Sunday, March 25, 2012

Helio Wins Emotion St. Petersburg Race

As Helio Castroneves drove away from the field in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, he no doubt was thinking of his late friend Dan Wheldon.  The first race of the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series took place in Dan Wheldon's adopted hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida.  Wheldon lost his life in a horrific crash in last season's IndyCar Series finale at Las Vegas.

Castroneves celebrates winning the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (Courtesy Getty Images)
Will Power, who finished second in the points standings last season, led the field to the green flag; he would go on to finish seventh.  Last year's champion, Dario Franchitti, finished 13th.  Former Formula 1 star Rubens Barrichello finished 17th in his IndyCar Series debut.

The biggest change to the IndyCar series this year was the debut of a new car.  The new car, which was being tested by Wheldon, is safer, protecting the rear wheels so there can be no more wheel-to-wheel contact.

The support for Wheldon was strong throughout the day.  The fans headed to the race were encouraged to wear orange in support of Wheldon, and there were orange ribbons for sale, with the proceeds going to the Alzheimer's Association.  Turn 10 was renamed "Dan Wheldon Way," and that is where Castroneves celebrated his victory.  He go out of his car, climbed the fence, and patted the sign while remembering his fallen friend.  "No question about it, this is for our friend upstairs, Dan Wheldon," Castroneves told reporters following his victory.

Tony Kanaan, who finished 25th after having battery problems, put the race weekend into perspective.  "At the end of the day, we're racing on a beautiful day," Kanaan told reporters.  "The crowd has been awesome.  I think we have much bigger problems in life than just dropping out of a race.  It's sad, but I want to thank my crew guys, and I'm obviously thinking about Dan.  That's what I'm really thinking about."

Castroneves celebrates his win in Turn 10, Dan Wheldon Way
The race in St. Petersburg was an emotional one, but it was a big step in the healing process.  Dan Wheldon will never be forgotten, and the IndyCar series is doing exactly what he would have wanted: race.

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