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New IndyCar restart rule creates mayhem in St. Petersburg

Lightning sighting: Driver Alex Tagliani, left, swaps his racing suit for the Lightning jersey of fellow Canadian Vinny Lecavalier, the race’s grand marshal. Lecavalier even took parade laps with racing legend Mario Andretti. “I’ve driven some cars before, but that’s definitely a different ball game,” Lecavalier says.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Lightning sighting: Driver Alex Tagliani, left, swaps his racing suit for the Lightning jersey of fellow Canadian Vinny Lecavalier, the race’s grand marshal. Lecavalier even took parade laps with racing legend Mario Andretti. “I’ve driven some cars before, but that’s definitely a different ball game,” Lecavalier says.

ST. PETERSBURG — Sunday was the first test run of a new restart rule in the IndyCar series.

It became a point of interest, to say the least.

The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was the first street or road course to have double-file restarts in the series. IndyCar announced the change March 11.

In the first 13 laps Sunday, there were two restarts in which cars collided within a lap of the green flag.

None of the top three finishers expressed much enthusiasm for the rule.

"The problem is, they have so many cars bunched in such a tight space," runnerup Will Power said. " … I think this is just going to continue every race, and then it's just going to be people getting knocked out every single restart."

Danica Patrick had to stop twice to repair damage to the nose of her car after sustaining contact in separate incidents, both shortly after restarts. She finished 12th after being penalized one spot for what IndyCar called avoidable contact with rookie JR Hildebrand on the final lap.

"Overall, I have to feel pretty fortunate to have made it to the end," she said.

Series officials made the final restart rule decision, but race winner Dario Franchitti, who said Saturday that, "they consulted us about five minutes before they did it," pointed out Sunday that owners wanted the change, too.

"So there's probably a few of them sitting there scratching their heads just now looking at bills for lots and lots of carbon fiber and going, 'Why didn't I ever think of that?' " he said.

SO CLOSE TO PODIUM: Second-year driver Simona de Silvestro finished a career-best fourth after hounding third-place Tony Kanaan for most of the final 25 laps.

Her week started with a personnel change on her HVM team as her race engineer, Michael Cannon, left to work with Kanaan at KV Racing.

"It was definitely hard because all last weekend we were debating who we were going to get," de Silvestro said. "It was kind of like a crisis within the team.

"But we chose Brent Harvey, and he's great. I think it really clicked this morning, and we started really well working together. I've had my best result so far with him, and I think we make a great team."

As for the restart rule controversy?

"I think it's pretty cool because I got to pass a lot of cars," said de Silvestro, who started 17th and was second by Lap 14.

NONSTARTER: Four-time Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais, who was supposed to make his IndyCar debut with Dale Coyne Racing, didn't start after a crash in the morning warmup.

He clipped a wall then crashed into a tire barrier in Turn 12.

"Very small error with massive consequences," said Bourdais, who lived in St. Petersburg when he dominated Champ Car from 2004 to 2007. "I tapped the wall on the inside of the fast chicane and broke off the right front suspension, and that sent the car for a ride. It went straight; I had no control anymore."

There was major damage on the right side, and Bourdais said the tub was cracked.

Back in time: Lightning star Vinny Lecavalier, who had two assists in Saturday's win at Carolina, arrived in time to be the grand marshal for the race.

Lecavalier traded a Lightning jersey for one of driver Alex Tagliani's racing suits. Lecavalier also took parade laps with racing legend Mario Andretti.

"I've driven some cars before, but that's definitely a different ball game," Lecavalier said. "I couldn't believe how fast it was, especially since I wasn't driving, and I didn't know where we were going."

Times staff writers Bob Putnam and Joey Knight contributed to this report.

New IndyCar restart rule creates mayhem in St. Petersburg 03/27/11 [Last modified: Sunday, March 27, 2011 10:20pm]

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