Colton Herta was the class of the field this weekend, leading from pole and fending off two-time IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden to take victory at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Herta held off Newgarden on two late restarts to become the third local driver to win at this 14-turn street course. The late St. Petersburg resident Dan Wheldon won in 2005, while Sebastien Bourdais won in 2017.
Herta’s fourth career victory was his first with his father, Bryan, as his race strategist. His dad won the pole here in 2005. The win also tied his dad’s career total.
With five top-five finishes in his last six. Three podiums. Two race victories. Whatever way you look at it, Herta is making something of a name for himself and his battle with Newgarden is being labelled by some as IndyCar’s ‘The Changing of the Guard’.
Newgarden finished his final remaining stint on sticker red (softer) tyres in contrast to Herta’s primary blacks (hards). On the restart, he was able to keep within one second of Herta for the majority of the final 20 laps. Unfortunately, his tyres started to drop off, leaving no option but to settle for second and bank important championship points after failing to finish at Barber Motorsports Park.
Newgarden was followed by Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud, who finished 12th a week ago but drove a strong and faultless race to finish third.
Jack Harvey, who started on the front row, took fourth, followed by Scott Dixon in fifth for his second consecutive top-five. Takuma Sato and Marcus Ericsson both picked up nine spots from 15th and 16th to sixth and seventh, respectively, followed by Will Power’s surge up the field picking up 12 spots from 20th to eighth.
Rinus VeeKay struggled on the soft tyre early on and did well to take ninth from his sixth-place start given his early slip down the order and early first stop.
Sebastien Bourdais rounded out the top-10, his second time in the top-10 in two weeks.
Chip Ganassi’s Jimmie Johnson brought out the first caution of the race on Lap 15, locking up his tyres into Turn 13 and slid into the barrier. Luckily, Johnson was able to free his car and return to the track. This caution caused the likes of Power, McLaughlin and Grosjean, who were near the back of the grid to pit for alternative black (hard) tyres in anticipation of a caution.
The NASCAR champion would eventually finish 22nd, five laps down on the leaders, ahead of Max Chilton and Dalton Kellett who suffered from a mechanical failure and a spin respectively.
The next incident came on Lap 23 involving Takuma Sato and James Hinchcliffe. While battling inside the top-15, the two smacked front tyres, causing a flat front-right on the car of Hinchcliffe. This incident forced the Canadian to make an extra stop and would finish a lap down in 18th.
Lap 37 epitomised what was a calamitous race for Alexander Rossi. The American emerged from a slow pit stop ahead of Graham Rahal., both drivers looking sure on for top-five finishes. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver dived down the inside of Turn four as Rossi turned in, with the two slamming into each other twice before coming to a halt in the tyre barrier. The collision left Rossi with a flat right-front and struggled to reverse back on to the track. Soon after, Rossi pitted for a front wing change and eventually finished down in 21st with Rahal in 15th.
Jimmie Johnson caused havoc yet again on Lap 73, spinning out on cold tyres and bringing out the penultimate caution, the final one coming by way of Ed Jones who made contact with James Hinchcliffe before being spun around by Pato O’Ward on Lap 80.
Last week’s winner Alex Palou failed to make an impression and finished down in 17th. He still remains at the top of the championship with Will Power, Scott Dixon and Colton Herta behind separated by five points.
The good news is you don’t have to wait long till we go green again. IndyCar returns in just a week to the Texas Motor Speedway for the Genesys 300, the first oval of the year.