears to be a man on a mission in 2016. He won last season’s opener at St. Petersburg and led the Verizon IndyCar Series points standings for the first 15 races of the 16-race schedule.

But Montoya lost his title bid to Scott Dixon in the season finale at Sonoma. He claims he doesn’t think about it anymore, but that could be both subterfuge to the media as well as motivation to himself.

“It’s nice to start the year with a win,” Montoya said. “To be honest with you, when you’re in Team Penske, there’s always that pressure that you got to win races. You have to win. You’re in the best car, you got to win races.

“So to start the year with a win, it’s like, ‘Oh, I got that one out of the way’ (he said with a laugh).”

Just like last year’s race, Montoya started fourth. He took the lead for the final time with 25 laps to go in the 110-lap/198-mile race around the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street course.

“To come back here after being down, start the season with a win again, it shows everybody we’re here. It’s good. I feel like we can get a lot of wins this year.”

Runner-up Pagenaud, meanwhile, led 48 laps early on and then followed his Team Penske teammate across the finish line.

“Overall it was a great day,” Pagenaud said. “If you compare to last year, it’s been a massive improvement on the whole 22 crew. I’m super proud to represent HPE in our first race and be here on the podium in second place, leading the race for a while.”

Pagenaud then injected a bit of levity into the post-race press conference, taking a good-natured dig at his teammate.

“Montoya is an old dog,” Pagenaud said with a laugh. “He found a little good trick on me. Fortunately I had a lot of wheel spin compared to last year. I decided to be aggressive on the restarts. Maybe I was too close to T.K. (Tony Kanaan). I think it took quite a bit of aerodynamics out of my car. Had a lot of wheel spin, didn’t go forward. Great job on him to get me.”

Pagenaud now finds himself just eight points (51 to 43) behind his teammate in the standings heading into the second race of the season at Phoenix, under the lights on April 2.

“Overall you have to look at the big picture,” Pagenaud said, adding with another laugh, “the evolution of the whole team, I hope you guys (media) see it now, that you stop saying bad stuff about my team.

“But it’s been awesome. We had so much fun this weekend. We’re just going to keep pushing and I think we’ll be strong this year.”

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Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup

IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10-3 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 7 p.m. to USA Network. Peacock will have flag-to-flag coverage.



Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III