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Dario Franchitti wins Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in dominant fashion

ST. PETERSBURG

Dario Franchitti won last year's IndyCar championship with flair, overhauling Will Power in the finale after trailing most of the season.

Franchitti didn't wait nearly that long to take command of Sunday's Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The two-time defending series champion passed Power for first place on a Lap 5 restart and went on to lead 94 of 100 laps for his first victory on the 1.8-mile downtown street course.

"A lot hinged on that first restart, passing Will there," Franchitti said. "I forced the issue fairly aggressively, I think. I was going for it."

Franchitti, 37, took Chip Ganassi Racing to Victory Lane in St. Petersburg for the first time.

"Chip was fairly happy; he said that it was the first time we'd won here," Franchitti said.

Pole-sitter and defending race champion Power finished second, 7.1612 seconds behind, in the season opener.

"Dario beat me again!" Power said, managing a smile. "Dario got me fair and square with a move around the outside." Power added that he fell to seventh when his engine went into neutral after his car was hit on an early restart.

Tony Kanaan was third in his debut for KV Racing, which signed him Monday. He was pleased, especially after an offseason in which he lost two rides because of sponsorship issues.

"I think (with) chemistry, you either click right away or you don't," Kanaan said. "I always approve of having a good atmosphere on the team. I think we do."

Two drivers recorded career bests to round out the top five: HVM's Simona de Silvestro and KV Racing's Takuma Sato.

The race had a rough start with four caution flags in the first 14 laps. An accident in the first turn of Lap 1 ended the hopes of five contenders.

Marco Andretti flipped his car after hitting Scott Dixon's car under braking for the right turn. Andretti landed upside down but walked back to pit lane, apparently unhurt.

Andretti, who said two-time St. Petersburg winner Helio Castroneves hit him from behind entering the turn, was eliminated along with Andretti Autosport teammate Mike Conway. Dixon, Castroneves and 2009 St. Petersburg winner Ryan Briscoe re-entered the race several laps down after their teams made repairs.

"It was a start, NASCAR style," said Power, whose car wasn't touched as the mayhem broke out behind him. "And we are not NASCAR. … We can't hit each other."

Franchitti's big move came on the ensuing restart, and once he took over, he was unstoppable, losing the top spot to Power for just two laps after a pit stop on Lap 71.

Once Power made his pit stop, Franchitti kept a six- to seven-second gap until the end.

And the Scotsman got an early edge on the nonoval portion of the season, where Power won five times last year including three times on street circuits.

"We have won the odd street race ourselves," said Franchitti, who tied Johnny Rutherford for 10th on the career list of North American open-wheel series victories with his 27th. "It's the best road-course car I think I've had since I came to the team (in 2009). Things could change in a minute, though. … Barber (Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., site of the next series race April 10) could be interesting.

"But if there's a team I want to be with in those situations, it's the Target (Ganassi) team."

Its first win in St. Petersburg in seven tries was just one more piece of evidence.

Jim Tomlin can be reached at tomlin@sptimes.com.

Dario Franchitti wins Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in dominant fashion 03/27/11 [Last modified: Monday, March 28, 2011 12:58pm]
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