Rewind: 2012 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

By: Spencer Neff
April 22, 2021

This weekend, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES will run on the street course at St. Petersburg for the 17th straight season and 18th overall.

Since 2003’s debut with ChampCar, the temporary circuit in Florida has produced exciting racing and fantastic memories.

One of the most memorable races in the event’s history was the 2012 edition. After an offseason filled with changes, the race helped kick off a new era for the series.

Castroneves sets record with third win

Although the usual excitement was at the season opener, the 2012 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg did carry its share of mixed emotions.

Five months earlier, Dan Wheldon was fatally injured during the season finale at Las Vegas.

After winning the 2005 Indy Racing League title and 15 races, Wheldon spent 2011 developing the new Dallara chassis and won his second Indianapolis 500 in a one-off entry.

This race would be the first with the new chassis, named the DW12 in his memory.

Holly Wheldon waves the green flag (AP Photo/LAT, Walt Kuhn)

Additionally, St. Petersburg was his hometown after moving to America. Along with the new chassis, Chevrolet and Lotus returned with 2.2-liter V6 turbocharged engines.

Leading the field to the green would be 2010 and 2011 championship runner-up Will Power, who won his third straight pole at the street circuit. Dan’s sister Holly waved the green flag to start the 100-lap race.

Race Recap

After starting on the pole, Power would hold the lead during the early stages of the race.

The first caution flag of the season occurred on Lap 12 for the stalled car of Katherine Legge, just as 2009 race winner Ryan Briscoe had taken the lead from his teammate. Power was on pit road just before the caution flew.

Briscoe stayed up front as the caution flag flew three laps after the Lap 17 restart when James Jakes crashed in the Turn 10 tire barriers.

At that time, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon held the lead as the two-time champion looked for his first win after three DNFs (Did Not Finish) on the street circuit from 2008-10, half of his career total.

After Takuma Sato of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing led for 10 circuits, Dixon’s teammate Dario Franchitti led a lap as he began pursuit of his fourth straight title and fifth in five years of competition (Franchitti spent 2008 in NASCAR).

On Lap 46, Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves made contact with Ed Carpenter as the new Owner/Driver attempted to dive onto pit lane.

After Carpenter was unable to restart his car, the full-course caution was displayed for the third time as Sato continued to lead. Dixon held onto the lead through the next fuel stint.

After leading his first two laps during the pit stop cycle, Castroneves took first and never looked back.

Castroneves pays tribute to the late Dan Wheldon (Pinterest)

Rebounding from a winless 2011, he earned his record third win at St. Petersburg with a 5.529-second margin over Dixon.

Castroneves became the first three-time winner at St. Pete, before any other driver had won more than once.

Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay finished third, bookending the podium for Chevrolet in their first race 2005.

Analysis

Following the win, Castroneves did. his trademark fence-clim in Turn 10, right next to the “Dan Wheldon Way” street sign.

In the first four races, Penske dominated but it would be Power earning three straight wins. Unfortunately, a championship alluded him yet again.

After crashing in the Auto Club Speedway season finale, Power finished the race but lost the title to Hutner-Reay by three points In 2014, he earned his only series championship to date.

In 2013, James Hinchcliffe won the season opener at St. Petersburg, his first victory. Following Wheldon’s death, Hinchcliffe took over the No. 27 entry Wheldon had been set to drive for 2012.

Header Image By AP

Published by Spencer Neff

I am a lifelong auto racing fan. Through IndyCar1909, I look forward to sharing my passion for the series and its illustrious history with you.

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