Honda Grand Prix
Drive it Like You Stole It
by Esteban Morales
April 2, 2006
One week ago Helio Castroneves looked set to wrap up his first victory of the season at Homestead Miami Speedway; things did not go the Brazilian's way, and with just one lap to go Castroneves was robbed by a wily Dan Wheldon. The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was a very different affair as Spiderman coasted across the finish line on point.
After starting fifth, Castroneves steadily progressed to the front of the pack; first by moving ahead of teammate Sam Hornish Jr. in the early going and with polesitter Dario Franchitti's retirement on just the fifteenth lap. Scott Dixon took the lead at the head of the pack with Tony Kanaan in second and Castroneves a close third. By the event's quarter mark it looked as if Dixon might have ran away with it after building a near four-second gap over Kanaan and no yellows in sight.
By lap 33 Kanaan was the first of the leaders to pit under green soon followed by Dixon and Castroneves. Dixon flew out of pitlane back in the lead, this time just ahead of Castroneves who had now moved up to second. Dixon looked to extend his lead once again, but just before the halfway mark his left front wing endplate began to rub against his tire; trying to take it easy on the car, Dixon fell back into the clutches of Castroneves. Castroneves inched closer with every lap. Coming off of lap 44 Castroneves got a run on Dixon down the front straight and made his Dallara stick on the inside of turn 1 to take the lead.
It was no cakewalk for Castroneves though, as he stumbled across heavy traffic that allowed Dixon to close right back up with endplate rub and all. The action took a break on lap 53 when rookie P.J. Chesson brought out the first caution of the day after spinning his Carmelo Hemelgarn Racing entry. The leaders filed into the pits while Buddy Rice, Bryan Herta and Danica Patrick gambled with an alternate strategy. As Rice led the field back to the lap 61 green flag Castroneves had one thing in mind, to get back to the front.
He wasted no time and moved around Patrick into third in turn 1. One lap later he was closing on Rice's gearbox after Herta shuffled down the order. By lap 63 a determined Castroneves had muscled his way back into the lead of the race. All the while Scott Dixon thoroughly kept up with Castroneves though his front wing's condition continued to deteriorate. Two thirds of the way through the race the two frontrunners were unable to leave Kanaan trailing behind. With 25 to go, Dixon and Kanaan were still a very serious threat.
Castroneves pulled into the pits for a final time that afternoon on lap 89 and gave up the lead to Dixon . As Dixon began to string some very fast laps it looked as though Castroneves was in serious trouble. With nails bitten to the core Dixon finally pitted on lap 96 for a splash of fuel. Castroneves came rocketing down the front straight and beat Dixon to the turn 1. Dixon had his hands full with Kanaan as a yellow emerged on lap 98 after Tomas Scheckter and Buddy Rice made heavy contact. Castroneves cruised around the circuit a few more times and took his first win of the season under yellow. After his signature fence climbing ritual Castroneves proudly admitted, “I drove it like I stole it!”