A lot of us were expecting to see Will Power stomp the field and firmly show that he had put last season’s championship collapse behind him. But somewhere in the midst of broken Dallaras and bruised egos that emerged from Sunday’s early crashes, defending series champ Dario Franchitti got in front of his 2010 title rival and sailed away. My next story for FoxSports.com will go into more detail on this duel, but I’ll say this: Even though this has been a rivalry between gentlemen, one has to believe Franchitti really, really enjoyed showing Power and his competitors that he’s still the man to beat.
Fellow INDYCAR Nation contributor Jeff Olson did a great job detailing how solid Tony Kanaan and Simona de Silvestro’s performances were, so I won’t follow down that road. I believe we saw a tremendous match between the present and the future of the sport. Kanaan still has some goals to reach (including a win at Indianapolis) but he’s got plenty left in him to reach them, while De Silvestro may slowly be evolving into a star that the series can rely on in coming years.
Full credit goes to KV Racing Technology-Lotus, which got a much-needed great start to the season with Kanaan in third and Takuma Sato finishing fifth. For a team that suffered so badly last year, this had to feel like a pair of victories to them. Not that everything went perfectly, as E.J. Viso was in trouble all weekend long in the No. 59 machine. That was not what the Venezuelan needed, but this two-week break before Barber could prove useful to him.
What happens now regarding the new restart rules -- the series having to change them after the outbreak of wrecks in the opening laps or the drivers needing to exercise much better judgment? In my opinion, it’s the latter. One could argue that the 70 m.p.h. speed to the green flag should have been raised a bit, but after years of running this course, you’d think that the drivers would know what works at Turn 1 and what doesn’t.
The first-lap incident also may have done serious damage to the title hopes of several potential contenders, such as Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay. With the title having been hotly contested in recent years, their margins of error are now much thinner. But as we saw last season at Chicagoland, where Franchitti won and Power was forced to pit for fuel with just five laps to go, just one moment of trouble for their competitors can bring them right back into the hunt.
Going into the season, there was a lot of hype around the new two-car addition at Chip Ganassi Racing and its drivers, Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball. Two solid young Americans in top-flight equipment with Franchitti and Dixon as teammates -- perfect match, right? And maybe it will be in the long run. But it didn’t turn out that way in St. Petersburg as trouble found both Rahal and Kimball; the former getting punted into a tire barrier, the latter making his first big rookie mistake on cold tires.
The season’s first close call came during pre-race ceremonies when a T-28 Warbird aircraft crash-landed in the waters off Albert Whitted Airport in St. Petersburg. Both the pilot and passenger were treated for minor injuries. The crash came after the T-28 started to suffer from mechanical trouble. Unable to make the runway/frontstretch without hitting the seawall, the plane went into Tampa Bay.
There are now eyewitness videos of the incident up online (try checking the sites for the local TV stations in Tampa/St Petersburg) and after you see them, you might be as amazed as I am that this didn’t end up being much worse.
Strangely enough, there was no mention of the crash at all during the TV telecast.
You can find Chris Estrada on Twitter @estradawriting