Helio Castroneves took an emotional win in the IndyCar season-opening race on the streets of St Petersburg.
The Brazilian crossed the finish line 5.5 seconds ahead of Scott Dixon to end a victory drought that had extended back to Motegi in 2010, and claim a win in the adopted home city of close friend Dan Wheldon, who was fatally injured in the final race of 2011. Castroneves chose Turn 10, which is built on a street that was renamed in Wheldon's honour last week, to perform his trademark climb of the catch fencing after securing the victory.
On an afternoon dictated by strategy and fuel mileage, Dixon (Ganassi) and Castroneves (Penske) worked their way to the front relatively early, with Dixon taking the lead for the first time as the race approached quarter-distance.
Positions changed regularly as everyone played out their strategies, but Dixon and Castroneves remained close throughout. The Brazilian's attack eventually came in the form of a great pass around the outside at Turn 1 on the 73rd lap, and from that point he put down the hammer and opened a large gap that he would maintain to the end.
Ryan Hunter-Reay finished third ahead of Andretti team-mate James Hinchcliffe and Penske's Ryan Briscoe, while Schmidt-Hamilton's Simon Pagenaud made a great recovery from the grid penalty that forced him to start from 16th to cross the line just ahead of polesitter Will Power (Penske) in sixth. EJ Viso (KV), Charlie Kimball (Ganassi) and Justin Wilson (Dale Coyne) rounded out the top 10.
As expected, the first trial of the DW12 in race conditions was peppered with a few reliability problems - seven of the eight cars that did not finish were silenced by mechanical issues. Among the victims were Takuma Sato, who had run very strongly in the Rahal Letterman entry before being forced to pull out on lap 73, and Sebastien Bourdais, who had his Lotus-powered Dragon Racing entry (which had only been shaken down for the first time on Friday) in the top 10 before he too dropped out.
Rubens Barrichello (KV) spent much of his IndyCar debut in 13th place before being dropped to 17th by a late pitstop.
Results - 100 laps: Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Helio Castroneves Penske DW12-Chevrolet 1h59m50.9863s 2. Scott Dixon Ganassi DW12-Honda + 5.5292s 3. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti DW12-Chevrolet + 7.5824s 4. James Hinchcliffe Andretti DW12-Chevrolet + 10.6526s 5. Ryan Briscoe Penske DW12-Chevrolet + 11.7854s 6. Simon Pagenaud Schmidt-Hamilton DW12-Honda + 31.2623s 7. Will Power Penske DW12-Chevrolet + 34.6582s 8. EJ Viso KV DW12-Chevrolet + 35.5943s 9. Charlie Kimball Ganassi DW12-Honda + 43.1425s 10. Justin Wilson Dale Coyne DW12-Honda + 44.3141s 11. Josef Newgarden Fisher Hartman DW12-Honda + 44.8275s 12. Graham Rahal Ganassi DW12-Honda + 45.1080s 13. Dario Franchitti Ganassi DW12-Honda + 45.8468s 14. Marco Andretti Andretti DW12-Chevrolet + 1 lap 15. Alex Tagliani Herta DW12-Lotus + 1 lap 16. Oriol Servia Dreyer & Reinbold DW12-Lotus + 1 lap 17. Rubens Barrichello KV DW12-Chevrolet + 2 laps 18. Ed Carpenter Carpenter DW12-Chevrolet + 2 laps Did not finish: JR Hildebrand Panther DW12-Chevrolet 96 laps Mike Conway Foyt DW12-Honda 75 laps Sebastien Bourdais Dragon DW12-Lotus 73 laps Takuma Sato Rahal DW12-Honda 73 laps Katherine Legge Dragon DW12-Lotus 59 laps Simona de Silvestro HVM DW12-Lotus 22 laps Tony Kanaan KV DW12-Chevrolet 21 laps James Jakes Dale Coyne DW12-Honda 19 laps