Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Rewind

Photo courtesy of IndyCar Series

2003 Race Winner (2/23/2003) – Paul Tracy

The inaugural Grand Prix of St. Petersburg opened the 2003 CART Champ Car World Series season and was dominated by Paul Tracy. He took the lead on lap 36 in his Player’s Forsythe Racing Team Ford and never looked back winning by 12.136 seconds.

“I’ve won just about everything, but not a championship. That’s what everybody’s goal is, is to win the championship,” said Tracy after the race. “We need to focus on trying to be consistent, win races, finish well, then hopefully that will come.”

Paul Tracy would go on to win the season championship. And, the 1.8-mile, 14-turn Bayfront course has remained virtually unchanged minus some new paving and the addition of Dan Wheldon Way.

Watch Paul Tracy’s 2003 victory in sunny St. Pete.

2004 – No Race

2005 Race Winner (4/3/2005) – Dan Wheldon

It was a 1-2-3-4 sweep for Andretti Green Racing with the late Dan Wheldon leading the charge followed by teammates Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti, and the pole sitter Bryan Herta. Wheldon led 10 of the 100 laps and later won the Indianapolis 500 and the series championship that season.

The 2005 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg also made history as the first-ever street race for the Indy Racing League and the first event promoted by Kim Green and Kevin Savoree, who still own and operate the event today, as well as co-owners of Andretti Green Racing at the time.

A stretch of the St. Petersburg street circuit is now known as “Dan Wheldon Way” and a winners monument erected near the course in memory of this popular winner and local resident.

Watch Dan Wheldon’s memorable win again

 

2006 Race Winner (4/2/2006) – Helio Castroneves

The first of three of Helio Castroneves’ wins in St. Pete for the legendary Team Penske driver came with the race ending under a late caution flag. Castroneves led three times for a total 40 laps after starting fifth.

 

“Boy, I was really hauling out there today. I had to go as fast as possible throughout the entire race; it was 100 qualifying laps,” said Castroneves. “The car was great today, it was another fantastic job by the team. Once I got in front, man, I just kept driving it ‘like I stole it’.

 

He continued, “I just want to thank all the fans that came out today and the race organizers. This is an awesome event and I’m already looking forward to coming back here next year.”

 

Watch Helio Castroneves win for the first time in St. Pete.

2007 Race Winner (4/1/2007) - Helio Castroneves

 

Helio Castroneves goes back-to-back on the streets of St. Pete in 2007 winning from the pole position. It’s the most dominant victory by a driver in the history of the race with Castroneves leading 95 of the 100 laps.

 

It was not as easy as it seemed though for the driver known as “Spiderman” for his post-race fence climbing celebrations. He fought off gearbox problems especially in the late laps to bring his Team Penske machine across the line first.

 

"Almost everything was working perfectly. The gears started to wear a little and I had to be careful to not make any mistakes, especially on the brake point where the gears were tough,” said Castroneves. “It was a great weekend. We worked very hard and it paid off in the end."

 

Watch Helio Castroneves climb fences again by the Bay.

2008 Race Winner (4/6/2008) – Graham Rahal

 

History was made at the 2008 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg by second-generation IndyCar driver Graham Rahal. He became the youngest ever to win an Indy car race at age 19 years, 93 days old. It was also the IndyCar Series debut for Rahal racing for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing at the time.

 

 “It was a tough start for us, the spin after the tap from Will [Power] put us really back. But the team never gave up and I had a great car. From that point on everything worked perfectly,” said Rahal who started ninth in a time-limited race cut short by 17 laps due to rain. “I knew we had the pace to pull away from the field if I could get to the front, and the team made great calls from the pits. At the end, I knew Helio [Castroneves] was right there, but if I kept calm we could pull away again. Everything just worked out so well, this is awesome!”

The next year Rahal would also stake claim as the youngest driver to win a pole position on the same track.

 

Watch Graham Rahal’s historic accomplishment.

 

2009 Race Winner (4/5/2009) – Ryan Briscoe

 

For the first time in Indy Racing League history, the season began on a road course and not an oval. Ryan Briscoe would lead 46 total laps and the final 14 on the way to a 0.4619 of a second margin of victory over Ryan Hunter-Reay and the late Justin Wilson, who had led the most laps on the day with 52.

 

"We've led laps here and had been in position to win, but we'd never gotten the job done. I saw an opportunity and went for the win,” said Briscoe. The victory marked Team Penske's 30th victory in Indy Racing League competition. 

 

Briscoe would go on to win two more times and claim four pole positions on the season for Team Penske. It would be his best in IndyCar competition and placed him third in the final championship standings just one point out of second.

 

Watch Ryan Briscoe’s 2009 season opening win.

 

2010 Race Winner (3/29/2010) – Will Power

 

Due to torrential rains falling on the circuit on Sunday, the race got postponed to Monday for the second race of the 2010 IndyCar season. Team Penske’s Will Power ended up dominating the weekend starting from the pole position, but did have his struggles early falling back into the field trying to find grip with low tire temperatures. 

 

Leading 50 laps on the way to victory and overcoming much on track drama with 23 percent of the laps run under caution, Power left the weekend with a 44-point advantage in the championship standings after also winning the season opener in Brazil. 

 

“It’s just great. This has been a fantastic start to my first full season with Penske Racing, and I’m really happy for all my guy,” said Power. “We won the pole, led the most race laps, and got the victory. Race weekends don’t come much better than this.”

 

Watch Will Power’s fantastic finish to the weekend.

2011 Race Winner (3/27/2011) – Dario Franchitti

 

The tradition of the coastal destination city of St. Petersburg properly began as the host of the IndyCar season opener and staking its claim as a crown jewel event. The reigning IndyCar series champion Dario Franchitti would start his title defense strong by notching his 27th career Indy car win.

 

“This is a great championship, with a lot of quality teams and drivers. So you’ve got to fight all the way, and that’s exactly what this team does time after time,” said Franchitti post-race. “The key to our race was making the outside pass on Will [Power] on the second re-start. The car was running like a dream. It’s a great time to be an IndyCar driver. The series is on the ‘up’ and this will be a fantastic season.”

 

Franchitti led 94 of 100 laps on the way to the checkered flag - second only to Castroneves’ 95 laps led in St. Pete in 2007 - winning by a comfortable 6.7 seconds margin. The Target Chip Ganassi driver would indeed repeat as the 2011 IndyCar Series champion.

 

Watch the 2011 IndyCar Season Opener in St. Pete.

2012 Race Winner (3/25/2012) – Helio Castroneves

 

The race was the debut of a new Indy car into competition for 2012 dubbed the “DW12” in honor of Dan Wheldon, the St. Petersburg resident who lost his life in a racing accident in October 2011, was helping to develop the new Dallara chassis through on track testing. Dan Wheldon Way and Victory Circle Monuments were dedicated on March 6, 2012, leading up to the race in tribute to Dan.

 

The season-opening event was also the return of multi-engine manufacturer competition to IndyCar. Chevrolet and Lotus joined the starting grid alongside Honda. Helio Castroneves, the Team Penske driver powered by Chevrolet, earned his record third Grand Prix of St. Petersburg win leading the last 26 laps.

 

“This is a great effort for everyone,” said Castroneves, who had not won a race in the series since 2010. “Certainly coming back last year was a big struggle. Now to be here in Victory Circle is a dream come true.”

 

Watch Helio Castroneves’ record-setting St. Pete win.

 

2013 Race Winner (3/24/2013) – James Hinchcliffe

 

Will Power won the pole remarkably for the fourth year in a row, but it was James Hinchcliffe claiming his first ever IndyCar Series victory on the streets of St. Petersburg. Hinchcliffe overtook defending race winner Helio Castroneves who made a mistake coming out of the corner on the Lap 85 restart.

 

"I'd like to say it was some masterful trickery," Hinchcliffe said of his winning pass, in which he went right coming out of Turn 1 to get by Castroneves, who skidded under braking. "I figured we'd lead a couple of laps but he (would) get us back. To hold off Castroneves, a guy who has won this race three times, for that many laps? It took absolutely everything."

 

Starting from fourth position, it was a strong weekend for Hinchcliffe leading the last 26 laps to take the top spot on the podium. He would also win two more times on the season.

 

Watch James Hinchcliffe’s first IndyCar victory.

 

 

2014 Race Winner (3/30/2014) – Will Power

 

The event became known as the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg as it remains today. The 2010 race winner Will Power began the new season with a resounding victory after winning the last two IndyCar races of 2013.

 

"Man, I'm mentally tired. That was physical and hard, but pretty stoked to get the first win for Verizon as the series sponsor with the Verizon car. It's a great day, a great stop there when we all pitted at the same time, the boys got me out there,” said Power, who started fourth after earning the pole the previous four years. “Really happy with that and we executed well. I worked so hard in the offseason. We came into the season wanting to win a championship for Roger, and the way it went down last year was really disappointing for Helio (Castroneves) not to win.”

 

Will’s 2014 campaign ended with an IndyCar championship for Team Penske. He would run with great consistency, posting three wins and successfully finishing all 18 races by completing 2,394 of 2,395 laps.

 

Watch Will Power’s second St. Pete win again.

 

2015 Race Winner (3/29/2015) – Juan Pablo Montoya

 

It was a dominant weekend for the debut of the expanded four-car Team Penske effort on the streets of St. Petersburg. Juan Pablo Montoya led the way ahead of last year’s winner Will Power finishing 1-2 on the podium, and the team also captured four of the top five finishing spots (Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud in fourth and fifth places, respectively).

 

All four Team Penske drivers led a lap on the day in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Montoya would lead the last 27 laps, but he and his teammate Power raced closely up until Lap 101 when slight contact between the two drivers in Turn 10 caused damage to Power’s right front wing. Juan then pulled away for a 0.993-second margin of victory.

 

On Power’s late pass attempt for the lead, Montoya explained, “I saw him make the move, but he was way back and I wasn’t going to give him the position. 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.”

 

Watch the Team Penske 1-2 finish.

 

2016 Race Winner (3/13/2016) – Juan Pablo Montoya

 

Juan Pablo Montoya notches a record eighth win in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg for Team Penske, the most in the history of the event. It was also four wins in the last five races on the streets of St. Petersburg for the team during Roger Penske’s 50th anniversary season as a race car team owner.

 

"It's nice to start the year with a win. You know what I mean?" Montoya said. "When you're in Team Penske, there's always that pressure that you've got to win races. You have to win. You're in the best car, you've got to win races. So to start the year with a win, it's like, 'Oh, I got that one out of the way.'"

 

Montoya led the last 26 (44 total) on the way to the checkered flag topped only by teammate Simon Pagenaud’s 48 laps on point. After taking pole position for the sixth time at St. Pete and leading a 1-2-3-4 Penske clean sweep of qualifying, Will Power would be ruled out of the race due to a mild concussion.

 

Watch Juan Pablo Montoya go back-to-back.

2017 Race Winner (3/12/2017) – Sebastien Bourdais

 

The hometown favorite and resident Sebastian Bourdais made history after returning to a Dale Coyne Racing Indy car in the offseason. Bringing out the red flag after an incident in qualifying, Bourdais would be relegated to start from the rear of the field, but somehow he would lead the most laps (69) on the way to victory.

 

"Here we go again," Bourdais said after Saturday’s qualifying session. "I just messed up, and it was gone." Then, after his remarkable performance in Sunday’s race, he countered, "I can't believe I just did that.”

 

Bourdais took full advantage of some opportunistic strategy after he and Simon Pagenaud pitted early under green on Lap 20 for the first pit window sequence. A timely full course caution on Lap 26 forced the leaders to pit and lose the on track position during the yellow period to Pagenaud and Bourdais. He would then overtake Pagenaud on Lap 37 in Turn 1 and quickly pull away. Sebastien stayed on the proper pit sequence the rest of the way and finish with a 10-second margin of victory over Simon. 

 

Watch Sebastien Bourdais’ popular win.