ST. PETERSBURG — Teams lined pit road when rain began falling at 2:22 p.m. With rain hammering harder at 2:25 and turning into a downpour minutes later, they began removing their aptly name racing slicks for treaded tires. Providing safer but slower racing in the rain, the tires became the first variable in a race drunk with them.
The Grand Prix began under caution, went green on Lap 10 and on the second yellow-flag pit cycle on Lap 32 teams began changing tires for the first time. All went for rain tires except for Vitor Meira and Townsend Bell and Meira climbed into the top five by the time the rest of the field was confident the course was dry enough to begin switching on Lap 53.
Helio Castroneves' decision to switch on Lap 46 (surrendering second place) paid off when he climbed back through the field to stand third on Lap 65. Running third on Lap 34, Graham Rahal had slicks affixed on Lap 37 and he passed Ryan Hunter-Reay for the lead in Lap 65.
"We gambled a little bit on strategy," he said. "At the end we knew we had the pace so we threw on the slick tires."
Rainy day people
Sitting in an open-cockpit race car in a downpour seems miserable enough. Attempting to drive it safely and competitively around a 14-turn street course, with rooster tails of water cascading into your lap and face?
Really miserable. Such was the case for the first 30 or so laps on Sunday.
"If it's raining on the way back home, open the windows of your car," said third-place finisher Tony Kanaan. "Don't turn the wipers on and just wear sunglasses and drive. That's the feeling."
Tried it. Really miserable.
Race fans weathered the heavy storms throughout the race with most preferring to sit in the grandstands rather than seek shelter.
Paul Deeb, 44, came prepared. He bought ponchos for himself and his two sons, Nicholas, 14, and Anthony, 8.
"We thought about running for it," said Deeb, who drove from North Port for the race. "We wanted to see the whole thing."
Which is the trend?
Marco Andretti took a second-place finish (in which he led a race-high 85 laps) last weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway as a sign he'd righted his career in its third IndyCar season. After winning a race as a rookie, he led the series by failing to finish 10 of 17 races in 2007. It happened again Sunday as he broke a half shaft pitting on Lap 41. "I'm really disappointed in myself because that was a rookie mistake," he said.
Work of art
For the past two years, Oriol Servia has stylized his helmet with a portrait of Salvador Dali. He did it to pay homage to the surrealist painter. Both were born in Spain's Catalonia region.
"I've always liked his work for many reasons, and I've always had something of his typical drawings on my helmets for the last 15 years," Servia said of Dali. "I've had the melting watches. For the last year and a half, I've had his face on the side. I think it's very cool because it's his typical crazy and also the way he looks from the car it's almost like he's peeking out from the cockpit.
"It gives the helmet a different look."
Servia toured the Dali museum this week, something he has done each time he has raced in St. Petersburg.
"I'm not a big art person in general, but I love his work because there's so much detail in it," Servia said. "He was so creative, and he's one of the few painters that got to see his success. It was always an inspiration to see somebody so creative and being successful doing his own thing. We only see his craziness, but he was a really hard worker."
Scott Dixon, who won last week at Homestead, surrendered the points lead by finishing 22nd with a suspension problem. Castroneves assumed first with 72 points. Darren Manning complained of blistered hands for the second St. Petersburg race in a row. He ran off course late in the race last year, surrendering a top-five spot. … Ryan Briscoe's much-anticipated return to the IndyCar series was marred by a wreck for the second consecutive week. Last week he was collected in Milka Duno's spin at Homestead-Miami Speedway. This time the damage was self-inflicted as he clipped his right front wheel veering right into Turn 9, then bounced into the far concrete barrier on Lap 57. … Grand Prix officials unofficially estimated the crowd as "way up" over the 35,000 city officials announced for race day last April.