Penske Party Continues in St. Petersburg

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One hundred and ten laps, concluding with a victory by Juan Pablo Montoya, gave Team Penske their 175th win in Indy car Competition. The crowds were just as excited about today’s results as the team and the driver himself – chanting, singing and holding up Colombian flags in celebration and support of Montoya’s 13th series career win. His most recent win being at Pocono Raceway over the Fourth of July weekend last summer. Montoya even celebrated with the fans, something that the “old Juan” probably wouldn’t have done 15 years ago, according to teammate Helio Castroneves. He sees a difference in JPM, contributing his ability to have more fun with things to the fact that he’s had a couple kids and that changes you, in a positive way. Juan retorted later that he’s not sure how true that is, saying that he’s still the same jerk (he did not use the world jerk) he’s always been, but has never really cared what people say about him. Of course, saying all of this with a mischievous smile on his face.

I can appreciate that. And respect it.

You know who else is carefree this evening? Pretty much all of Team Penske! They dominated most of the weekend including qualifying, setting the first two rows of the grid on their own. Will Power shared the podium with Montoya, coming in P2 after one heck of a hunt down on the back stretch in the last laps. Castroneves was the fourth driver to pass under the checkered, with the newest driver to Team Penske, Simon Pagenaud landing fifth.

Tony Kanaan was the only non-Penske driver in the post-race celebrations, coming in third at today’s 2015 season opener. The one thing that everyone on the podium did have in common however, was their engine manufacturer. Chevy bowties were displayed across the stage.

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There is no way we can discuss today’s race without mentioning the hot mess on the track. In the words of Katherine Legge, “Holy debris, Batman!” If you guys were following me on Twitter during my live feed, you already know that the first half of this race made me seriously and legitimately concerned. I was not alone in that anxiety. All I had running through my head by the fifth full course caution at the halfway point of the race was, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Did the series and the manufacturers make the right decision in developing and implementing aero kits? Was it too much of a risk?

We have made such incredible progress with the level of competition in this series in the past 3 seasons with the DW-12 chassis. The Chevy vs. Honda engines have been so neck-and-neck, that the series became completely unpredictable. Mulitple drivers have mentioned over the past few years, how qualifying position doesn’t even seem to play that big of a role anymore. Remember how I mentioned Montoya’s win at Pocono last year? That was the first time in the 2014 season that a pole winner won the race.

But, as with anything new, you have to feel it out. You can only do so much in wind tunnels, in computer programs and even practices, tests and qualifications. You have to actually run the race, at full speed, in front of packed stands and a national audience to really know if all that work paid off… or if you still have a ton of work to do.

The skepticism in me seemed fleeting by the time we finally got around to racing. It’s gonna be okay. We’ll get this yet. Are the cars supposed to touch? No. To summarize Kanaan, these aren’t stock cars and they should not be dealing with contact. A race with no contact is not a reasonable expectation in open-wheel. A reasonable goal, yes… expectation, no. There are going to be bumps here and there and maybe that’s an area where the manufacturers can work with teams to create a more stable connection for all the little “rabbit ears”, as Power likes to refer to them. I might be in over my head here, I’m certainly not an engineer but I do want to see these kits work. Going back to the old chassis’ is not an option after all the time and financial investment, but there is always room to tweak and improve upon things. If I am thinking about it this much, and you as fans and readers are thinking about it this much, I guarantee the developers are as well.

It was a beautiful day with a rough start and an awesome finish. So all in all, not much to complain about, and as always – more work to be done.

On that note, I bid you adieu from St. Petersburg, where the sun has set and the marina lights freckle the water like stars caught in the bay. Apparently I’m feeling poetic this evening. Rest easy tonight, knowing that racing season is here, IndyCar is in full swing and we are in for one heck of year.

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The next Verizon IndyCar Series race will be on Sunday, April 12th at NOLA Motorsports Park for the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Lousiana. The race will be broadcast live on NBC Sports starting at 3pm ET. I will be trackside in New Orleans for MTAF Wheels, bringing you full coverage & news as well as live Tweets & Vines, in combination with general awesomeness from “the big easy”… so make sure to follow along and have some fun whether you will be at the event or partying from home. Let’s make the first IndyCar race in NOLA, one to remember.

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