NTT IndyCar Series: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Preview

Will Power at the Grand Prix of St Petersburg. [credit Andy Clary / Spacesuit Media]

Will Power at the Grand Prix of St Petersburg. [credit Andy Clary / Spacesuit Media]

by Paul Gohde< The NTT Indy Car Series opens its 17-race 2020 season with several questions, some of which may not be answered until the sun sets on Laguna Seca Raceway in September. Series ownership by Roger Penske, coupled with his move as proprietor of the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, promises IMS facility improvements as well as financial gains for cash-strapped teams. New “halo” hoops over drivers’ cockpits will provide them added protection, but concerns remain regarding visual distortion, driver cooling and pit stop removal of the two-piece tear offs. Full-season teams will provide a minimum 24-car grid, while St. Pete shows 26 entries. These and other changes hold promise for an “interesting” season as teams arrive in Florida for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Race Facts: Sunday’s race, the 17th at St. Pete since 2003, will run for 100 laps/180 miles; ten laps shorter than 2019 when Josef Newgarden won there for the first time. The challenging temporary street course measures 1.8-miles (14-turns), with a portion running along the waterfront airport runway. Team Penske has won here nine times while Will Power and Sebastien Bourdais have won twice among active series’ drivers. Power has also captured nine poles. Newgarden’s win last season set a race record speed of 95.572 mph in 2:04:18.25.

Last Year @ St. Petersburg: Newgarden went on to win the 2019 season championship after his Florida win, grabbing three more victories. He edged teammate Pagenaud by 25 points for his second NTT crown for Team Penske Chevrolet. Newgarden’s other Penske teammate, Power, took advantage of his pole position start last year and surged to an early lead while remaining near the front until he and other leaders pitted. Using a different strategy, Newgarden waited five extra laps before stopping, while building a sizeable lead on the clear track. He changed to Firestone’s softer alternate tire on that stop as others found themselves on the harder compound primary rubber. Newgarden used that strategy to win by 2.899 seconds over Scott Dixon who has never won there despite being a five-time series champ.

Sunday’s Grid: Twenty-six cars are entered at St. Pete:

For Honda:

Andretti Autosport: Alexander Rossi/Ryan Hunter-Reay/Marco Andretti/Colton Herta/Zach Veach

Chip Ganassi Racing: Scott Dixon/Felix Rosenqvist/Marcus Ericsson

Dale Coyne Racing: Santino Ferrucci/Alex Palou

Meyer-Shank Racing: Jack Harvey

Rahal Letterman Lanigan: Graham Rahal/Takuma Sato

For Chevrolet:

Team Penske: Josef Newgarden/Simon Pagenaud/ Will Power

Ed Carpenter Racing: Rinus VeeKay/ Conor Daly

Arrow McLaren SP: Oliver Askew/ Patricio O’Ward

A.J. Foyt Racing: Charlie Kimball/ Sebastien Bourdais

Carlin: Max Chilton/Felipe Nasr

DragonSpeed: Ben Hanley

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing: Sage Karam

Notes: TV: NBCSN, Race, Sunday, 3 p.m. ET…Qualifying, Saturday, 10 p.m. ET (delay)…2020 will mark the 10th race here that has opened the IndyCar season…Scott Dixon has competed in 15 of the previous 16 St. Pete events…Tony Kanaan’s all-time record streak of 317 consecutive series’ races that began in June, 2003, will be broken Sunday as the Brazilian is only appearing in the five oval races on the schedule for A.J. Foyt’s team. Dixon’s streak of 258 will be the new mark…Since 2012 the NTT series has averaged nine different winners/season. There were seven last year.

Our Take: It will be a somewhat more difficult task to predict what will happen in Indy Car this season. With five rookies competing and several teams running a cocktail mix of drivers, past performance may not be the best predicter of results. Richmond (2001-09) has returned to the schedule replacing the long Pocono triangle, and most current drivers have never run on that short of a track in an Indy car. Couple those factors with a full grid of at least 24 entries at each race and the results may be more difficult than usual to predict. Let the green flag drop!

They Said It: Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Honda): “I think the circuit itself is a really great layout. It has opportunities to pass. Typically, it’s been one of our longest races, but they’ve made some adjustments to the actual race this year (shortening the race by 10 laps). The city really embraces the race, too…For me it’s more about it being a really tough track from the driver’s side. Quite technical and difficult to get right…A challenging race; one that we’ve seen in the past that, for whatever reason, can kind of flip the field. We’ve had a lot of winners come from the back of the field.”

Next Race: April 5, Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama




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