2012: Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg: IndyCars

In previous years, I’ve typically taken more interest in the World Challenge races at Honda Grand Prix, but this year the excitement and the drama was in the IndyCar races (imagine that!). With a whole new set of cars, which had been developed with the help of the late Dan Wheldon, the races were anything but predictable. The opening image above, is of James Hinchcliffe wearing a Danica wig.  He’s driving for the Go Daddy team this year in Danica’s former position and I thought it was pretty hilarious that he showed up for the driver introduction ceremony like that.

Dan Wheldon’s sister, Holly, was on hand during the driver introductions and would later be handing out awards to the winning drivers.

Also on hand was driving legend Mario Andretti.

Andretti was also out on the track, giving lucky passengers a taste of the IndyCar experience in this specially made 2 seater.

Last year’s Honda Grand Prix winner, Will Power. During qualifying this year, he broke the track’s lap record.

Target driver Dario Franchitti

Another fan favorite, Rubens Barrichello

The great Tony Kanaan.

A female driver for whom I have great respect, Simona de Silvestro. She can normally be quite a competitor, but in this race she was taken out by mechanical issues.

Another crowd favorite, Takuma Sato. Sato drove last year, just after the Fukashima Nuclear and tsunami tragedy, in support of Save Japan, a charity he set up. From the looks of his new car, they’re still working hard to support the children who survived the disaster in Japan with their With You Japan charity.

The man who would take the checkered flag later that day, Helio Castroneves. This would be his third time winning the Honda Grand Prix of St Pete, the last being back in 2007, which was the first year I attended the races. This would mark his 26th career victory, but his first since Motegi, Japan, back in 2010.

Before the races began, there was a sky diving presentation in salute to the men and women of our armed forces.

As much as I dislike the looks of the new Civic Si, there was something right about it being out there as the pace car this year. The Si had been the pace car in previous years, but last year was replaced by the Accord, which I don’t really see as a performance car. Though the V6 2-door model can be quite quick, it’s not the model that started the import car modifying scene that drew me to be the automotive enthusiast I am today. And besides, in my opinion, this looks better in IndyCar livery than the Accord did.

The black on gold color scheme of the #7 Lotus, driven by Sébastien Bourdais, reminded me of the old John Player Special Lotus race cars of the past. I’m not normally one to love the color gold on a car, but there’s something about it that just works with the black.

This was quite an exciting race, because there were so many leader changes. It really kept you pinned to the edge of your seat.

Will Power overtaking Marco Andretti on Turn 1.

Rubens Barrichello flys through Turn 1.

Takuma Sato on Turn 1 with his With You Japan charity logo on the side. I encourage you to donate if you have the means.

E.J. Viso was running well through most of the race, despite being on the brink of dehydration from food poisoning the night before. A final pit stop would drop him back some, although he did finish in a better place than he started. Here he is, on another overtake of Marco Andretti coming into Turn 1.

Unfortunately, many of the new cars were experiencing race-ending issues. Sadly, for me being a Lotus fan, it was mostly a problem with the Lotuses. Here, JR Hildebrand exits his Chevrolet. The rule of the day seemed to be that most of the Chevrolets dominated, the Lotuses broke down, and the Hondas mostly seemed to be lagging behind.

Tony Kanaan flys through Turn 1 in his Chevrolet. Unfortunately, he was taken out of the race by a dead battery.

It was interesting for me personally to see a Sonny’s sponsored car, here driven by Justin Wilson, because my grandfather owned a couple of the original Sonny’s restaurants. He grew up with Sonny Tillman and Sonny was at his funeral a few years ago. They were life long friends.

Despite achieving pole position and an early lead, Will Power was pushed back by contact with some tires.

Helio Castroneves had some contact with another driver due to a lack of signaling toward the pits, but was not held back. Towards the end of the race, he overtook Dixon in Turn 1 (to the accompaniment of a standing ovation from the bleachers) and Hildebrand soon after. From then on, he developed a nearly insurmountable lead all the way to the end.

Helio on his victory lap.

In a very emotional charged moment, Helio jumped up on the fence next to the Wheldon Way sign. I have to admit that I nearly teared up.

For the rest of the afternoon, we watched the Ferrari Challenge race. I admit that while I don’t follow Ferrari Challenge at all, it was nice seeing some Ferraris being flogged around a track, as they were designed to do, rather than sitting in someone’s collection.

A flat. That’s a bummer, dude.

While I don’t condone it on a street car (I’m looking at you Bieber), I really like chrome on a race car.

I’m not sure which this reminds me more of, Nickelodeon or Ken Block.

NOM NOM NOM!

I’d like to thank my beautiful wife Nina for volunteering to serve as my flag girl, not just for these races, but last weekend at Festivals of Speed. I’d have passed out from heat exhaustion if it weren’t for her. Stick around. This weekend, I’ll be working on posting supercars from the St Petersburg and Orlando, FL locations of Festivals of Speed.

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