JUAN Pablo Montoya has won a Penske-dominated St Petersburg IndyCar season opening race while Aussie Will Power was forced to withdraw due to nausea and vertigo, symptoms later diagnosed as mild concussion.
The Australian (pictured, below), who had crashed during Friday practice a day earlier, grittily took pole position with a record-setting lap time before the decision to step aside in favour of replacement Oriol Servia.
A grid reshuffle elevated second quickest qualifier Simon Pagenaud at the head of the field and he and spent the early laps leading from Montoya.
The French driver opened his margin to five seconds heading into the first round of pitstops, but Montoya uncorked a succession of lightning laps able to reduce the gap to just 0.7s.
Later in the race, after a caution and different pit strategies came into play, Montoya daringly zipped past Pagenaud into third place. It proved to be a crucial move for there was a massive shunt moments later when Carlos Munoz touched the rear of Graham Rahal, spinning him into the wall, with another seven drivers caught up.
This left Conor Daly in the lead from Montoya, who quickly dispatched his rival at the restart and then went on to a repeat St Pete win from his Penske team-mate Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay
Best of the rookies was ex-Formula One driver Alexander Rossi in 12th, ahead of Daly in 13th, Spencer Pigot in 15th and former Marussia driver Max Chilton in 17th.
Stand-in Servia finished 18th in Power's car, delayed in the mid-race contretemps.
ONE MAKE: Another Seto on the grid in Toyota 86 Racing Series
It’s in the genes, clearly. Aaron Seton, the son of V8 Supercars Hall of Fame inductee Glenn and grandson of 1965 Bathurst winner Barry, is a confirmed starter for all five rounds of the Toyota 86 Racing Series in 2016.
Carrying an instantly recognisable surname in motor sport, 17-year-old Aaron is a graduate from karting ranks, with some brief stops since in GT and production car racing.
Now he plans to progress further and gather experience in a series designed to encourage and support emerging talent.
Designed to offer emerging young drivers (and anyone else with the inclination and money) the chance to enjoy torrid competition and perhaps attract positive attention from the right people, the Toyota 86 series will hit the track with an expected healthy grid at Winton Raceway in late May.
"I've got a lot to live up to, with dad and pop's success," said Aaron, who will also benefit from having his father build and set up the car, though only using the control suspension, braking bits, exhaust, engine management system and tyres allowed under very tight regulations.
The mandatory race package was developed by Neal Bates Motorsport (NBM), and enhances the 86's acknowledged balance and agility with more urge, grip and noise.
The series’ organiser is yet to announce the names of selected professional racers to be invited to join the grid to give the regulars yardsticks.
These nominated drivers are not eligible for any of the $125,000 prizemoney, their primary role being to mentor regular competitors by sharing tips on everything from race-craft and driving technique to engineering set-up and team structure.
Open to all manual ARD-compliant variants of Toyota's cult-classic sports coupe, the series is part of the support program at selected rounds of the Australian V8 Supercars championship.
In inaugural Toyota 86 Racing Series will run over five events: May 20-22 (Winton SuperSprint), August 26-28 (Sydney Motorsport Park SuperSprint), September 16-18 (Sandown 500), October 6-9 (Bathurst 1000) and November 25-27 (Sydney 500).
PRODUCTION RACING: Huge field for Hi-Tec Oils Bathurst 6 Hour
The traditional love of production car racing across Australia dating back to the early days of the Bathurst 500 is still evident today with the interest shown in the Easter long weekend’s inaugural Hi-Tec Oils Bathurst 6 Hour enduro, which has attracted a massive list of entries.
While the final list of starters is still fluid, 53 fully paid-up entries have been received to date, with more to finalise prior to the March 25-27 event.
Organisers now expect a field of at least 55 cars take to the track for first practice on Easter Friday.
The biggest talking point among the cars is the entry of an AMG Mercedes-Benz A45, the first of its kind in Australia to hit the track and take on the Mitsubishi, BMW and Subaru proddie rockets that have long been favoured by production car racing regulars.
Long-time Bathurst racer Ron Searle and former V8 Supercar pilot Garth Walden will share the speedy all-wheel-drive Mercedes, powered by a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged engine.
On paper at least, the A45 appears capable of taking the fight to the Mitsubishi Lancer EVOs that have dominated the sport for the last decade.
The diverse field includes representation from 13 different brands and more than 20 different vehicle models, ranging from the outright-contending Mitsubishi Lancers to the popular Toyota 86 coupe that makes up most of Class D.
Best represented is BMW with 12 entries, while Mitsubishi (nine), Holden Special Vehicles (seven), Toyota (six) and Renault (five) models also feature strongly.
“We’re confident that this race will be a boost for production car racing and will also deliver the Bathurst region a new ‘destination’ event for the Easter long weekend,” said event director James O’Brien, the man who successfully revived the Bathurst 12 Hour.
Most of the successful team and car combinations from the last five years of production car racing have committed to Bathurst’s newest race, with a mix of national and state level champions confirmed.
A two-time Bathurst 12 Hour class-winning BMW 335i Turbo will be out to conquer the Mountain in an outright capacity.
Twenty-one cars make up the cars in Classes A1 and A2 – the Extreme Performance machinery expected to battle for outright honours.
A further nine cars in classes B1 and B2 for High Performance cars will also be highly competitive, while nine will also fight for the competitive Production Performance Class C, made up of hot hatches from BMW, Renault and Mazda.
Boosted by the return of HQ Holden races, in all, more than 300 cars will be challenging Mount Panorama across the Easter weekend. More than 40 Group N Historic Touring Cars will compete as will a high-class field of 34 production sports cars, including entrants running the latest GT3 machinery.
Those not getting the backside trackside can watch free live streaming by logging on to the Bathurst Motor Festival website on race day.