Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Helio Castroneves wins record third Grand Prix of St. Petersburg


IndyCar finally got a chance to move on Sunday after the 2011 season ended in the worst way imaginable.

Helio Castroneves put his best move on to get his worst season behind him, too.

Castroneves led the final 26 laps to win the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, taking his record third victory on the downtown streets to break an 18-race winless streak.

"This was just what we needed," Castroneves said.

He also could have been talking about the series.

Sunday's race was the season opener and the first IndyCar event since St. Petersburg resident Dan Wheldon died in a crash Oct. 16 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Sunday also was the first race with the Dallara DW12, the new chassis named in honor of Wheldon, the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner who was crucial in developing it.

Wheldon's sister, Holly, dropped the green flag at the start and presented the winner's trophy to Castroneves at the end.

The 36-year-old Brazilian, coming off his first winless season since 1999 in CART, passed Scott Dixon for the race's key move. Shortly after both came out of the pits, Dixon passed Castroneves. But the Penske Racing driver struck back by outbraking Dixon and overtaking him on the outside of Turn 1 of Lap 73 of 100 for second place.

"I wasn't actually pushing to the limit," Castroneves said. "I was pushing but in a conservative way."

Penske drivers have won five of the eight St. Petersburg races. Castroneves, the three-time Indianapolis 500 champion, also won in 2006 and '07. All three times he has won here, Chip Ganassi Racing's Dixon has finished second.

"Helio was a man on a mission," said Dixon, who led the most laps, 37, around the 1.8-mile course. "I was probably a little too cautious on Turn 1 when he did go around the outside."

Both ended the race on used soft-compound tires, called reds for their sidewall color. But Dixon said the ones he took in his final pit stop were too worn.

"I abused them way too much in qualifying," he said. "It wasn't horrible, but I think if we had actually run blacks (harder compound tires), it would have been a better option."

After passing Dixon, Castroneves built breathing room and took the lead by getting past JR Hildebrand, who led briefly as the contenders pitted. That move, also in Turn 1 but to the inside, left Dixon behind, and he lost a few seconds. He finished 5.5292 seconds behind.

Ryan Hunter-Reay took third for Andretti Autosport followed by teammate James Hinchcliffe and Penske's Ryan Briscoe.

The race ran under sunny skies and a track that dried after overnight rains.

"We'll put the rubber down pretty quick at a place like this," Hunter-Reay said of the weather's effects. "The only difference is that we didn't get a warmup to try some things in the morning that we really wanted to try."

Pole-sitter Will Power of Penske led the first 11 laps but pitted early and fell back in the field, running 15th halfway through. The 2010 St. Petersburg champion was not a factor after that and finished seventh.

"We were going for a three-stop (strategy)," he said. "(After that), it was traffic; could not pass."

Castroneves gave Chevrolet a victory in its first IndyCar race after a six-year hiatus.

Sunday also was a clean, relief-filled return to racing for IndyCar after a five-month period of absorbing the tragedy that befell the series with Wheldon's death.

"I had the butterflies going on in my stomach (before the race), which is a good sign," Castroneves said. "But they were flying in formation. They weren't like crazy butterflies.

"Everything was under control."

Helio Castroneves wins record third Grand Prix of St. Petersburg 03/25/12 [Last modified: Monday, March 26, 2012 10:11am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays beat Orioles, but tough stretch looms that could change their plans (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tuesday was a step back in the right direction for the Rays, who halted a season-high five-game losing streak by hanging on — and we mean that pretty much literally — for a 5-4 win over the Orioles.

    The Rays’ Tim Beckham celebrates with Mallex Smith after hitting a three-run homer in the second inning for a 5-0 lead.
  2. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Tuesday's Rays-Orioles game

    The Heater

    Rookie RHP Jake Faria had his lucky rubber duck — OG, the original one he has had since high school — with him, and the Rays had nothing to worry about as he put his rocky Wednesday outing well behind him, working into the eighth while scattering seven hits.

  3. Rays journal: Rookie Jacob Faria continues to show veteran poise

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Orioles threatened in the first inning and the second. They loaded the bases with one out in the fifth inning with the top of the order up and seemed poised for a big inning. But those opportunities produced only one run because Rays rookie RHP Jacob Faria kept his composure and got the …

    Jacob Faria goes a career-high 71/3 innings, staying composed when the Orioles threaten.
  4. Rays vs. Orioles, 12:10 p.m. Wednesday, Tropicana Field


    Today: vs. Orioles

    12:10, Tropicana Field

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM

    Tickets: $15-$275; available at Tropicana Field box office,, surcharge of up to $5 within 5 hours of game time.

    PORT CHARLOTTE, FL - FEBRUARY 18:  Alex Cobb #53 of the Tampa Bay Rays poses for a portrait during the Tampa Bay Rays photo day on February 18, 2017 at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Floida.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
  5. Bruce Arena blends intense demands with humor to lead U.S. soccer


    SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Bruce Arena bites his fingernails religiously, a habit he has had since age 10.

    Among some other unmentionables.

    Bruce Arena