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To veterans, crowd recalls glory days in streets

By BRIAN SUMERS
Published April 3, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - From the back of a pickup truck during the parade lap on Sunday, St. Petersburg looked like a big-time street racing town to some guys who remember what they look like.

"We have to face it," race winner Helio Castroneves said, "this is the second biggest event of the (Indy Racing League) series. Obviously, the first one is Indianapolis, but it's because it's been there for so many years."

As Castroneves and Bryan Herta were musing how the throng attending reminded them of the salad days of the CART series, Tony Kanaan and Sam Hornish were having much the same conversation a few trucks ahead.

"Hornish is a kind of guy that never speaks, right? He turns to me and said, "Oh, we should have more races like that,' " Kanaan said. "I looked at him. I look around to see if somebody was around me, if he was talking to me or somebody else. That's a guy that came from ovals and was asking for some street course racing."

Kanaan said the difficulty negotiating the paddock and coach lot was worth the exposure for the league.

"Sometimes it's tough for us, but it's good," he said. "That's the way racing should be. That's the way racing always has been. To me, if anybody wants an example of a race, this is it."

No official crowd estimate was made. Andretti Green Promotions does not release figures, but vice president Kevin Savoree said he was very pleased.

FRANCHITTI'S WOES: No one could touch Dario Franchitti in practice or qualifying, but when it came time to race, the pole-sitter couldn't trust his car.

After Franchitti coaxed his unsound No. 27 car through 15 laps as the Grand Prix's leader, he let Scott Dixon pass him on Turn 5.

From there, his race was over. The culprit: a faulty right front suspension.

"I can't put it into words right now," Franchitti said minutes after withdrawing. "I'm just p---ed off."

Franchitti said he noticed the problem on Lap 5 when he had trouble turning. But his car was so strong, he tried to drive through it.

"With three wheels, we were still driving away from them," said Franchitti, donning fashionable Versace sunglasses. "It's very frustrating."

The problem was a remnant from Franchitti's minor crash in Sunday's practice.

Franchitti was forced to dump his car into a Turn 8 tire barrier in the warmup session because Kosuke Matsuura had wrecked in front of him.

Franchitti's Andretti Green team replaced a slightly scratched nose piece and checked suspension and shocks before sending him back out, where he immediately shot back to the top of the speed charts.

At the time, Franchitti downplayed the problem. But team officials said when the crew replaced parts after the dust-up, it might have caused trouble later.

NOT SO SAFE: After his morning trouble, Franchitti said his biggest concern was not damage, but the attentiveness of his peers. Drivers continued to zoom through the narrowed corner though safety trucks were quickly on-scene and marshals were waving yellow flags, he said.

"What worried me was when other guys came through on racing speed even when the safety trucks were on the track," he said "That was pretty interesting - a couple of guys not paying attention."

OUT AGAIN: For the second consecutive week, Marco Andretti withdrew with transmission trouble.

"I was definitely hanging on to dear life the whole race," said Andretti, who started 10th but stopped after 58 laps.

Looking discouraged, he spoke at length with grandfather Mario Andretti in his pit stall. Marco said he did not know whether the car is malfunctioning or whether he is driving improperly.

"I have to do some homework," he said. "I need to see what I'm doing wrong."

GETTING IN SHAPE: They were some sweaty faces after the two-hour race, but Tony Kanaan said not everyone needs to be a triathlete to drive an IndyCar.

Kanaan said it helps to work out, though nothing matches actually driving the car.

"It's not always about the most fit guy," said Kanaan, who finished third. "If triathlons or cycling was going to make the best race car driver, Lance Armstrong would win every championship in this series."

TWO-TIMER: As his seven friends and relatives from England enjoyed the weather, new St. Petersburg resident Jay Howard finished second in Sunday's second Indy Pro Series Grand Prix, narrowly losing to Raphael Matos.

"The sun was shining so I'm sure they had a good time," Howard said. "They won't be looking forward to going to England."

Matos, who will race in the Atlantic Series for the rest of the season, earned his second consecutive win. He also took Saturday's race, in which Howard was third.

"Two wins in two days," Matos said with a smile. "It's like a dream come true."

Howard, meanwhile, said he wants another crack at Matos.

"Maybe I'll go visit him in Atlantics and see if I can upset his party," he said.

SCCA: Randy Pobst won the Touring Car race in a Mazda 6, earning $16,000.

Pobst missed a crash at the start affecting six cars, five of which did not return to race. A race official said no drivers were seriously injured.

SPARK PLUGS: Because the caution flag waved just twice during the IndyCar race, the average speed was 92.340 mph, well faster than the 83.140 of last year, when five cautions occurred.