Rear View Mirror: St. Petersburg

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Following last week’s embarrassing start to the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway for Andretti Green Racing, where they were unable to pose a serious challenge to any of the front running "Red Cars" (i.e. Penske Racing and Target Chip Ganassi Racing), the four-car team was happy to be on its "home turf" in St. Petersburg this weekend.

Sure, none of the four drivers in the AGR stable – Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti, Marco Andretti nor Danica Patrick – live in picturesque St. Petersburg, but the event is organized by Andretti Green Promotions, making a strong outing of utmost importance to the team.

After several near scares, the drivers did not disappoint, scoring four top-eight finishes for the organization led by Tony Kanaan’s third-place result.

However, at the start of the 100-lap St. Petersburg Grand Prix, it was starting to look like another disastrous weekend.

In Turn 4, Franchitti hit a curb and bounced off Kanaan, who spun out as a result, creating a small pile up behind him.

While Kanaan was able to continue without any damage to his car, he was forced to the rear, not a promising position on a temporary street course, which is one of the hardest style tracks to pass on.

What’s worst, Franchitti came into the pits three times shortly after the accident; twice to fix damage on his No. 27 Canadian Club Dallara-Honda and once to serve a drive-through penalty for speeding on pit road.

Even through all that hardship, both drivers made their way back to finish third and fifth respectively. Combine those results with Andretti’s fourth and Patrick’s eighth, and you get a team that is unwilling to lay down despite the domination of those pesky "Red Cars" – and the constant put downs by some in the media...

...Not that I would write anything bad about them (That’s if you don’t count my comment in last week’s Rear View Mirror)

Complete Results | Photos

In Case You Missed It...
Tony Kanaan’s problems were not only constrained to Sunday, making his overall result that much more impressive.

After consistently placing in the top three in the first three practice sessions of the weekend, the driver of the No. 11 7-Eleven Dallara-Honda set the pace in qualifying by running a seemingly unbeatable fast lap of 105.202 mph in the "Firestone Fast Six" – a qualifying format used on road courses that allows drivers a chance to run as many laps in 10 minutes to set the first six starting positions.

Shortly thereafter though, he crashed in Turn 9, nullifying his efforts. Even worse, it forced his team, along with other AGR members, to work until late at night to fix the damage so that he wouldn’t be forced to the rear of the field for the start.

"It was 10 (p.m.) by the time the guys finished," said Kanaan. "If somebody was listening to me on the radio on the last lap, on the cool-down lap, I really thanked the team. That's what makes us who we are."

During the late night session, the guys got a crazy design idea that may have helped the superstitious Kanaan to score his finish.

"We have a mechanic, Steve Price, he's always hurt. If you see him, he always has a band-aid or something like that. This weekend, I had band-aids all over the place. I had a problem with my back because of the ALMS race in Sebring. I had to do a three and a half hour stint with no power steering so I kind of messed up my back, so my arm was a little sore. I had the same thing.

"They started to make fun of both of us. Then we looked at the car. First thing I said, ‘Hey, looks like Steve. It was all banged up, different colors.’ One of the guys said, ‘Well, we're missing some band-aids. I went and got some. We put it on without the clear tape. One of them tried to come off in warm-up, which I was very upset. When the car is good, you don't touch it, so I'm a bit superstitious. Let's put clear tape over those things. We left it there. I hope the car feels better now.’"

Don’t be surprised to see some more band-aids on Kanaan’s cars in the future.

Related: Castroneves Awarded St. Pete Pole

Déjà Vu All Over Again
Were you having flashbacks during the St. Petersburg Grand Prix? If you did, you were not alone.

Not only did Helio Castroneves win for the second year in a row, but the podium was unchanged from 2006 with Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan in the second and third finishing positions respectively.

Combine that with last week’s repeat victory by Dan Wheldon at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and things are starting to look eerily similar to 2006.

I don’t want to jinx things, but if anybody in the Las Vegas area can put some money down on Sam Hornish Jr. winning this year's Indianapolis 500 on my behalf - I would be very appreciative.

Homestead-Miami Results: 2007, 2006 | St. Petersburg Results: 2007, 2006

Dixon Takes Over Championship Lead
Although the press during the first two races of the 2007 IndyCar Series season has concentrated on the overwhelming victories by Dan Wheldon and Helio Castroneves, it is another driver who finds himself atop the series standings following St. Petersburg.

With two consecutive runner-up finishes, Target Chip Ganassi’s Scott Dixon leads the championship by five points over the two race winners. Tony Kanaan (15 points behind) and defending series champion Sam Hornish Jr. (19 points behind) round out the top five in the standings.

Championship Standings | Dixon Race-by-Race Results

Matsuura Blames Jeff Simmons for Early Exit...Again
Free advice to Jeff Simmons – Keep an eye out for Kosuke Matsuura.

Whether unintentional or not, Simmons has been the cause for both of Matsuura’s bad finishes to start the 2007 campaign, crashing into him on lap 90 at Homestead-Miami Speedway and then on lap 1 at St. Petersburg.

"I am very upset about Jeff Simmons hitting me again today, it's two weeks in a row and not apologizing for what he did," said Matsuura. "I think it is very unfair and disrespectful. If it was my fault then I would apologize to him right away but it clearly was not my fault.

"All the drivers should have respect for each other and I am disappointed in how he responded to me when I went to talk to him after the race. Overall, I am very thankful to my mechanics and all the team members for fixing my car so quickly and supporting me to finish the race. I want to refresh my mind and do my best in the next race in Japan."

By the way...Can anybody tell me what exactly Matsuura said in his television interview following the incident? Shoot me an e-mail at Jmondaca@iscmotorsports.com and let me know.

What’s Next
The IRL IndyCar Series is now on a three-week hiatus until the running of the Indy Japan 300 at the 1.5-mile Twin Ring Motegi oval on April 21.

The race will be the fifth for the Series at Twin Ring Motegi, the home track for engine builder Honda (hence one of the main reasons the IRL travels halfway around the globe for one event). If the recent pattern of drivers defending their victories continues, look for Helio Castroneves to score his second victory of 2007. However, with two previous victories in Japan while at Andretti Green Racing, look for a strong Dan Wheldon to also contend for the win.

The IMS Radio Network will carry the race live at 11:30 p.m. (EDT) on April 20. The race will be telecast at noon (EDT) on April 21 by ESPN. Twin Ring Motegi Track Page | 2007 Schedule

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