Josef Newgarden wins NTT Data IndyCar Series Season Opener In St. Petersburgby Benjamin Sanders March 10, 2019 0 comments
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The NTT Data IindyCar Series season began its 2019 season with a compelling race around the streets and runways of St. Petersburg, Florida for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The weather was almost perfect, clear and breezy but hot, which tested the best open-wheel drivers in North America for 110 laps.
Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden sealed his first win of the season, and his first at the demanding circuit, by jumping to the front through pit stop strategy while his rivals were stuck in traffic. His team also put on the faster but higher-degrading red tires to create a large gap and maintain. Newgarden led 59 of the final 60 laps after pitting on lap 55 for mandatory service. This punctuates a strong to the season for Team Penske after claiming two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races and the opening Virgin Australia Supercars rounds.
“I feel like we executed today,” Newgarden said. “We were very patient in the beginning of the race. We had a right-to-left, different tire strategy again today, and it really paid off. I actually think it’s what helped us create the opportunity.”
Reigning champion, Scott Dixon, recovered from a spin in qualifying to finish second and start the season stronger than per usual. He mounted pressure in the late stages ultimately coming up short to finish second. Dixon also revealed post-race that his on board water bottle was not working in the event.
“All in all, a great day for the whole PNC Bank crew,” Dixon said. “Pit stops were phenomenal, great points. Obviously, we were going for a win, so we just came one stop short, but congrats to Josef. (He) drove a hell of a race there and great strategy.”
Pole winner, Will Power, led the first stint of the race and had an intense battle with Swedish rookie Felix Rosenqvist. He even took a trip across the grass at pit entrance to avoid being caught out by a potential yellow flag. Ultimately, the race stayed green and Power struggled to recover. He finished the race in third.
“Definitely a lot better points here than I’ve done in the past two years, so I’m really happy about that,” Power said. “We put ourselves in a really tough position pitting early there. I just kind of did my best to maintain a third-place finish. I got more points than the last two years so we’re in the game (for the championship).”
Fourth-place finisher, Felix Rosenqvist made a splash in his debut and impressed many in the IndyCar paddock, much like Robert Wickens did last year. Chip Ganassi finally was able to sign the talented Scandinavian over the off season after campaigning in Formula E the prior few seasons. He impressed in his foray in the 2016 Indy Lights championship before being offered a factory GT ride in Europe.
“It’s a lot to take in,” Rosenqvist said. “I’m worn out. These cars are tough to drive. I’ve never driven anything like it, but it’s a dream come true just to be here. We have a lot to work on,” he added. “I think I underestimated how much the track grips up. Still a lot of things to learn, but P4 is a great way to start.”
The remainder of the top-10 featured a variety of veterans and rookies. Alexander Rossi finished in the fifth position with James Hinchcliffe, Simon Pagenaud, Colton Herta, Santino Ferrucci, and Jack Harvey in tow.
Rookies Herta and Ferrucci were particularly impressive after stumbling in qualifying. Ferucci drove from the back after causing a red flag in qualifying and Herta, who qualified third before being penalized, drove steady and smart races. Up to that point Herta was driving in a fashion reminiscent to Graham Rahal when he took his first win in the 2008 edition of the race.
It was not the best day for Honda as Ryan Hunter-Reay and Sebastien Bourdais blew engines in addition to ex-Formula One drivers Marcus Ericsson and Takuma Sato having driveline issues. There was only one caution for contact as Ed Jones hit the wall, which broke a bone in his hand, and was clouted by an unsighted Matheus Leist. The aforementioned Wickens made his first appearance to a race since his terrifying and debilitating accident at Pocono last season to assist his Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports team. Rinus VeeKay and Zachary Claman de Melo won the two Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires races.
The next event for the series is the IndyCar Classic at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, on Sunday, March 24. This is the first time the series has raced at the facility. The race airs live at 1 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
Photo Credit: Joe Skibinski/IndyCar Series