Dan Wheldon’s hopes of charging from the back of the field to take a fourth consecutive season-opening win at Homestead-Miami Speedway were dashed by team-mate Scott Dixon.
The Target Chip Ganassi pair finished first and third as the new era of American open wheel racing began with a strong performance by the ex-Champ Car teams faced with learning new cars, new circuits and the dark arts of oval racing.
Second was taken by Andretti Green Racing’s Marco Andretti, while Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves was fourth.
New Zealander Dixon, who lost last season’s title to Dario Franchitti by running out of fuel on the final lap of the final race, said: “In our team meeting, we were sort of scheduling for quite a few stops early on, but that just didn’t come.
“I think everybody was really using their heads. The guys who came in from Champ Car were fantastic. They were giving everybody room and they drove a great clean race.”
Wheldon, stuck near the back after an accident in qualifying, was inclined to agree: “The other people on the track were very respectful. I think they knew I had a fast car.
“To tell you the truth, I think every time I came up behind somebody and they knew I was quicker, they made it comfortable for me to pass. From that standpoint, I certainly appreciate what they did.
“From a car standpoint, we were phenomenal on a long run, but on the short run we weren’t quite as quick as we’d like perhaps. We seemed to just lose a little bit on that last start.
“Sorry I wrecked the car yesterday. But, you know, good points at the first race is something you can build on. The last few years when I’ve won the first race, I haven’t done particularly well in the championship. Maybe this is a good omen.”
One driver who had less to thank the Champ Car refugees for was Tony Kanaan, who was on his way to victory when Ernesto Viso spun on lap 193 of 200 – the Andretti Green racer could not avoid clipping him, damaged a front wheel, and ended up 8th.
He said: “With 10 laps to go, I was looking around and I was thinking, ‘This looks too easy.’ I’ve been around a long time and the race is not finished until the chequered flag. This was a misfortune – yes. But, how many times have I won races because some other guy was unlucky?”
Dixon said he had been catching Kanaan anyway, but was neverthess sympathetic: “It was a damn shame to see him have such a silly little incident take him out of the race.”
Darren Manning, returning as the sole AJ Foyt Enterprises entrant, qualified 14th and started 12th following the demotion to the back of the grid of the Vision drivers.
He finished 13th, a place behind KV’s Oriol Servia, making him the only returning IRL veteran to be beaten on the track by an ex-Champ Car driver – though the vastly experienced Servia hardly counts as a rookie and was always expected to run well.
He said: “We were better than we were last year here but we still struggled the whole weekend. We still haven’t figured out 100% what we need here. We learnt a lot. I think we’ll be stronger at the other tracks.”
Justin Wilson, racing for the first time on an oval, was hit by Will Power as the Australian drifted down from the high line and was forced to pit with a flat rear tyre. He rejoined the race in 23rd, three laps down, but fought back to finish 15th.
He said: “I had a car on the left, I was in the middle and there was a car on the right. I was the meat in the sandwich. I feel suckered into getting caught in the middle but it’s how this racing goes.
“We lost three laps with that and it was then pretty much a case of trying not to lose much else and hang on. The McDonald’s car was working really well – I was very pleased that we were quicker than a lot of people.”
The experience left him optimistic about the team’s prospects: “I’m a lot more confident – I think our race pace is a lot better than our qualifying pace. I know we have a lot to do but this gave us something to build on for the future. We should be further up the order – not necessarily at the front but certainly further forward on the time sheets.”
Basildon’s Jay Howard, making his Indycar debut with Roth Racing, fared about as well as his team-mate and boss Marty Roth, the pair departing the race on laps 50 and 53.
|1.||Scott Dixon||Ganassi||200 laps|
|2.||Marco Andretti||Andretti Green||+0.5828|
|5.||Ed Carpenter||Vision||+1 lap|
|6.||Danica Patrick||Andretti Green||+1 lap|
|7.||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Rahal Letterman||+1 lap|
|8.||Tony Kanaan||Andretti Green||+2 laps|
|9.||AJ Foyt IV||Vision||+2 laps|
|10.||Vitor Meira||Panther||+3 laps|
|11.||Buddy Rice||Dreyer & Reinbold||+4 laps|
|12.||Oriol Servia||KV||+5 laps|
|13.||Darren Manning||Foyt||+6 laps|
|14.||Franck Perera||Conquest||+6 laps|
|15.||Justin Wilson||Newman Haas Lanigan||+7 laps|
|16.||Mario Moraes||Dale Coyne||+13 laps|
|17.||Ernesto Viso||HVM||+17 laps|
|18.||Enrique Bernoldi||Conquest||+51 laps|
|19.||Ryan Briscoe||Penske||+74 laps|
|20.||Milka Duno||Dreyer & Reinbold||+78 laps|
|21.||Marty Roth||Roth||+147 laps|
|22.||Jay Howard||Roth||+150 laps|
|23.||Bruno Junqueira||Dale Coyne||+160 laps|
|24.||Hideki Mutoh||Andretti Green||+168 laps|
|25.||Will Power||KV||+176 laps|
|9.||A.J. Foyt IV||22||-28|