Briscoe Wins St Petersburg Grand Prix
Race Agreement To Be Extended Until 2014
By Carl Wagenfohr
Photo by Carl Wagenfohr
ST PETERSBURG - Ryan Briscoe, taking advantage of a late race restart to pass Justin Wilson, won the Indy Racing League's season opening St Petersburg Grand Prix. Ryan Hunter Reay finished second, and Wilson finished third, an all-time best for team owner Dale Coyne.
The field of 22 cars, filled out by several last minute entries, created close racing on St Petersburg's tight street circuit, producing the inevitable crashes that thinned the field to 12 finishers.
The action started on the opening lap, with cars 5 wide entering turn 1. Last year's race winner and this year's pole sitter Graham Rahal became a victim of the turn 1 clash, spinning onto the dirt after being hit from behind by Tony Kanaan. Dario Franchiti, who returned to the IRL from NASCAR this year, got a blistering start from 5th on the grid, braked late and took the lead exiting turn 1.
Attrition from accidents played a big role in the outcome, with last year's IRL Champion Scott Dixon and popular drivers Marco Andretti, Dan Wheldon and Danica Patrick retiring from the race after their crashes.
Saturday's American Le Mans Series race was won by David Brabham and Scott Sharp, driving the new Acura ARX-12a. But that victory came without competition from the class leading Audi and Peugeot prototypes, both having quit the ALMS Series after Sebring two weeks ago. The ALMS field of only 17 cars was a series record low.
But the race was not without excitement - mostly from the hotly-contested GT2 class. The Porsche team of Jorg Bergmeister and Belleair resident Patrick Long won by a margin of two laps over the Rahal/Letterman Racing BMW M3 driven by Dirk Muller and Tom Milner. The new BMW showed good speed on the tight St Pete circuit, erasing the bad taste of a double retirement at Sebring two weeks ago, and delighting the large number of BMW owners who attended the race.
Perhaps the most exciting racing came from the undercard Indy Lights Series, which ran both on Saturday and Sunday. Dutchman Junior Strous, who raced in the Formula Atlantic Series last year, turned in a dominating performance in his Indy Lights debut, with one pole position and two race wins.
Entertained by a weekend of competitive racing, race fans were delighted by the announcement that race promoter Andretti Green Racing and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker agreed to extend the race contract for another year. "The Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg is a signature event for the city," said Baker, "and it has become one of the standout events of the Indy Racing Series. We are delighted to welcome the return of the Honda Grand Prix through 2014, and look forward to many more great years of racing in St Pete."
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