Long Time No See: The Firestone IndyCar Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Preview

The 2021 NTT IndyCar Series kicked off with a bang last week as Chip Ganassi’s debutant Alex Palou took his maiden championship victory, holding off Penske’s Will Power in the process. As all eyes fall on the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – they will also be Palou with high expectations for what this young Spaniard can do?

What is typically the opening race of the season, was moved last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 2020 saw the Grand Prix host the season finale for the first time in the history of the series. Once more, because of the pandemic the race was rescheduled in 2021, initially set for 7th March to the 25th April.

The Firestone Grand Prix is a highlight for many IndyCar and motorsport fans alike. This 2.9 km, high-speed and technical street course features picturesque views of St. Petersburg waterfront and utilises parts of the nearby Albert Whitted Airport.

WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR?

Last year saw the culmination of a season-long title battle between Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden. Newgarden had gradually chipped away at the New Zealander’s advantage over a five race period and had the oppurtunity to snatch the title at the final attempt. However, both drivers failed to make an impression in qualifying and started in eleventh and ninth respectively. Will Power went on to take his ninth pole at St. Petersburg and led into the first corner.

Courtesy of Chris Owens

Power’s lead didn’t last long, overtaken by Alexander Rossi who would dominate the race until lap 36, when Will Power brought out the first of a string of cautions by crashing out of the race.

Alexander Rossi’s race came to an end on lap 70, crashing from the lead and gifting the position to Andretti Autosport teammate Colton Herta. After a series of cautionary period due to the likes of Hinchcliffe, Harvey, Marco Andretti and Takuma Sato, Herta led with Alex Palou behind in second.

Newgarden and Dixon had been quietly navigating the chaos of the race, and found themselves in third and fifth respectively. With Palou and Herta in the lead, Newgarden took advantage when both drivers went wide on the next restart, gifting the American the lead while Dixon clambered up to third.

After an incident with Oliver Askew brought out the final caution of the race, the subsequent restart saw Josef Newgarden pull a significant gap, while McLaren SP’s Patricio O’Ward took Scott Dixon and Colton Herta for second place.  Herta would eventually catch the tyre barrier and fall out of the top ten, leaving Newgarden, O’Ward and Dixon as the final top three.

Despite having cut almost 100 points out of Dixon’s lead across the secons half of the season, it would not be enough. Dixon finished the season just 16 points ahead of Newgarden to take his sixth IndyCar title.

Courtesy of Chris Owens

WHAT TO EXPECT THIS WEEKEND?

Newgarden has won the last two consecutive races at St.Petersburg while Will Power holds an incredible nine pole positions, yet has failed to win since 2014. You wouldn’t look past any of these two drivers to be in the mix come qualifying. However, Newgarden will want to bounce back after a dissapointing showing last-time out at Barber Motorsports Park. After a terrifying crash on lap one, Newgarden needs a positive weekend to get his championship up and running.

Alexander Rossi’s race last time out epitomised his entire season, which was plagued with bad-luck, unfortunate circumstances, penalties and costly errors.  Rossi qualified impressively in second last year – he knows he has the pace around this circuit. Barring any unfortunate incidents look out for the American seeking redemption.

Also ending the 2020 St. Petersburg Grand Prix with a costly error was Patricio O’Ward. However, after coming tantalisingly close to his first career win at Barber, the Mexican will be doing whatever he can to finish in victory lane.

A resident of St. Petersburg. A.J Foyt Enterprises’ Sebastien Bourdais has a tremendous amount of success at his home race. He’s won here two times and is coming off the back of two consecutive top five finishes. If you’re looking for an outside contender, he’s the man.

And lastly, who could not forget Chip Ganassi’s debutant winner Alex Palou. Having qualified in second at Barber Motorsport, he impressively mastered the two-stop strategy to take his first IndyCar win. To finish ahead of his six-time champion teammate Scott Dixon, not to mention Will Power – he caught the eye of many in the motorsport world. With significant road course experience Palou, and having narrowly missed out on a podium last-time out at St. Pete – keep your eyes peeled on this impressive Spaniard.

St. Pete will see quliafying take place on Saturday 24th April at 18:45 (BST) while the race will get under way on Sunday 25th April at 17:00 (BST).

You can watch the race on SkySportF1 in the UK. Alternatively, you can find live-text updates on ThePitCrewOnline Twitter account during the race.

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