ST. PETERSBURG, Fla—Penske Racing’s Juan Montoya repeated as winner of the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Sunday afternoon, overcoming a damaged and decaying steering system to beat team mate Simon Pagenaud by 2.3 seconds. It was his second consecutive win at St. Pete.
Because pole winner Will Power had to withdraw from the race due to a mild concussion he got in practice Friday morning, Simon Pagenaud led the field to the green flag and through the first 48 laps, handing the lead to Dale Coyne driver Conor Daly during a round of pit stops during the race’s first caution period.
After a failed restart, and a second yellow because Marco Andretti stopped on course with no power, the race went back to green on lap 5—and immediately went back to yellow because of a multi-car pileup in Turn Four.
After the wreckage was cleared the race again went green on lap 64. This time Montoya got the jump on Daly and took the lead into Turn One. The Penske driver kept the lead for most of the rest of the race, surrendering in only when he pitted for fresh tires.
Montoya had apparently damaged his steering rack when he hit the wall at Turn Eight during morning practice—no damage was apparent, but halfway through the race the Colombian driver found that he had to over-turn the steering wheel to get the front wheels to turn.
The problem got dramatically worse late in the race when Montoya, trying to work his way past Foyt Racing’s Jack Hawksworth, hit one of St. Pete’s many bumps while under hard braking. Montoya heard something crack, and after that had to turn the steering wheel 90 degrees before the tires would respond.
At this point he had a five-second lead over his team mate; Montoya was able to corner gently and compensate by using his Push-to-Pass on the straightaways, lapping just fast enough to keep his lead to the finish.
Montoya won at St. Pete in 2015 ahead of team mate Will Power. In both races, another Penske driver, Helio Castroneves, finished fourth. Both years were Penske parades, with only a single driver from another team cracking the top four.
In 2015, Penske captured four of the top five positions and Chevrolet took the top six. This year Andretti Autosports driver Ryan Hunter-Reay spoiled the Penske/Chevy sweep by finishing third in his Honda-powered Dallara.