There’s engine manufacturer competition this season for the first time since 2005, and there’s also competition between non-Leaders Circle teams for race bonuses.
Leaders Circle entrants receive $1.16 million over the course of the season.
Non-Leaders Circle entrants are eligible for payouts in each race aside from the Indianapolis 500, with the highest-finishing entrant receiving $80,000 through $26,000 for fifth place. Additionally, all entrants compete for bonuses of $35,000 for first place, $25,000 for second, $20,000 for third, $15,000 for fourth and $10,000 for fifth place at each IZOD IndyCar Series race aside from the Indianapolis 500.
In the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing driver Charlie Kimball earned the $80,000 top prize for non-Leaders Circle entrants with a career-best-tying ninth place. Kimball improved 13 positions relative to his qualifying spot among the 26 cars.
“The race was pretty awesome. It’s nice to get another top-10 to equal my career best in the IZOD IndyCar Series,” said Kimball, driving the No. 83 NovoLog FlexPen car. “We learned a lot about the car, the brakes, the engine, and we’ll make improvements this week and head to Barber to shoot for another top-10. We’ll work hard on qualifying, and it’ll be a great season.”
Josef Newgarden, the 2011 Firestone Indy Lights champion, made quite an impression in his series debut with and 11th place and reaping $65,000 in non-Leaders Circle funds for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. Justin Wilson recovered from a long stop after running out of fuel just before his second pit stop to round out the top-10 finishers, passing Newgarden on the final lap.
“I think we had a good day considering that it was my first race,” said Newgarden, who picked up eight positions over the 100-lap race (55 more than the Firestone Indy Lights race he won on the circuit in 2011). “I think we’re going to be a force all year long, and hopefully this is just the beginning for us.”
Turning to the manufacturer competition, Chevrolet (which has 11 entrants) had six teams in the top 10. Honda had the other four, and Lotus’ highest placer among its five teams was 15th (Alex Tagliani).
The victory, with Helio Castroneves behind the wheel of the No. 3 Shell V-Power/Pennzoil Team Penske car, was Chevrolet’s first in the series since June 11, 2005, when Tomas Scheckter won at Texas Motor Speedway.
“This is a great day for Chevrolet, who made the commitment to come back into IndyCar racing,” Team Penske team owner Roger Penske said. “This is really an event that shows the commitment in the automobile industry in the U.S. All the engineers within Chevrolet teaming with Ilmor to bring a product to the marketplace like this car in one year is amazing.
“It’s going to be a great season. It’s great to be back racing.”
Added Honda Performance Development president Erik Berkman, who on April 1 will transition to be the president of Honda R&D Americas: “We had a beautiful day and a great crowd, which is always good to see at one of our signature events here in St. Petersburg. I’m happy Honda had a podium finish with Scott Dixon, but the real goal we achieved is the return of manufacturer competition. There doesn’t appear to be a huge performance difference between the three manufacturers, and that bodes well for the season ahead.”