Franchitti dominates in St Pete

Dario Franchitti steered clear of a destructive start and went on to dominate the opening round of the IndyCar Series in St Petersburg

Franchitti dominates in St Pete

The champion led home his 2010 title rival Will Power at a comfortable distance, with Tony Kanaan starting his new partnership with KV with a very promising third, just ahead of Simona de Silvestro, as the HVM driver took a career-best fourth after her best IndyCar drive yet.

Several frontrunners had immediately been wiped out in a chaotic start, triggered when Helio Castroneves (Penske) nudged the back of Marco Andretti's car under braking for the first corner. Andretti spun into and over Ganassi's Scott Dixon, landing upside down as the tangle also collected his Andretti Autosport team-mate Mike Conway and Penske's Ryan Briscoe, and forced Oriol Servia (Newman/Haas) to come to a halt in avoidance.

The uninjured Andretti and Conway's races were over, while Dixon, Briscoe and Castroneves' cars all needed lengthy repairs.

Detractors of the series' new double-file restart format were then given plenty of ammunition as a string of restart lap incidents followed, causing four yellows inside the first 15 laps. Among the drivers requiring repairs were Ganassi's Graham Rahal, who needed a new rear wing after a clash with Ana Beatriz (Dreyer & Reinbold), and Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti), who was up to fourth until contact in a wild moment triggered by de Silvestro lunging down the inside of the lead pack.

That move paid off for de Silvestro. She had already got up from 17th to seventh, and then surged a further five places in a single dive at the fourth restart. It put de Silvestro second behind Franchitti, and ahead of Kanaan, Justin Wilson (Dreyer & Reinbold), and Power, the polesitter having been elbowed back in two restart traffic jams, while Franchitti had swept around the outside of Power to take the lead as racing briefly resumed after the first caution.

When the race finally started to run smoothly, Franchitti was able to pull away from de Silvestro, who kept Kanaan behind her until the first pitstops, during which Power managed to vault to second ahead of Kanaan and de Silvestro.

But rather than giving chase to Franchitti, Power had to focus on resisting constant attack from Kanaan, with de Silvestro catching back up with them as the race went into its closing stages. As de Silvestro put pressure on Kanaan, Power was able to get away, though Franchitti was uncatchable and won by 7.1s. Kanaan held off de Silvestro for the final podium place by just 0.4s, with the Swiss driver climbing all over the back of the Brazilian in the final laps.

Takuma Sato also scored an IndyCar career best as he took fifth for KV, holding Alex Tagliani, Raphael Matos and Vitor Meira at bay - the Schmidt, AFS and Foyt teams all taking extremely encouraging results as well.

Servia came back from a puncture after a brush with Briscoe and a pit penalty to take ninth ahead of Wilson, who fell back following a puncture and later a spin while chasing Servia, but regained two places on the final lap as JR Hildebrand (Panther) and Danica Patrick (Andretti) tangled ahead of him.

Sebastien Bourdais' eagerly-anticipated return to American racing will have to wait a little longer - the four-time Champ Car champion damaged his Dale Coyne car beyond quick repair in a warm-up accident and missed the race.

Results - 100 laps: Pos Driver Team Time/Gap 1. Dario Franchitti Ganassi 2h00m59.6886s 2. Will Power Penske + 7.1612s 3. Tony Kanaan KV + 16.1045s 4. Simona de Silvestro HVM + 16.5616s 5. Takuma Sato KV + 29.9435s 6. Alex Tagliani Schmidt + 30.4655s 7. Raphael Matos AFS + 31.5227s 8. Vitor Meira Foyt + 35.7291s 9. Oriol Servia Newman/Haas + 49.1432s 10. Justin Wilson Dreyer & Reinbold + 56.8025s 11. Danica Patrick Andretti + 57.3418s 12. JR Hildebrand Panther + 1m02.9700s 13. Sebastian Saavedra Conquest + 2 laps 14. Ana Beatriz Dreyer & Reinbold + 2 laps 15. James Jakes Coyne + 3 laps 16. Scott Dixon Ganassi + 4 laps 17. Graham Rahal Ganassi + 4 laps 18. Ryan Briscoe Penske + 5 laps 19. EJ Viso KV + 6 laps 20. Helio Castroneves Penske + 15 laps Retirements: Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti 58 laps Charlie Kimball Ganassi 38 laps Mike Conway Andretti 1 lap Marco Andretti Andretti 0 laps Sebastien Bourdais Coyne DNS 
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