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Power makes it 2 straight, wins St. Pete Grand Prix

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: July 11, 2013 at 03:17 PM
ST. PETERSBURG -

Roger Penske couldn't stay for Monday's rain-postponed Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg because of business commitments in Detroit.

His IndyCar race team managed without him.

On a bonus race day in which the skies went from ominous gray to sunny and a late-arriving crowd might have had ESPN2 viewers wondering if anybody works around here, Will Power gave Penske his fourth Grand Prix victory in six years.

What's more, Power's teammates, Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves, former Grand Prix winners themselves, finished third and fourth behind Dreyer & Reinbold Racing's Justin Wilson.

Thankfully for the competition, Penske didn't have a fourth car.

"'I haven't heard from Roger yet; I've been doing all the p.r. stuff," Power said after winning by nearly a second and going 2-for-2 this season. "I'm sure he'll be calling me straight up to tell me I should have won by a lot more."

The three-day Grand Prix enjoyed nice weather until Sunday, when thunderstorms arrived near the end of the fourth of four preliminary races and drove fans to shelter.

Rain drenched the grounds inside the 1.8-mile temporary street course and left standing water on the track, forcing organizers to push the featured race to Monday at 10 a.m.

That starting time seemed in doubt overnight, but the rain finally relented around sunrise. Organizers caught a break with an 8 a.m. low tide and were able to get the standing water drained into the bay.

The Indy Racing League first planned to have drivers start on grooved rain tires, in which case the race would have been a timed two-hour event rather than the scheduled 100 laps.

Shortly before the scheduled start, though, teams were instructed to change to slicks ("reds" for speed or "blacks" for durability). The command to start engines was delayed 25 minutes to allow the course to dry more.

Power caught a break not having to start in the rain, because the driver up front is vulnerable in wet conditions.

The course was slippery at first - Milka Duno spun on the pace lap and Dario Franchitti on the opening lap - but not enough to encourage the Banzai moves associated with racing in the rain.

"I think if it had been a completely dry race, it would have made it easy," Power said. "But every single street course we have, you're almost guaranteed to have a yellow before you stop, and then you have people who have gone off (pit stop) strategy.

"You can't tell what's going to happen in a race. The more it's mixed up, the better it is."

Power played it cautiously early on. Marco Andretti, who had a car land on top of him on the opening lap this month at Brazil, passed him for the lead early, and Scott Dixon followed.

Andretti had a run-in with teammate Tony Kanaan on lap 33 that doomed them to finish 12th and 10th, respectively.

Dixon led laps 6-26 and looked like he might win the Grand Prix after finishing second twice. Instead, he sustained wing damage on lap 33 and smacked the inside wall on lap 74, which ended his day.

Power, who finished sixth in the Grand Prix last year as a substitute driver for Castroneves, was the fastest driver in every practice session except one and during qualifying.

He took the lead on lap 73 and never let Wilson get close enough to attempt a pass.

Franchitti overcame his early miscue and finished fifth. Alex Tagliani finished sixth and Danica Patrick, leading the four-car Andretti Autosport contingent, finished seventh.

Fans were admitted for free because of the postponement - co-promoter Kevin Savoree called it a "marketing investment" - and a large crowd turned out on the soggy grounds, mostly filling the popular grandstands.

The gallery was an odd mix of spring breakers, beer-drinking twenty-somethings and businessmen in suits who loosened their ties as they came through the gates.

"All things considered, we were very pleased with the attendance," Grand Prix general manager Tim Ramsberger said.

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