Castroneves snaps IndyCar winless drought at St. Pete

St. Petersburg, FL (Sports Network) - Helio Castroneves put behind his frustrating 2011 season in the IZOD IndyCar Series by winning Sunday's Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Just after pitting for the second and final time, Castroneves overtook Scott Dixon for second place as they came out of a turn with 28 laps remaining. Castroneves then passed J.R. Hildebrand for the lead on the following lap and kept it from there. The Team Penske driver ended an 18-race winless streak in the series.

"It's been a little while, but it never gets old," said Castroneves, whose last win came in September 2010 at Motegi, Japan. "I did say out loud, 'If I start in the top-six, I'll win this race.' And we did it. We are here in victory circle."

Castroneves led a total of 28 laps en route to his 26th career IndyCar win.

The Brazilian endured his worst season in IndyCar last year, finishing 11th in the point standings. He was also winless for the first season since competing in the series in 2001, the year he won his first of two Indianapolis 500s.

It was the third time Castroneves won an IndyCar race on the streets of St. Petersburg. His other victories here came in 2006 and '07.

Castroneves also gave Chevrolet the victory in its return to IndyCar as an engine manufacturer. Chevrolet left the series after the 2005 season. Lotus is a new engine supplier this year as well. Honda had been the sole provider from 2006-11.

This race marked the debut of IndyCar's new "DW12" car, which was named in honor of Dan Wheldon, who suffered life-ending injuries during a horrific 15- car crash five months ago at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Wheldon, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and 2005 series champion, had resided in St. Petersburg.

In what was the first race since Wheldon's death, Castroneves paid tribute to his late-friend when, after taking the checkered flag, he got out of his car in turn 10, which was recently named "Dan Wheldon Way." Castroneves did his trademark climbing of the fence to salute the fans in that area of the racetrack. He then walked over to the other side of the turn and climbed another fence to pat a street sign in honor of Wheldon.

When IndyCar competed at St. Petersburg for the first time in 2005, Wheldon passed Ryan Briscoe for the lead in turn 10 late in the race and then kept it for the win.

"I ended up stopping at turn 10, but honestly, I did not plan it," Castroneves said. "It was just the way it happened, and there was the sign 'Dan Wheldon Way.' For me, and for all of us -- the drivers and the fans -- not having him here certainly we'll miss.

"But we've got to remember him as he lived, the way he lived, and continue to pray for his family."

Wheldon's sister, Holly, waved the green flag to start the 100-lap race around the 1.8-mile street circuit.

Dixon from Target Chip Ganassi Racing ended up finishing 5.5 seconds behind Castroneves.

"We seemed to have the strategy right, and Helio was just really fast," said Dixon, who led the most laps with 37. "He was fast but also able to save fuel. So we did a really good job for what we did at saving fuel, but obviously we didn't have the speed, and we seemed to burn the tires up really quick. I haven't finished here in a while, so it's nice to come out here in St. Pete and get some good points."

Andretti Autosport drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe placed third and fourth, respectively. Castroneves' teammate, Briscoe, completed the top- five.

Chevrolet took four of the top-five finishing positions in the IndyCar season- opener. Dixon gave Honda its best run, followed by Simon Pagenaud, who finished sixth in a Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsports entry. Pagenaud qualified sixth but had to drop 10 spots on the starting grid due to an unapproved engine change earlier in the weekend.

Will Power from Penske started on the pole and led the first 11 laps but his early-race pit strategy backfired, as he spent most of the event deep in the field. Power ended up finishing seventh.

"We just got shuffled back a bit there after the first pit stop, and we just couldn't make up the ground we needed," said Power, who won this race in 2010.

E.J. Viso finished eighth, followed by Charlie Kimball and Justin Wilson.

Rookie Josef Newgarden had an impressive debut with an 11th-place run. Graham Rahal placed 12th.

Reigning series champion Dario Franchitti struggled throughout the race and finished a disappointing 13th after posting the victory here one year ago. Franchitti's struggles began on Saturday when he qualified 10th. The Ganassi driver claimed his record third straight and four overall IndyCar title last year.

"It was a tough day for the Target Honda," Franchitti said. "We ran out of fuel leaving that last corner. You have those times where it's close and you get across the start/finish line, and sometimes you don't."

Rubens Barrichello finished two laps down in 17th in his series debut. Barrichello spent 19 years in Formula One before switching to IndyCar.

03/25 19:30:20 ET

The Sports Network, a STATS Company. All Rights Reserved.  home | terms of use | privacy policy | comments |