ST. PETERSBURG — Oriol Servia showed up for Sunday's Grand Prix of St. Petersburg hoping to land an IndyCar ride.
Just not for this weekend.
The 41-year-old wanted to network his way into a car for this year's 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 but ended up filling in for pole-sitter Will Power, who was sidelined with a mild concussion.
"I've been waiting 15 years to get in one of these cars," Servia said of powerhouse Team Penske.
The circumstances (and results) weren't what Servia envisioned. His No. 12 Chevrolet was involved in the day's biggest crash and finished 18th in the 22-car field but drew strong reviews from team owner Roger Penske.
"He jumped in that car like he'd been here all weekend," Penske said.
Servia had to, after Power became queasy Saturday. The two-time Grand Prix winner wrecked during Friday's first practice. He didn't show any symptoms of a concussion, and IndyCar said crash data didn't show anything severe enough to require medical evaluation.
Power qualified Saturday, breaking his own track record (twice) but began to feel ill, leading to Sunday's diagnosis from IndyCar's medical director. Power has to be cleared medically before he can return to the car, perhaps in time for the series' next race — April 2 at Phoenix.
"Heartbroken to not be out there today," Power said via Twitter.
Servia felt bad, too. He and Power remain good friends and were teammates for KV Racing Technology in 2008.
Although Servia hasn't been a full-time IndyCar driver since 2012, he has been in this situation before. He took the ride of Justin Wilson for last year's season finale after Wilson was killed in a crash the previous week.
Servia didn't have his racing suit Sunday, so he borrowed a slightly-too-large one from teammate and eventual race winner Juan Pablo Montoya. His fiancee landed in Tampa just after midnight after taking the next direct flight from Los Angeles with his helmet — still adorned with an image of fellow Spaniard Salvador Dali, a fitting choice for a track that passes the waterfront Dali Museum.
When Servia walked to his car Sunday morning, he didn't know whether he'd be driving the race or just sitting in for the final warmup. He circled his arms forward and backward, did a few jumping jacks and pulled onto the track for the first time, with the green flag less than four hours away.
"It's never easy," Servia said. "But the good thing is, it's the best car on the field."
The problem was that the driver change forced that quick car to start in the back of the field after Power was scratched. Servia climbed four spots in the opening laps, but his progress stopped when he was caught up in an eight-car pileup on lap 57, running into Graham Rahal.
"I was just starting to understand the tires," Servia said. "We just hit him, and it was a mess."
Times staff writer Jim Tomlin contributed to this report. Contact Matt Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.