Rookies Came to Play on Pole Day; Wickens Nips Power at St. Pete

At the star of the weekend the big question was how would the Indycar rookies fare against the strong veteran field in the opening race at St. Petersburg. The answer is, “Very well, thank you.”  Three rookies made the Fast Six in a slippery, wild qualifying session. The pole and a new track record were both claimed by newcomers.

The first round saw Marco Andretti dropped from the final transfer spot after a penalty for impeding another driver. Alexander Rossi received the same penalty which kept him out of  the Fast Six. Then the sprinkles came. It wasn’t a hard rain, just enough to make a slippery turn one even more slippery. Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud nearly collided at the end of the runway, with Dixon just squeezing around the stopped Menard’s car. Pagenaud later brought out a red flag as his engine stalled after another spin in the same area.

Dixon failed to advance as well. He started round 2 on blacks while everyone else was on reds to get in a lap before conditions worsened. Another surprise was Josef Newgarden not making it out of the first round. His car has not looked good all weekend. All the havoc provided openings for the rookies.

The Fast Six had three Hondas and three Chevrolets with six teams represented. Will Power, Takuma Sato, Robert Wickens, Matheus Leist, Jordan King, and Ryan Hunter-Reay  fought for the pole. In round 1 King set a new track record with a lap of 1:00.0476, another strong statement by a rookie. Power took the early lead and appeared to have yet another St. Pete pole in hand, but Wickens, the last driver on course, beat him on the final lap by 7 hundredths of a second.

Qualifying is one thing, racing is another. Several rookies have never done pit stops or managed fuel. Wickens said in the press conference he needs to make sure he knows the start procedures for tomorrow.  Several fast cars are starting mid pack or worse. They should come to the front. It should be quite an entertaining race tomorrow. Back Monday with a race recap.