ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- "The Termite" was doing his damage
Helio Castroneves, who earned that nickname from his Team Penske
crew for eating away at gearboxes, was dominating Sunday's Honda
St. Petersburg Grand Prix and feeling third and fourth gear
"When I had a big lead for a while I probably didn't focus and
I started to wear out third and four gear," Castroneves said after
easily holding off Scott Dixon to grab his second straight win on
the 1.8-mile, 14-turn St. Petersburg street circuit.
Dixon did everything he could to force the two-time Indianapolis
500 winner into a mistake, but Castroneves said the pressure that
the former IndyCar Series champion was applying in the closing laps
was exactly what he needed.
"I was glad Scott was right on my gearbox because it meant I
had to focus on downshifting and taking care of the gearbox,"
Castroneves said. "I was so focused, nothing was distracting me."
Castroneves started from the pole in the second IndyCar Series
race of the season. Fellow Brazilian Tony Kanaan, who had been
fastest in practice and for the early part of qualifying, crashed
and lost his fast lap Saturday.
Castroneves led for all but five of the 100 laps Sunday. He
pulled away from Dixon on restarts after several caution flags and
won by 0.6007 seconds -- about eight car-lengths. Kanaan finished
third for the same 1-2-3 finish as last year.
in the opener on the Homestead-Miami Speedway oval, also crashed in
practice Saturday and started 14th in a backup car. But, using a
different fuel strategy, the Englishman was ahead of Castroneves on
a restart on lap 35.
In what may have been the key moment, Castroneves gave Wheldon a
hard bump on the restart and moved back into the lead as Wheldon's
car wiggled and fell back into the pack.
"I don't know what happened," Castroneves said. "I was very
surprised when I hit him. I had no intention of doing that.
"Maybe it was a brake test or maybe it was cold tires. My team
was yelling 'green, green, green' in my head and I just went. It
happened very fast."
The Penske driver was in charge the rest of the way, winning his
12th IndyCar race and getting to climb the fence in the traditional
victory celebration that also earned him another nickname:
"It was a very frustrating experience following Helio the whole
bloody day," Dixon said. "I was just waiting for him to make a
mistake and it never happened. He drove a great race. We couldn't
give him more pressure than we did."
Kanaan's team spent eight hours repairing the battered Dallara
on Saturday so that the former series champion could start sixth
instead of at the rear of the 18-car field. But, after all that
effort, Andretti Green Racing teammate Dario Franchitti ran over a
curb on the first lap, skidded into Kanaan and sent the Brazilian
spinning. Kosuke Matsuura and Scott Sharp collided behind them and
A.J. Foyt IV also spun.
The race restarted on lap eight with Kanaan 16th. Using fuel
strategy and a series of caution flags, Kanaan worked himself
through the field and wound up running with the leaders. But he
never was able to challenge Castroneves or Dixon.
"It's a shame, but those things happen in road racing," Kanaan
said. "I'm not mad at Dario. But we had to start from the back
anyway. It's too bad.
"But I put myself back there by making a mistake [Saturday]. I
should have been first instead of sixth at the start. Then it
probably wouldn't have happened."
Marco Andretti bounced back from a last-place run at Homestead
to finish fourth, followed by Franchitti, Tomas Scheckter, reigning
series champion Sam Hornish Jr., Danica Patrick and Wheldon, the
last car on the lead lap.
Another driver who had a tough day was Darren Manning, driving
for A.J. Foyt. Manning started fifth and ran as high as third
before a late spin cost him a lap and relegated him to 13th place.
Dixon, another former series champion, moved past Wheldon into
the points lead, with Castroneves jumping into a tie for second.