Wheldon Claims Inaugural Race in St Pete

Dan Wheldon has claimed the first ever IRL road race, leading teammate Tony Kanaan across the line in an incredibly tight finish in St Petersburg

Wheldon Claims Inaugural Race in St Pete

Polesitter Bryan Herta led the pack down the front straight on a gloriously sunny Florida day, with Tony Kanaan moving past Helio Castroneves into second a few corners later, ahead of teammate Dario Franchitti and an impressive Tomas Enge.

The pack ran in position for the opening stint, stretching out until the leaders came up to lap the first of the backmarkerson lap 14. The front pair ran through without a problem, but as Castroneves came up behind AJ Foyt IV he was squeezed into the wall at turn 12, putting both men out of the race and bringing out the first full course yellow.

As the pack slowed down Ed Carpenter amusingly spun by himself, coming to a complete stop in the middle of the corner before heading back to the pits. The leading group all took the opportunity to stop under yellow, with Kanaan drawing a penalty after an already slow stop for running over his air hose, which pushed him back to 18th.

Ryan Briscoe didn't stop and led comfortably when the race turned green from Danica Patrick, Rice, Manning and Barron, moving out to a six second lead by lap 34 when Carpenter spun once again, leaving a narrow path between himself and the wall for the field drive through, calling forth another yellow and more stops.

The race restarted on lap 41, with the leading pack now comprised of Herta, Briscoe, Franchitti and Buddy Rice. Briscoe was extremely lucky to stay in the race after running wide at turn four, getting on the marbles but just managing to stay off the wall but losing two places as a result.

Two laps later another yellow flag was brought out when Franchitti ran inside Scott Sharp at turn one, stealing the line and leaving Sharp with nowhere to go - he ran over Franchitti's front left wheel and backwards into the wall.

Patrick, who had driven a quiet race after suffering from gearbox problems, lost five laps in the pits for repairs, coming out just as the race restarted on lap 47, with the lead pack now comprised of Herta, Dan Wheldon, Scott Dixon, Patrick Carpentier and Vitor Meira.

Franchitti had now worked out his inside line move at turn one - as the race went green he took Meira's position before repeating the process one lap later on Carpentier, perfected the move against Dixon on the next lap to claim third on track.

With the race running down the teams started considering tactical stops to make sure their drivers had enough fuel to get to the end of the race.

The first group into the pits was Carpentier (lap 61), Herta and Dixon (62), Wheldon (63), then Franchitti from the lead on 64, coming out in seventh place. Briscoe now led just ahead of Tomas Scheckter, with Darren Manning, Kanaan and Enge close behind.

The lead stayed unchanged until lap 76 when Scheckter came in, one lap before Briscoe, Dixon and Kanaan, who had another very slow stop due to problems removing the fuel hose.

The yellow flag everyone was waiting for came one lap later, with Scheckter understeering into the wall. his teammate Enge held the lead but had to pit for fuel, and was surprisingly joined by Franchitti, who hadn't managed to take enough fuel onboard at the previous stop.

After a five lap yellow the race restarted on lap 83: Briscoe held the lead once more, clearly happier on a road course than an oval, running ahead of Manning, Wheldon, Kanaan, and Dixon.

Kanaan was on a charge, driving around Wheldon at turn three before dubiously coming inside Manning a few corners later; there was no room for two cars and they collided, with the Briton falling back to fourth. As the pack made its way back to the front straight Kosuke Matsuura ran foolishly into Dixon, who was turned around and fell to the back of the group.

Back at the front Kanaan way much quicker than Briscoe, driving all over his rear wing until a fifth yellow was shown as Enge ran straight into the back of Sam Hornish, putting the pair out at turn four.

After a few laps to catch their breath the pack ran green once more on lap 91. The order at the front was Briscoe, Kanaan, Wheldon, Franchitti and Herta, with the Brazilian clearly the fastest man on track.

At the first turn he ran outside Briscoe, with the Australian driving a very wide car to defend the lead for half a lap before Kanaan repeated the Manning move - he ran inside at the same corner but there was no room, with Briscoe following the racing line but being punted into the tyre wall.

Wheldon sensed weakness, powering past Kanaan as he slowed after the impact. Kanaan threw everything he had at the Briton, but Wheldon had enough to hold the Brazilian off all the way to the finish, taking the chequered flag just ahead of Kanaan and Franchitti.

Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg - Result:
Pos Driver Laps Status 
1. Dan Wheldon 100 Running 2. Tony Kanaan 100 Running 3. Dario Franchitti 100 Running 4. Bryan Herta 100 Running 5. Vitor Meira 100 Running 6. Scott Dixon 100 Running 7. Buddy Rice 100 Running 8. Patrick Carpentier 100 Running 9. Darren Manning 99 Running 10. Alex Barron 99 Running 11. Roger Yasukawa 98 Running 12. Danica Patrick 95 Running 13. Kosuke Matsuura 94 Mechanical 14. Ryan Briscoe 91 Accident 15. Sam Hornish Jr. 85 Accident 16. Tomas Enge 85 Accident 17. Tomas Scheckter 77 Accident 18. Scott Sharp 43 Accident 19. Ed Carpenter 32 Accident 20. Helio Castroneves 12 Accident 21. A.J. Foyt IV 11 Accident
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