Helio Castroneves, who suffered through a miserable 2011 season, won the season-opening IZOD IndyCar Series race in St. Pertersburg, Fla., this afternoon and celebrated by climbing a fence and patting a road sign that said Dan Wheldon Way.
Wheldon, the 2011 Indy 500 winner who was killed in the last race of the season at Las Vegas, lived in St. Petersburg and much of the race ceremonies revolved around his memory.
Castroneves was followed home by Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Canadian James Hinchcliffe of Oakville and Team Penske teammate Ryan Briscoe.
Dixon was in a car powered by a Honda engine but all the other Top Five finishers had Chevrolet engines, the GM division only returning to Indy car racing this season.
The other Canadian in the race, Montreal's Alex Tagliani, was 15th. Defending champion Dario Franchitti could do no better than 13th.
Simon Pagenaud was sixth, pole-sitter Will Power finished seventh, E.J. Viso arrived home eighth, Charlie Kimball was ninth and Justin Wilson rounded out the top ten.
Earlier, on the other side of the world and in a race that had just about everything - weather problems, pit problems, on-track problems - Fernando Alonso came through the winner for Ferrari in a terrific Grand Prix of Malaysia.
Sergio Perez finished a surprising second in a Sauber-Ferrari - and the debate will rage for some time about whether he could have won - while Lewis Hamilton came home third in a McLaren-Mercedes for the second time this season.
Jenson Button and Sebastien Vettel both finished outside the points.
Mark Webber was fourth for Red Bull-Renault, Kimi Raikkonen was fifth for Lotus-Renault and Bruno Senna finished sixth for Williams (full story and results here).
I'll post the rest of the day's racing results, complete with editorial comment , by midnight tonight.
Will Power, driving for Team Penske and Chevrolet, won the pole today for Sunday's season-opening IZOD IndyCar Series' Grand Prix of St. Petersburg with teammate Ryan Briscoe right beside him on the front row.
Andretti Autosport teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe will make up Row Two (and that's a fantastic result for Oakville's Hinchcliffe, running his first race for sponsor Go Daddy in place of the departed Danica Patrick) while Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud qualified in the third row.
Pagenaud was penalized 10 grid positions Friday for changing the engine in his race car without authorization, so will go off 16th Sunday (TSN at 12:30) and Scott Dixon will move up a position and start sixth beside Castroneves.
Defending champion Dario Franchitti (he's a three-straight title-holder) will start tenth.
Pagenaud's Honda was the only one in the top six final qualifyers as Chevy power dominated. The Lotus runners are all back in the 26-car pack.
Fastest of the Lotus runners was Canadian Alex Tagliani, who willl start 17th.
A major surprise is that IndyCar rookie Katherine Legge will start 25th and her much more experienced teammate, the multi-Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdias. will start 26th - and last.
An irritant for anyone not in St. Petersburg and looking for information is that both speedtv.com and autosport.com had qualifying results up faster than the "new and improved" IndyCar website. In fact, it is 4:40 p.m. as I post this and qualifying ended at 3:15 and the results are still not up on the IndyCar site, which is pretty poor for a series trying to win friends and influence people.
For the first time in 2012, all three of the world’s top racing series – Formula One, NASCAR and IndyCar – are in action this weekend.
F1 is in Malaysia for the second Grand Prix of the season while the IZOD IndyCar Series is in St. Petersburg, Fla. for its opening race and NASCAR is in California for the fifth go-round of the year.
Two of the series have run their qualifying sessions and have published their lineups. The third – IndyCar – will qualify in a few hours.
At the Sepang circuit in Malaysia, Lewis Hamilton won the F1 pole for the second time this season on Saturday and he will start the race Sunday beside his McLaren-Mercedes teammate, Jenson Button, as was the case in Australia last weekend.
The trick for Hamilton will now be to beat his teammate into the first turn.
Starting third will be Michael Schumacher in his Mercedes, who turned in his best qualifying effort since returning to Grand Prix racing. Mark Webber was the fastest Red Bull-Renault, and he will go off fourth, with Kimi Raikkonen fifth for Lotus-Renault and two-time world champion Sebastien Vettel sixth.
Fernando Alonso managed to squeeze Ferrari into the top ten and he will go off ninth with his teammate Felipe Massa twelfth. The Scuderia Toro Rosso cars, which ran well in Australia with two rookie drivers, appear off their games and are 15th and 18th on the grid.
The HRT team managed to pull up its socks and although Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan will start second last and last, they were within the 107 per cent time and will get to race – if you want to call it that. (Qualifying story, lineup here)
Plan to stay up late (or get up early . . .) or else set your recorder because the Grand Prix goes to the post at 4 a.m. (TSN). For those who like to sleep and don’t have a recorder, it will be repeated at 8 a.m. on TSN2.
At Fontana, Denny Hamlin won the pole for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at California Speedway, with Kyle Busch second and Mark Martin third. Greg Biffle will start fourth and Kasey Kahne will go off fifth. (Qualifying story here; lineup here)
The race can be seen Sunday at 3 p.m. on TSN.
In Florida, Will Power – gee, what a surprise – was fastest in Friday practice for the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg with fellow Team Penske driver Ryan Briscoe second.
Chip Ganassi Racing driver Dario Franchitti was third fastest with two other Ganassi drivers, Graham Rahal and Scott Dixon, fourth and fifth.
Helio Castroneves was sixth fastest, with Canada’s James Hinchcliffe seventh (bravo!). The other Canadian in the series, Montreal’s Alex Tagliani, turned the 22nd fastest time of the 26 drivers entered.
Follow the action today at 1:55 p.m. when the Indy car drivers qualify (link here). No TV coverage in Canada, or live streaming, available for qualifying but the race can be seen Sunday on TSN, starting at 12:30 p.m.