Honda Racing–Podium Finish for Hunter-Reay, Honda at St. Petersburg

• Strong debut for new Honda HI14RTT V6 engine
• Pole-starting Sato leads first 29 laps
• Strong runs from Hunter-Reay, Pagenaud, Newgarden and Wilson

Honda-powered pole qualifier Takuma Sato led the first 29 laps of Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and Ryan Hunter-Reay challenged for the victory in the closing laps of the initial race of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series, but took the checkers in second, less than two seconds behind winner Will Power. 

In a strong debut race for the new HI14RTT twin-turbocharged V6 engine, Honda-powered drivers claimed five of the top nine finishing positions, with Simon Pagenaud, Justin Wilson and Josef Newgarden all rebounding from troubled qualifying runs to join Hunter-Reay and Sato in the top 10 at the finish of 110 laps around the 1.8-mile coastal Florida street circuit.

Sato took command at the race start, eventually opening up a six-second lead over the 22-car field through the first segment of the race in his A.J. Foyt Racing Honda Dallara.  But the popular Japanese driver lost ground after the first round of pit stops to finish seventh. 

Meanwhile, Hunter-Reay’s performance improved throughout the race, as he battled Helio Castoneves for second place during the middle-third of the contest, then captured the position shortly after a Lap 84 restart.  For the last 20 laps, Hunter-Reay traded quick lap times withleader Power, but was unable to mount a successful challenge for the victory.

After “missing the setup” and starting a disappointing 14th, Pagenaud’s race also came alive in the final half, as he passed both Sato and Tony Kanaan, among others, to claim fifth at the finish.  Likewise, Wilson worked his way through the field to take the checkers eighth after starting 16th, while Newgarden made the biggest gains in the race, making up 13 positions to finish a strong ninth after starting 22nd.

Ryan Hunter-Reay(#28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda) started 3rd, finished 2nd:  “It’s a good start to the season, the team gave 110% today.  After the last restart, Will [Power} and I were very evenly matched.  We were both running ‘qualifying laps’ and Will did a great job.  While I could match him, I just didn’t have enough to get by him.  We’re ready to go to Long Beach now.  I’m very proud of Honda, they gave us a great engine to start the season.  Every point that you make early is good.  You might need them later in the season!  It’s good to be on the podium here in St. Petersburg, a good start to the season and gives us great momentum going into Long Beach.”

Simon Pagenaud(#77Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Racing Honda Dallara) started 14th, finished 5th:  “We missed [the chassis setup] in qualifying, but we had a very fast car for the race.  That last restart was the key.  We made a good move and managed to move our way forward.  To finish fifth after starting 14th, that’s a pretty good result for us.  I’m pretty happy, and very happy with the performance from our Honda engine today. The fuel economy is really good and the power delivery is excellent.  We maximized our result today.”

Art St. Cyr(President, Honda Performance Development) on today’s race:  “We were very competitive today, with good performances from many of our teams and drivers, but events did not quite go our way.  Congratulations to Ryan Hunter-Reay for today’s second-place finish.  It’s great to have the Andretti Autosport organization back in the Honda family once more.  I have to admit to a touch of disappointment with the outcome, as I believe we had the engine to beat here in St. Petersburg, and several of our teams were in position to win for us at various points in the race.  We’re optimistic for Long Beach and the rest of what’s shaping up to be another exciting Verizon IndyCar Series season.”