Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya kicked off the 2016 IndyCar season with victory at the Grand Prix of St Petersburg.
Montoya led home Penske team-mate Simon Pagenaud to claim back-to-back wins at St Petersburg after victory a year ago.
The Columbian used the two restarts to his advantage, forcing his way first past Pagenaud and then an impressive Connor Daly to take an unassailable lead, despite encountering steering problems late in the race.
Pagenaud, who inherited pole after team-mate and poleman Will Power was forced to sit out the race, led the opening 47 lap stint but dropped behind Daly under the first caution – triggered by a spinning Marco Andretti – and lost out to an aggressive Montoya off the restart.
The Frenchman was promoted to second when Daly – running an alternate strategy – was forced to stop again and soaked up late pressure from a charging Ryan Hunter-Reay to secure the runner-up spot.
Helio Castroneves had looked set to complete a 1-2-3 for Penske, but faded in the closing stages, dropping to fourth, behind Hunter-Reay.
After his starring run out front Daly’s race fell apart in the closing stages when he was forced to pit again for a new nose just a handful of laps after his second stop, dropping him to 12th.
Michael Aleshin was an impressive fifth for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, ahead of Takuma Salo and reigning IndyCar champion Scott Dixon.
The Chip Ganassi racer had run as high as fifth, but lost time to a lengthy final stop – his crew having to clear his overheating car’s sidepods of debris.
Carlos Munoz came home ninth, despite setting off the second of the race’s two cautions with an overzealous move on Graham Rahal into Turn 5.
Munoz tipped Rahal into a spin, who was then collected by Power’s Penske substitute Oriol Servia, forcing six other cars to a stop and blocking the track.
Tony Kanaan was ninth for Andretti Autosports after running an alternate strategy, with Charlie Kimball completing the top 10.
Ex-Formula 1 racer Alexander Rossi was the best of the rookies, crossing the line 12th, ahead of Daly.
IndyLights champion Spencer Pigot was 15th on his IndyCar debut, with former Marussia F1 racer Max Chilton 17th.
Servia limped home 18th in Power’s car after he was caught up in the Turn 5 melee.
Image courtesy of IndyCar Media