New Zealand IndyCar driver and two-time series champion Scott Dixon couldn't quite break his duck and win his first St Petersburg race early Monday morning NZ time, but was happy to pick up second place and a bag full of points.
In a race that saw the new Dallara DW12 (the chassis named in honour of Dan Wheldon who died last year) and a bunch of new engines race in anger for the first time, the race one of strategy and fuel consumption.
Dixon and eventual winner Helio Castroneves hit the front early on with the Kiwi, who qualified seventh, leading a race-high 37 laps to gain two bonus points. In a slight twist to the story, Dixon has been the runner-up in all of Castroneves' victories (three) at St Petersburg.
"The day was tough, you know," said Dixon."The first race back and after Dan's death it's a hard start to the season.
"We didn't quite have the speed but we had great restarts and the strategy kind of fell into our hands.
"I was pretty angry there for a while as I'm sure a few people heard on the radio. All in all, a great day for team Target. What is nice is to actually finish this race for the first time in three or four years and we've got some good points here.
"Helio was just really fast but also able to save fuel. So we did a really good job for what we did at saving fuel, but obviously we didn't have the speed and we seemed to burn the tyres up really quick."
Dixon and Castroneves were close the whole race with the Brazilian getting past through Turn One at three quarter race distance.
Ryan Hunter-Reay finished third ahead of Andretti teammate James Hinchcliffe and Penske's Ryan Briscoe, while rookie Simon Pagenaud crossed the line just ahead of pole sitter Aussie Will Power in sixth. EJ Viso, Charlie Kimball and Justin Wilson rounded out the top 10.
Superbike across the ditch
Despite nine-time New Zealand Superbike champion Andrew Stroud's best efforts, former champion Robbie Bugden is taking the national trophy back across the ditch.
Bugden won the two races at the last round of the national championships at Taupo over the weekend to seal the title. Stroud had closed the gap on the Aussie to just 10.5 points after Hampton Downs but was off his game after crashing and could qualify only eighth.Stroud finished off sixth and fourth, leaving the Hamilton Suzuki rider second in the championship.
"We've got it done," said Bugden."We've had some ups and downs through the season. I hadn't been champion for a couple of years. We set out to win the championship and I'm so happy for the whole team."
This is his fourth New Zealand title. Racing in New Zealand during the Australian off-season helped keep him focused, Bugden said.
Stroud was gracious in defeat.
"It's good to let the Australians win sometimes, it's good for international relations," Stroud joked.
Dennis Charlett retained his 600cc Supersport title with a third in race one and then romped away with the final, although 17-year-old Aucklander Jaden Hassan closed right up at the end with his Yamaha.
Other 2012 champions: 600cc Superstock Jake Lewis, Superlite Glen Williams, 650 Pro Twins Robbie Stokes, 125 GP Seth Devereux and Prolite 250 Sam Croft.
Aussie to test V8 SuperTourer
Former V8 Supercar driver and Australian Porsche Carrera Cup pilot Alex Davison will test-drive the V8 SuperTourer of Andy Knight Motorsport at Ruapuna. Davison will be sampling the V8 SuperTourer with a view to joining the team for the endurance races later in the season.
"We have pushed really hard to sign up the highest calibre co-driver for Andy Knight in the V8 SuperTourer series," said Andy Knight Motorsport team manager Andy Neale.
"Getting Alex on board the programme is very exciting for the team. This announcement really demonstrates the team intend to be key players in this inaugural season of V8 SuperTourers."
Davison raced for Stone Brothers Racing in 2011 alongside Kiwi favourite Shane van Gisbergen.
"I am really excited to be joining Andy Knight Motorsport for the three endurance races later this year and can't wait to have a drive of the car this weekend," said Davison.
"I've heard great thing about the new cars and the championship as a whole and really wanted to get involved, so when the opportunity came up to join Andy and his team, I jumped at the chance."