In the weeks between the open test at Sebring and the season opener at St. Petersburg, much was made about the issue of engine reliability. Reporters from the Sebring test commented that several engines either failed outright, some spectacularly, or were on the cusp of failing. This created worry about what would happen once the series arrived in St. Petersburg to begin the season.
Would the engines last the weekend? Would we see failure after failure, as some predicted? Thankfully, the engines proved quite reliable, to the point that it was a non-story through the race.
We did see a handful of mechanical gremlins, though. Simon Pagenaud needed an engine change on Friday, meaning he incurred a ten-spot grid penalty. In the race, the likes of Tony Kanaan and Simona de Silvestro suffered electrical issues stemming faulty batteries, which became problematic when the RPM’s got too low. The same issue plagued Ryan Briscoe as well, but he nursed the car and came home fifth. And, J.R. Hildebrand’s late-race dash through the field was cut short because of fuel pressure problems.
But, those aforementioned gremlins are to be expected when you role out new equipment. Plus, in the world of professional motor racing, mechanical failures tend to happen. There isn’t always rhyme or reason (some often blame the stereotypical “$2 dollar part” at times), but sometimes it just happens. And, as the saying goes, that’s racing. Overall, the package looks both reliable and competitive.
As the engine wars go, Chevrolet definitely fired the first shot and holds a slight advantage over Honda heading into Barber Motorsports Park. However, Scott Dixon flew the Honda flag high and led much of the race, while Pagenaud was one of the biggest movers of the day, climbing from 16th to sixth at race’s end. What’s more, the likes of Dario Franchitti and Graham, Rahal, who inexplicably were non-factors on the day, should sort out their problems soon and will find their way closer to the front. On paper, the two engines seem evenly matched, which should indicate a roller coaster-like season between the two powerhouses.
Lotus, though they were obviously down on power, also has reason to smile. While they encountered more problems than the Chevrolet and Honda teams, it was not all doom and gloom. Alex Tagliani proved the combination has reliability by coming home quiet but effective 15th, while Sebastien Bourdais enjoyed a fun duel with Chevrolet-powered E.J. Viso for sixth place in the second half of the race. Bourdais may have used strategy to get up near the head of the field, but he held his own for a while before dropping out with mechanical issues.
Overall, all of the engines performed well, making them a non-story as the weekend unfolding, contrary to the worries expressed in the lead up to the weekend. The results bode well for the rest of season and mean we should enjoy an exciting and unpredictable 2012 season.