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A New Beginning
By Esteban Morales

April 3 , 2005

     Some hailed it as the arrival of the Four Horsemen, others saw a fantastic opening as Champ Car faltered into the present millennium, but on Sunday April 3rd 2005 the Indy Racing League made its first competitive right turn on the streets of St. Petersburg Florida. With a great deal of momentum building up to the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, it seemed most were at a loss when trying to materialize the impending opening lap of the event, let alone the entire race.

     Eyebrows rose as Bryan Herta took pole for the second time this season over a determined Helio Castroneves. Fans were again left dumbfounded as all 21 drivers made it cleanly through the opening lap. While some competitors had never encountered a top tier open-wheeler on a street course, most fans seemed to forget that over half the starting grid was taking the green flag with very significant road and street course experience under their belts. All drivers managed to behave themselves nicely up until the 13th lap as Castroneves attempted to get around the lapped car of A.J. Foyt IV while trying to keep contact with the leaders. Foyt IV attempted to move over while Castroneves dove into a now or never maneuver into the turn 13 chicane.

     The first full course caution played a heavy role in what would turn out to be a very interesting race as the leaders took to pit road while Chip Ganassi’s rookie, Ryan Briscoe, and a few others gambled on strategy putting them at the head of the field. Just as the cars were headed back to the restart some of the expected glitches began to emerge, first with Ed Carpenter losing it on cold tires while trying to make up some lost time. Carpenter’s shunt then gave way to Roger Yasukawa stalling and Tomas Enge just narrowly avoiding the strewn cars. A quarter ways into the event the green flag was again unfurled. Briscoe led cleanly while an aggressive Danica Patrick showed her mettle while moving into second and beginning to close in. The leader responded by upping the ante and demonstrating just why he was the designated Toyota Formula One test driver. Were it not for Carpenter’s second spin of the day on lap 35 Briscoe would have continued to easily pull away in style.

     Herta was shuffled back out front as the leaders pitted while the yellow flew. Just four laps after the restart another caution was back out, this time after Dario Franchitti and Scott Sharp made contact in turn 1; Franchitti continued while Sharp’s race was ended. The field was successfully restarted on lap 47, and while no incidents took center stage Dario Franchitti stormed to the front of the field. By the halfway point the Scotsman had broken into the top three and was looking as a serious contender until his race was thwarted by a glitch in his fuel probe during green flag pit stops. The rest of the leaders including Herta ultimately pitted at about the lap 65 mark handing the lead back over to Briscoe. The rookie led for a little over 10 laps before he too made his final stop. Opting not to take on a new set of stickers, Briscoe flew back out of the pits in a hurry and kept his lead. With a little over 20 laps left to run Briscoe looked poised to pick up his first professional open-wheel win in only his third event in parallel fashion to Formula One star Juan Pablo Montoya who recorded his initial win in only his third Champ Car start on the streets of Long Beach. To the young driver’s detriment however, Tomas Scheckter stuffed his Panther Racing machine into the turn 8 tire barrier bringing out the penultimate full course yellow.

     It appeared Target Chip Ganassi Racing was en route to reestablishing its former glory with Briscoe, Darren Manning and Scott Dixon all running in the top five during the closing stages of the race. Briscoe cautiously led the field and kept a good sized gap between himself and Manning while Kanaan soon thrashed his way into second after restarting fourth. Just as Kanaan began to reel in the leader the final yellow was thrown after Sam Hornish Jr. and Tomas Enge collided leaving both cars in a tangled mess. Kanaan wasted little time when the green flag dropped and ruthlessly battled it out with Briscoe until the rookie’s valiant drive ended in the turn 10 tire barrier. Dan Wheldon quietly saw the opening and took the lead with a handful of laps to record his second victory of the season. While the IRL’s first foray onto a street course did not showcase lap after lap of wheel to wheel action neither did it produce a forgettable “parade.” With the thriving onset of a new era in the league’s history about the only real downside to the weekend was the lack of variety on the podium as Andretti Green swept the top four spots.

Results:

1. Dan Wheldon
2. Tony Kanaan
3. Dario Franchitti
4. Bryan Herta
5. Vitor Meira
6. Scott Dixon
7. Buddy Rice
8. Patrick Carpentier
9. Darren Manning
10. Alex Barron
11. Roger Yasukawa
12. Danica Patrick
13. Kosuke Matsuura
14. Ryan Briscoe
15. Sam Hornish Jr.
16. Tomas Enge
17. Tomas Scheckter
18. Scott Sharp
19. Ed Carpenter
20. Helio Castroneves
21. A.J. Foyt IV