Grand Prix of St. Pete race preview

The traditional NTT IndyCar Series season opener, the Grand Prix of St. Pete in Florida, gets underway this Sunday with a 27-car grid including five rookies, with Josef Newgarden and Felix Rosenqvist locking out the front row for Sunday’s 100-lap race.

Start of the 2023 GP of St. Pete (Photo by Chris Jones/Penske Entertainment).
  • Race preview/qualifying 
  • Full qualifying results

3 min read

IndyCar returns to St. Petersburg, Florida for it’s season opener in what will be the 21st running of the Grand Prix of St. Pete; a 100-lap, 180 mile race around the streets of downtown St. Pete and the Albert Whitted Airport with the race starting at 12pm ET/4pm UK time.

The 14-turn temporary street circuit never fails to bring the action as last year’s race was won in the final laps as Pato O’Ward’s car temporarily lost power, allowing Marcus Ericsson to drive by and take the checkered flag three laps later.

Marcus Ericsson leads Pato O’Ward in the 2023 GP of St. Pete (Photo by Chris Jones/Penske Entertainment)

Saturday’s qualifying saw Team Penske’s two-time St. Pete winner Josef Newgarden  put his No. 2 PPG Chevrolet on pole with a 59.5714 second lap.

Newgarden said: “I get jacked up every time I show up for an IndyCar race. This is a rockstar team.”

One of Newgarden’s main goals for the 2024 season was to secure a pole position, It is Newgarden’s third St. Pete pole, having gone without a pole in the 2023 season, last being on pole for the 2022 Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle.

Josef Newgarden in the No. 2 PPG Chevrolet for Team Penske at St. Pete (Photo by Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment)

Felix Rosenqvist, now racing for Meyer Shank Racing after being replaced at Arrow McLaren, joins Newgarden on the front row, having done a 59.5772 lap.

Rosenqvist said: “We don’t want to get carried away; the race is a different challenge. But we had a feeling from practice, from rolling off the truck, and that’s great.”

Rosenqvist broke the track record in the Group of 12 qualifying session with a lap of 59.2706 to advance to the Firestone Fast Six, beating Will Power’s 59.3466 lap in the Group of 12 session in 2022.

Six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon could only manage an 11th starting place. Dixon is still winless at St. Pete after 19 previous attempts.

Will Power also failed to make the fast six, with an eighth-place effort. Power had secured nine of the last 14 poles at St. Pete, also being a two-time winner, winning in 2010 and 2014, with Newgarden winning the 2019 and ’20 race respectively.

Tom Blomqvist was the best of the rookies, qualifying 17th with a lap time of 59.9968, driving for Meyer Shank Racing

Graham Rahal, Colton Herta, Scott McLaughlin, and Marcus Ericsson also have wins at St. Pete; 2008, 2021, 2022, and 2023 respectively.

Different for this years’ race is the turn three repave, removing heavy bumps that means drivers can now go flat out through the corner.

Also different is the use of lighter chassis components on the cars including a new 3D-printed titanium aeroscreen top frame, saving seven pounds, as well as the switch to a magnesium gearbox casing and bellhousing. This is all in preparation for the arrival of the 2.2-litre twin-turbocharged V6 engines with hybrid technology this summer.

Catch the 2024 Grand Prix of St. Pete on Sunday at 12pm ET/4pm UK time.

Full qualifying results

  1. Josef Newgarden
  2. Felix Rosenqvist
  3. Pato O’Ward
  4. Colton Herta
  5. Romain Grosjean
  6. Marcus Ericsson
  7. Rinus VeeKay
  8. Will Power
  9. Scott McLaughlin
  10. Marcus Armstrong
  11. Scott Dixon
  12. Christian Lundgaard
  13. Alex Palou
  14. Santino Ferrucci
  15. Alexander Rossi
  16. Callum Ilott
  17. Tom Blomqvist (R)
  18. Kyle Kirkwood
  19. Linus Lundqvist (R)
  20. Agustin Canapino
  21. Christian Rasmussen (R)
  22. Graham Rahal
  23. Kyffin Simpson (R)
  24. Sting Ray Robb
  25. Colin Braun (R)
  26. Pietro Fittipaldi
  27. Jack Harvey

Featured Image: 2023 GP of St. Pete (Photo by Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

IndyCar Race Weekend Preview: St. Petersburg

The first race weekend of the IndyCar season gets underway at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg with a 26 driver entry list for the NTT IndyCar Series race and a record 14 driver entry list for the Indy Lights race this Sunday.

The 14-turn, 1.8-mile temporary street circuit is rather unique in that it uses a runway of Albert Whitted Airport for its front straightaway before entering downtown St. Petersburg. What follows are several tight corners before two 90 degree right handers that lead onto a fast flowing final sector that runs down to a hairpin, taking drivers back round onto the airport runway.

Will Power racing down Bay Shore Drive (Photo by Joe Skibinski/IndyCar Media)

Turn 1 has been a spot for drivers to get their elbows out and makes passes before entering the downtown section. Before the hairpin, there is a heavy breaking zone that drivers use to their advantage to get runs on the leading car down the main straightaway. Due to the narrow twisty corners that the track possesses, overtaking is a challenge so varying strategies are implemented in an attempt to get to the front by leapfrogging the field; in the pits or finding clean air out on track. This year will be no different.

The NTT IndyCar Series drivers will complete 100 laps (180 miles) for their race on Sunday while the Indy Lights drivers will complete a 60 minute timed race. This will be the 19th running of the race that first began in 2003 under the CART series. Paul Tracy won the inaugural event.

Recently, there has been a trend of back to back winners of the event. Juan Pablo Montoya in 2015 and 2016, Sebastien Bourdais in 2017 and 2018 and Josef Newgarden in 2019 and 2020. Therefore, Colton Herta, the 2021 winner, hopes to keep this streak alive this weekend. Surprisingly, Scott Dixon, the six-time champion has yet to win here but has four runner-up finishes, most recently in 2019. If Dixon wins the race this weekend, he will tie Mario Andretti for second for all-time wins with 51.

Scott Dixon practising at St. Petersburg (Photo by Joe Skibinski/IndyCar Media)

The NTT IndyCar Series practice gets underway on Friday at 3:40pm ET. Saturday is comprised of another practice session at 9am ET, followed by qualifying starting at 12:30pm ET. Warmup on Sunday is at 8:45am ET, engines are fired at 12:23pm ET and The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding race goes green at 12:30pm ET.

The Indy Lights practice gets underway on Friday at 10:05am ET followed by qualifying at 1:40pm ET with a final practice session starting at 5:40pm ET to wrap up Friday. The 60 minute race starts at 9:30am ET on Sunday.

Featured Image: Taking the green flag at the 2021 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (Photo by Chris Jones/IndyCar Media)

IndyCar St Petersburg Report: Newgarden fends off Dixon to take first win at St Pete

Josef Newgarden took the first win of the 2019 season at St Petersburg, a win that marks his first around the demanding track and Penske’s first there since 2016. He held off a late challenge from defending champion Scott Dixon in what as an action-packed season opener.

After being shuffled back at the start, Newgarden didn’t come to the lead until the second round of pit stops, but there he out-foxed the rest of the leading group and emerged from the pits with a near five-second lead over Marco Andretti, who was doing a good job of holding up the rest of the field. With the help of Andretti once more in the closing stages of the race, Newgarden came under threat from Dixon with the lead dropping to as low as 1.2 seconds but, once Andretti was out of the picture, Newgarden rebuilt his lead to take the win.

Credit: Chris Owens/IndyCar

Dixon was forced to settle for second-place having not led a single lap of the race. He managed to pass Will Power during the first Andretti hold up, taking second place and allowing him to have a chance at fighting Newgarden for the win. However, the lead Newgarden had built up was big enough to act as an effective buffer, even when Andretti came back into the mix. It wasn’t quite the perfect start to Dixon’s title defence, but it was good enough.

For a while, it looked like the other Chip Ganassi of Felix Rosenqvist would be going for the win, but he got caught out and dropped back by the second round of stops. Rosenqvist passed Newgarden going into Turn 1 on the first lap, putting him in second and in a position to fight Power for the lead. The Swede took the lead after the first restart and went onto lead 31 laps in his debut race, the most bar race winner Newgarden. He came home in a respectable fourth place and showed that he’s ready to take it to teammate Dixon this season.

After starting on pole, Power had to settle for a podium in third with his nemesis, like so many others, being the second stops and Andretti’s rather wide car. He couldn’t clear Andretti after the stops and was passed by Dixon who then disappeared up the road, meaning Power was unable to improve his position in the final stages of the race, but he was still happy with his result, given how badly St Pete has treated him over the past two years.

Alexander Rossi was another driver who was forced to settle for a position probably lower than he was hoping for, especially after he came so close to the victory last year. Like last year, a rookie got the better of him, though this time it was Rosenqvist and not Robert Wickens, meaning Rossi couldn’t do much better than fifth having led two laps during the pit stop sequences.

Wickens attended the race with his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team to support their drivers and celebrate his thirtieth birthday with his fellow drivers. Attending St Pete was one of Wickens’ many goals on his road to recovery after his enormous crash at Pocono last season, with the Canadian a welcome figure in the paddock once more.

Credit: Chris Owens/IndyCar

On track, SPM didn’t have such a good weekend with James Hinchcliffe finishing in sixth after getting the better of Penske’s Simon Pagenaud in what was a race-long battle. On the other side of the garage, Marcus Ericsson didn’t even see the chequered flag with a water pressure issue cutting his IndyCar debut short. Their sort-of-teammate Jack Harvey finished tenth in the #60 Meyer Shank supported SPM entry, in his first of ten races this season.

Rosenqvist may have taken the title of top rookie but fellow rookies Colton Herta and Santino Ferrucci were not to be forgotten in the first race of the season, finishing eighth and ninth respectively. Herta’s the only Harding driver after they failed to get an engine lease for their second car and Ferrucci lost teammate Bourdais 11 laps into the race, meaning the two rookies had to go it solo, but still delivered more than respectable performances.

One recurring feature of the race was Honda engine failures, of which there were four with Ryan Hunter-Reay, Takuma Sato, Ericsson and Bourdais all suffering issues that led to their retirements. While Honda had four failures, their rival Chevrolet had none, meaning the former really needs to step up on the reliability side of things, otherwise the Chevy teams could be leaving them well behind.

That concludes the season opener at St Petersburg with IndyCar back in action on March 24 at the Circuit of the Americas.

Full Race Results:

  1. Josef Newgarden
  2. Scott Dixon
  3. Will Power
  4. Felix Rosenqvist (R)
  5. Alexander Rossi
  6. James Hinchcliffe
  7. Simon Pagenaud
  8. Colton Herta (R)
  9. Santino Ferrucci (R)
  10. Jack Harvey
  11. Spencer Pigot
  12. Graham Rahal
  13. Marco Andretti
  14. Zach Veach
  15. Tony Kanaan
  16. Max Chilton
  17. Charlie Kimball
  18. Ben Hanley (R)

DNF – Takuma Sato (gearbox), Marcus Ericsson (R) (water pressure), Ed Jones (collision), Matheus Leist (collision), Ryan Hunter-Reay (engine), Sebastien Bourdais (engine)

(Featured Image Credit: Karl Zemlin/IndyCar)

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