Juan Pablo Montoya held off Team Penske teammate and reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power over the final 27 laps to win the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg by 0.9930 of a second.
Montoya held a 3.3-second advantage over Power following an exchange of final pit stops on Laps 81 and 82, but Power closed to within 0.6147 of a second on Lap 100 and was sizing up his best opportunity to attempt a pass of Montoya's No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.
Power, who set the track record on the way to winning the Verizon P1 Award for the 110-lap race on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street course a day earlier, made his move entering the tight left-hand Turn 10 on Lap 101. The cars made slight contact and Power's No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet fell 1.5474 seconds back at the start/finish line.
"If I hadn't damaged my wing, maybe I would have had another shot," Power said. "He was very strong on the front straight and my exits weren't very good. I thought maybe I would catch him off-guard there. You don't expect someone to pass there, so, yeah, I gave it a shot.
"I was surprised at how aggressively he turned, but he wanted to win the race and so did I."
Montoya recorded his second victory since returning full time to Indy car racing in 2014 and his first on an Indy car road or street course since Vancouver in his 1999 CART championship season.
"I saw (Power) make the move, but he was way too far and I wasn't going to give him the position," Montoya said. "If he was beside me, I would have said, 'OK, go ahead.' When I got to the turning point, he wasn't even close. It is a shame we touched, but it's all good, it's racing."
The last Team Penske 1-2 finish was August 2014 at Milwaukee, with Power beating Montoya by 2.7 seconds. It was the 175th Indy car victory for the team (78 on road or street courses).
"It was a fight between our two guys in front. It was just an amazing weekend," team owner Roger Penske said. "To come back this year with the fast times in qualifying and win this race 1-2, and four drivers in the top six, wow, what a day."
Tony Kanaan, driving the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, finished third and Helio Castroneves, the only three-time winner at St. Petersburg, placed fourth in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet. Simon Pagenaud finished fifth in the No. 22 Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet.
Ryan Hunter-Reay, who finished seventh in the No. 28 DHL Andretti Autosport car, was the highest-placing Honda entry. Last year at St. Petersburg, Power held Hunter-Reay at bay on Laps 78-110 to make an opening-round statement on the way to earning his first series title.
Bucs wide receiver serves as grand marshal
Three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Vincent Jackson of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drew a cheer from the crowd growing in front of the Team Penske workspace in the St. Petersburg paddock, but he pointed to Helio Castroneves moving in for a handshake.
"It's game day for him," said Jackson, the grand marshal for the race. "He deserves an ovation."
Jackson, who gave the command to start the Chevrolet and Honda engines, and Castroneves exchanged a Hitachi Team Penske shirt (XX large) and a Bucs jersey before the race. Jackson also presented Green Savoree Racing Promotions principals Kim Green and Kevin Savoree, owners of the annual event since 2005, jerseys with their names on the back.
"I'm a local (year-round Tampa resident) and I've come to this race for the last few years. This is an honor to be part of this event," Jackson said. "It's always entertaining, it's always a great draw and the racing is phenomenal. This is a new role for me, not being a spectator and getting to know some of these guys and be part of the event. I'm a car guy and having Helio show me his car close up is exciting."
St. Petersburg embraces the race
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman looked toward the blue sky, looked at the fans streaming into the downtown race circuit and declared it "a wonderful day" for the city and INDYCAR. Kriseman attributed the tens of thousands of spectators attending each of the three days of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in part to the city's "Embrace the Race" marketing campaign.
"An event like this has such an impact on our city and we wanted to try to make everyone feel like they're a part of it," Kriseman said. "When you do that, you have so much more fun, too. I look forward every year to this weekend, and to see the community embrace it through the years, and especially this year, has been wonderful.
"The downtown has changed a lot since the first race (2003)," the mayor added, "and I expect that in the next few years it to look totally different with all the construction going on and new restaurants, and I see it as more opportunities to get people downtown on this weekend."
The picturesque setting alongside Tampa Bay and spectacular early spring weather complemented the on-track action.
"It's just a special place to go racing," said Kevin Savoree, Green Savoree Racing Promotions president and COO. "The fans love this race, and I share with everyone that Kim (Green, CEO of Green Savoree) and I are just the stewards of this race. It really belongs to everybody in St. Pete and I'm sure that every year they put an 'X' on their calendar for this race weekend."
Herta, Gordon to be added to Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame
Verizon IndyCar Series team owner and former Indy car driver Bryan Herta and Indy car race winner Robby Gordon will be inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame on April 16 as part of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach race weekend.
Herta, whose Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian will enter the No. 98 Honda driven by series rookie Gabby Chaves in the 41st Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, drove to third-place finishes in the 1998 and '99 races on the California street circuit.
"I had a pole at Long Beach and led three of the races, but it's one that got away from me," Herta said. "To be inducted into the Walk of Fame is incredibly special for me because it's my home race."
Gordon finished third in the 1994 Indy car race at Long Beach and posted victories in the 1992 Trans-Am Series and 2014 Formula Off-Road Series races.
Herta and Gordon are both Southern California residents. The Walk of Fame medallions include renditions of the racers' cars and their major achievements in motorsports.
Six races, three winners in Mazda Road to Indy
The three Mazda Road to Indy ladders series conducted doubleheader races this weekend and each series saw the same driver win its two races. Ed Jones led every lap of both Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires races, Neil Alberico drove to victory in both Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires races and Jake Eidson was triumphant in the two Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda races.