Franchitti wins a mess of a race

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:49 PM ET

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — In a word, Sunday’s Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was a mess.

Not the race track, not the atmosphere, not the crowd — all of those things were top notch as the IZOD IndyCar Series launched its 2011 season.

What was a mess was the race itself, or at least the start.

In fact, the race never really did get a proper start as each of the first four green flags were almost immediately replaced with yellows as crash, after crash, after crash marred the opening laps.

The fact that Dario Franchitti made it through it all to finally win the race was indeed a huge accomplishment.

How much of a disaster were those early laps?

Just look at the list of top drivers who were effectively taken out before their tires were even warm: Marco Andretti, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Mike Conway and Graham Rahal.

Even Franchitti couldn’t believe the carnage that was happening behind his No. 10 Ganassi Racing Dallara Honda.

“At one point I looked in my mirrors and I couldn’t see anyone,” he said. “I thought to myself: ‘What the heck happened back there.’”

What happened was a number of experienced drivers — like Castroneves and Andretti — attempted to win the race on the first turn.

The result was that it turned out to be their last.

Both second-place finisher Will Power and third-place finisher Tony Kanaan blamed the NASCAR-like double file re-starts that IndyCar instituted this season for the rash of wrecks.

“We are not NASCAR,” Power said. “We don’t have fenders on our cars, so when we hit on those restarts, there are consequences you don’t have in NASCAR.”

But the race wasn’t without its good news stories, the top one being Simona di Silvestor’s fourth-place finish.

The Swiss Miss, based on Sunday’s performance, could very well win an IndyCar race this season and replace Danica Patrick as the top woman in racing.

Another nice story was a fifth-place finish by Takuma Sato — the best of his IndyCar career — in the wake of the horrible post-tsunami crisis in his Japanese homeland.

Tags earns a sixth

In was a good day for Canada with Alex Tagliani driving one of his best races and bringing the No. 77 Sam Schmidt Motorsports machine home in sixth place.

Remember Tagliani, from the Montreal suburb of Lachenaie, is a one-car outfit that puts a team on the track with only a fraction of the budget of teams like Penske, Ganassi and Andretti.

“It was like a win for us,” Tagliani said. “For (team owner) Sam (Schmidt) to have this result in his first race back in the IZOD IndyCar series is a big, big deal.”

Tagliani did tangle with di Silvestor at one during in the race and jammed his hand so hard into the cockpit that he thought he broke it.

“She just came over on me and hit me really hard,” he said. “I though at first I broke my wrist but it got better as the race wore on.”

Finish lines

J.R. Fitzpatrick got his first Top-20 finish of the 2011 NASCAR Nationwide Series season at California’s Auto Club Speedway on Saturday. After starting 25th Fitzpatrick, of Cambridge, Ont., crossed the finish line 20th in the No. 27 Schick Hydro/Energizer Baker Curb Racing Ford Mustang ... Kyle Busch’s Nationwide win was his third straight ... Sebastien Bourdais didn’t even get to start Sunday’s IndyCar race after crashing his No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing in morning practice ... A.J. Foyt was missing from his IndyCar team’s paddock this week. He is recovering from a procedure to insert a stent in his main artery Friday to relieve a more than 95% blockage ... Tampa Bay Lightning centre Vinny Lecavalier waved the green flag to start Sunday’s Honda Grand Prix but not before taking a lap around the track with IndyCar legend Mario Andretti.


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