It probably doesn’t bode well for a race when the serious crashing begins long before the green flag drops. At this weekend’s opening IndyCar event in St. Petersburg, FL, former series champ and F1 star Sebastian Bourdais, now driving for Dale Coyne Racing, kicked things off by stacking his car hard in Sunday morning practice. His teammate, James Jakes, followed suit by crashing his own car, which caused a mad scramble to get both cars back in the fight. By the start of the race, only Jakes’ car was repairable, which left Bourdais without a ride for at least the opening race of the season. Next up was a light aircraft that was used in the opening ceremonies; it crashed into Tampa Bay, just short of the runway used as part of the St. Petersburg street circuit. Luckily, no one was seriously injured in any of the pre-race incidents.
When the green flag dropped, it was carnage in turn one. Helio Castroneves punted Marco Andretti, who made contact with Scott Dixon and subsequently got airborne. Andretti landed upside down, but the crash also collected Andretti’s teammate Mike Conway. The double-file restarts proved challenging for the bottleneck that was turn one, and the race saw four full course yellows in the first 13 laps. Danica Patrick went through three front wings in the course of the event, while Graham Rahal needed his entire rear wing replaced. If there was good news, it was that none of the accidents resulted in injury, although several teams will be spending serious cash to prepare for the next race at Barber Motorsport Park on April 10.
When the checkered flag dropped, the top three survivors were polesitter Dario Franchitti, second place finisher Will Power and third place finisher Tony Kanaan (who only finalized a ride for the 2011 season last week). Simona De Silvestro, now in her second season as an IndyCar driver, drove a nearly flawless race and finished in the fourth spot. Aside from Franchitti’s win, it was a disappointing day for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, whose other cars finished in 16th (Scott Dixon), 17th (Graham Rahal) and 22nd (Charlie Kimball). It was a positively embarrassing day for Team Penske: aside from Will Power’s second place finish, Penske driver Ryan Briscoe finished 18th, followed by teammate Helio Castroneves in 20th. It’s too early in the season to read anything into the performances delivered by Tony Kanaan and Simona De Silvestro, but it is refreshing to see teams other than Ganassi and Penske on the podium. Let’s hope IndyCar sorts out the logistics of the double file restart, because it’s already looking like this may be an interesting year for American open wheel racing fans.