ST. PETERSBURG — Juan Pablo Montoya said success would take time.
In his heralded IndyCar Series return after spending the past seven seasons in NASCAR, Montoya finished 15th in his first appearance at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
“We will learn and we will then pass some people and some people will pass us,” said the 38-year-old Colombian, the 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner. “There are a few things we have to do better, but I didn’t feel my pace was too bad there.
“I was keeping up with everybody. (Being back in open-wheel racing) is fun, but it’s going to be a lot of work.”
Bad day in Hinchtown
Defending champion James Hinchcliffe was honored with his plaque on the Victory Circle monument prior to Sunday’s race.
The was the highlight of the day for Hinchcliffe, as the 27-year-old Canadian finished 19th after picking up his first career IndyCar Series win last March in St. Pete.
Hinchcliffe battled car issues all day, though he didn’t know the exact problem.
“We were keeping pace with some of the guys, even to the end, even though we were seven miles an hour down all day,” Hinchcliffe said. “It’s so unfortunate because we’ve never had these problems in practice or testing and then the drop of the green and it starts. It’s gutting.”
Firestone glad to be on board
During its first year as the title sponsor of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Firestone was enthusiastically happy to be on board, given the tire company’s longstanding relationship with racing — especially IndyCar, in which all cars use Firestone tires.
Firestone took over as the title of the season-opening race from Honda, and Lisa Boggs, Director of Bridgestone America’s Motorsports, said signing a multi-year deal to sponsor this race was a no-brainer.
“When the chance came up for us to put our name on it, we were like, ‘Sign us up,’ ” Boggs said. “We’re very honored to have this privilege. It’s perfect fit for us, especially from a business strategy standpoint because we can come to our market and engage fans.”
Sponsor pleased with day, deal
Mark Miles, the CEO of Hulman & Co., the parent of IndyCar, spoke before Sunday’s race and couldn’t help but point out the weather, especially since it was 70 degrees with clear skies after two days of clouds and storms.
“The fact that we’ve got a perfect day for racing is icing on the cake,” Miles said.
Hildebrand turns 21
Ed Carpenter Racing announced a partnership with Preferred Freezer Services for J.R. Hildebrand’s No. 21 at the Indianapolis 500 in May.
“We’re super excited to have J.R. on board and driving our car,” Carpenter said. “I think to grab the pole there, you have to have a lot of tangibles and now we have a driver to go with the car.”
Hildebrand, who finished second behind the late Dan Wheldon at the 2011 Indy 500, said he was excited to join ECR, which features Ed
Carpenter and Mike Conway as drivers.
“When you’re a one-car team, it takes a few runs to show results,” Hildebrand said. “But when you’re on a multi-car team, you can get results by tag teaming the races and I’m glad to be a part of this team.”
New Port Richey’s RC Enerson won the USF2000 race Sunday morning and led all 21 laps. … Spencer Pigot won the Pro Mazda race Sunday morning. … Tomas Enge won the GT class and Lawson Aschenbach won the GTS class of Pirelli World Challenge race Sunday afternoon. … Zach Veach won the Indy Lights race for his first victory on the series. … PJ Jones held off Robby Gordon to win the Stadium Super Trucks race by 0.163 seconds. … Mikhail Aleshin was the highest finishing rookie (12th). … St. Pete resident Sebastien Bourdais finished 13th. … Josef Newgarden, who started the race last at 22nd, finished ninth.