IndyCar: post-race St Petersburg notes

Sunday’s season opener was a mixed bag which answered some questions about the 2015 Verizon IndyCar season, but mostly created a whole load of new ones.

The wrong head-to-head

In part 2 of my season preview I talked about the prospects for the Will Power/Simon Pagenaud rivalry to re-ignite as team-mates at Penske. Power, for me, had been able to bully his team-mates for various reasons in 2014 in a way that Pagenaud might not be so accepting of. It was fascinating on Sunday that the now fully up to speed Juan Montoya may well fight back harder.

It’s been one race but the clash between Montoya and Power at the close of the race looked like a marker. It was certainly 50/50 and the defending champ was within his rights (if not well-advised) to stick his nose down the inside. Montoya’s save after impact was worth the victory in itself and now Power might hesitate for a split-second in future when up against the Colombian.

Both are fast, hard racers who are no strangers to controversy or going for a gap when presented with it. Even if Penske steam-roller the season (which Sunday certainly suggested) that was a good start to what could be a spicy, intra-team battle.

Tough day for Ganassi

The air jack issue for Scott Dixon was a disappointment for the team and the neutral fan. Tony Kanaan demonstrated that Ganassi were there or thereabouts on Penske’s pace but not in contention for a win. Dixon was certainly better than the 15th place finish. They will take some positives in terms of now having a better understanding of where the performance benchmark for Penske is from the initial street course scuffles. Whether Charlie Kimball or Sage Karam can bring anything to help Dixon and Kanaan at the sharp end of the field was unclear on Sunday.

Karam’s lack of seat time and wrist injury shone through with some typical rookie errors and an uninspiring race performance. Meanwhile Kimball carried on with a theme that plagued his 2014 season last year of being in the wrong place when the elbows came out.

Highs & lows

Aside from the dominance of Penske, one notable high was Sebastian Bourdais and KV Racing. Collectively they allayed my fears, for one race at least, that the new aero kits would reduce the ability of smaller teams to mix it with the bigger squads. Jack Hawksworth – and to some extent Takuma Sato – also demonstrated not only the talent that got him the drive but some early season optimism for the smaller squads with a solid top 10 finish.

A comprehensive low was the performance of the Honda teams. With Hawksworth and Sato, AJ Foyt Racing demonstrated that the pre-season gap is not as wide as we might have suspected but it was a hard opening race for the rest of the teams. Reviewing the results Andretti Autosport appeared to have faltered in the Penske wake. Hunter-Reay and Andretti both took top 10 finishes which – considering the various scrapes and close escapes both experienced – should actually be cause for some optimism. But as Honda’s flag ship team, they are unlikely to have left Florida smiling.

Perhaps the biggest ‘low’ was Rahal’s post-race reaction to his penalty for punting Charlie Kimball. Rahal is as frustrating a race driver as you are likely to find – clearly talented but distracted and too comfortable at his dad’s team. Because of the latter he appears to have a mis-guided self assurance that he can do no wrong. Make no mistake – his move on Kimball was late and ill-judged (particularly as he would have got Kimball easily later in the lap) and the penalty deserving. Yet before that, he was racing well and could have challenged to be Honda’s highest placed finisher.

Carbon fiber for sale

The drivers have not had that long to get acquainted with the new aero kits. That much was evident with the number of miscalculated passes that resulted in winglets and appendages being scattered across the track.

Elements of the kits looked fairly robust in the rough and tumble of the midfield, others were regularly creating mini-chicanes on track. Perspectives will vary: some will have found it irritating as multiple full course yellows disrupted the race; others will have enjoyed the bunching up of the field which at times became very strung out. I was in the latter camp.

Was the racing still as good?

Whether that was the impact of the new aero parts remains to be seen. My primary concern was how they might negatively impact on the quality of racing – and for me the jury is still out.

Around restarts there were plenty of thrills and over taking attempts/moves but most noteworthy was the fact the most significant moves – for the race lead – predominantly took place in the pits which felt very Formula 1-esque. Will Power remarked that it was very difficult to keep close to the car in front and the turbulent air was much more significant and noticeable. That is not the kind of feedback a fan like myself wants to hear after several years of close, wheel-to-wheel action.

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