New Eras and Young Guns- The Future Begins at St. Petersburg

Race weekend is finally here. After a long, eventful off season, Indycar returns with a new series owner, a new advancement in safety, and some rule tweaks. Another great rookie class is waiting for their first round of competition. Several races will host expanded fields.

Two new eras begin tomorrow at 10:45 am when the NTT Indycar Series has its first practice session of the year. The 17th Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is the first event with Roger Penske in charge of the series. It also will be the first official session in which the aeroscreen becomes a part of Indycar safety.

The Kids Are Alright

One of the things to watch over the weekend is the young drivers. Last year’s outstanding rookie group and this year’s equally talented first year drivers make up almost a third of the grid for Sunday’s race. The rookie battle between Oliver Askew and Rinus VeeKay should be fun to watch all season. Alex Palou is the mystery rookie. He is quick, but is he on a team that can get him to the front? Felipe Nasr is new to Indycar, but his F1 and sports car experience should help him find speed quickly. These rookies not only have to battle the veterans, but also the second year drivers who amassed some stellar statistics in 2019. These nine drivers could be considered a class to watch by themselves.

The Aeroscreen and Pit Stops

This weekend will be the first time the aeroscreen is tested under race conditions. How will it affect the car’s handling in traffic? Will passing be easier, more difficult , or about the same? Teams need a couple of races to get a handle on the effects of the new safety attachment.

An extra crew member will be allowed over the wall this season to exclusively tend to the aeroscreen. The crew member can only work on the screen when the rear wheels of the car are off the ground. The duties are limited to tear offs and cleaning the screen.  Since St. Pete is the first race with the aeroscreen, could we see some teams have pit stop issues? I’m sure the teams have practiced the new procedures, but in the heat of competition, things happen. I plan to watch pit stops closely Sunday.

Pit Strategy

The race distance has been shortened to 100 laps this year from the 110 it has been since 2013. 100 laps was the original distance beginning in 2005. I think it was probably done for television purposes. This shouldn’t change the need for three stops, but the timing of the final stop could depend on when the yellows fall. A team that pits late enough could end the race on red tires and have a speed advantage. Normally a team would want to be on blacks at the end of this race.

The Winner

If the recent trend holds, Josef Newgarden will win. His victory last year made him just the third winner since 2015. Juan Pablo Montoya won the first of back to back races in St. Pete then. Sebastien Bourdais went back to back in 2017 and 2018. Newgarden was just the fourth winner of this race to go on to win the series championship. Will Power was the last driver to win both in 2014.

Predictions

The race has had few caution periods for the most part in recent years. Qualifying position is the key to success. The pole winner doesn’t necessarily win, but with the exception of Bourdais’ two victories, starting near the front helps.

When we talk qualifying, we usually mean Will Power. He is the active leader in career poles and won the pole last year.  Look for him to repeat as the top qualifier, but I look for Scott Dixon to finally win at this track.

Schedule Changes

It is possible the schedule may be adjusted during the weekend. I will keep you posted on any changes that occur. If you’re coming to the race, stay safe and wash your hands.

Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Fast Facts

NTT IndyCar Series News Release
'The Amazing Race' premiers with drivers Rossi, Daly tonight
Firestone Grand Prix
of St. Petersburg Fast Facts

Race weekend: Friday – Sunday.

Track: Streets of St. Petersburg, 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit (clockwise) through downtown St. Petersburg, Florida, including a runway of Albert Whitted Airport.

 

Race distance: 100 laps / 180 miles.

Push-to-pass parameters: 150 seconds of total time with a maximum single duration of 15 seconds. The push-to-pass is not available on the initial start or any restart unless it occurs in the final two laps or three minutes of a timed race. The feature increases the power of the engine by approximately 60 horsepower for 2020.

Firestone tire allotment: Seven sets primary, four sets alternate.

Twitter: @GPSTPETE, @INDYCAR, #FirestoneGP, #INDYCAR, #ADifferentBreed

Event website: www.gpstpete.com.

INDYCAR website: www.indycar.com.

2019 race winner: Josef Newgarden, 2:04:18.2588, 95.572 mph (110 laps/198 miles)

2019 NTT P1 Award winner: Will Power, 1:00.4594, 107.179 mph.

Qualifying lap record: Jordan King, 1:00.0476; 107.914 mph, March 10, 2018 (set in Round 1 of qualifying).

NBCSN race telecasts: Qualifying, 10 p.m. ET Saturday (tape delayed); Race, 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday (live). Pre-race show begins at 2:30 p.m.

Pennzoil INDYCAR Radio Network broadcasts: Mark Jaynes is the chief announcer alongside analyst Davey Hamilton. Jake Query and Nick Yeoman are the turn announcers with Dave Furst, Rob Howden and Michael Young reporting from the pits. The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg race airs live on network affiliates, Sirius 211, XM 205, indycar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app powered by NTT DATA. All NTT INDYCAR SERIES practices and qualifying are available on indycar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app, with qualifying also airing on Sirius 216 and XM 205.

NBC Sports Gold Live Streaming: All NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice sessions and qualifying will stream live on INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold, NBC Sports’ direct-to-consumer livestreaming product.

At-track schedule (All Times Local/Eastern Time): 

Friday

10:45 – 11:30 a.m. – NTT INDYCAR SERIES Practice #1, NBC Sports Gold

3 – 3:45 p.m. – NTT INDYCAR SERIES Practice #2, NBC Sports Gold

Saturday

10:45 – 11:30 a.m. – NTT INDYCAR SERIES Practice #3, NBC Sports Gold

2:40 p.m. – Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Qualifying (Three rounds of knockout qualifications), NBC Sports Gold (live) and NBCSN (taped delayed until 10 p.m.

Sunday

10:25 – 10:55 a.m. – NTT INDYCAR SERIES Warm-Up, NBC Sports Gold

2:30 p.m. –  NBCSN pre-race show begins

3:23 p.m. –  Command

3:30 p.m. – Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg green flag (100 laps/180 miles), NBCSN (live)

Race Notes:

  • This will mark the 10th consecutive year that the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg has served as INDYCAR’s season-opening race. Dario Franchitti won the inaugural season opener at St. Pete in 2011. This will be the 17th race overall, dating to Paul Tracy winning the CART-sanctioned race in 2003.
  • The St. Petersburg INDYCAR race has been run every year since 2003 except for 2004. No driver has competed in every St. Petersburg race, but Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan have started 15 consecutive races. Only Dixon is entered this year. Sebastien Bourdais and Ryan Hunter-Reay competed in the first race in 2003.
  • Kanaan’s all-time record streak of 317 consecutive race starts will end this weekend. The streak began in June 2001 at Portland. Dixon has made 258 consecutive starts heading into the weekend, which is the second-longest streak and now will become tops among active streaks.. Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti has made 234 consecutive starts, which is the third-longest streak all time and now will move to second among active streaks..
  • Dixon seeks his first win on the streets of St. Petersburg. Dixon’s five NTT INDYCAR SERIES championships trail only the seven titles collected by A.J. Foyt. Dixon is third on the all-time Indy car victory list with 46, but has never won at St. Petersburg. He has four runner-up finishes at the circuit, including last season.
  • Will Power (2010,’14) and Bourdais (2017, ’18) are the only entered drivers to win at St. Petersburg more than once. Helio Castroneves won three times (2006, ’07, ’12), while Juan Pablo Montoya won in 2015 and ’16. Past winners Graham Rahal (2008) and Newgarden (2019) are also entered.
  • Team Penske has won the pole position nine of the past 13 St. Petersburg races, including eight of the last 10 poles by Power. Past pole winners Bourdais (2003), Rahal (2009) and Takuma Sato (2014) are also entered this weekend.
  • Two drivers have won the race from the pole – Castroneves (2007) and Power (2010). The St. Petersburg winner has qualified fourth in four of the last seven seasons.
  • Team Penske has won at St. Petersburg nine times, including five of the last eight races with Castroneves (2012), Power (2014), Montoya (2015-16) and Newgarden (2019).
  • Five rookies are entered and three – Oliver Askew, Felipe NasrAlex Palou and Rinus VeeKay — will make their first NTT INDYCAR SERIES start this weekend at St. Petersburg. The other Rookie of the Year candidate entered is Ben Hanley.
  • Since 2012, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES has averaged nine different race winners per season, including a record-tying 11 winners in 2014. There were seven different winners in the 17 races of 2019.

Hinchcliffe Joins NBC Broadcast Team

James Hinchcliffe will be part of the NBC motorsports broadcast team this year, beginning with the NTT Indycar Series season opener in St. Pete. Hinchcliffe has what is now a three race deal with Andretti Autosport todrive in the GMR Grand Prix, the 104th Indianapolis 500, and the Genesys 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.

He will serve as a driver analyst on pit road at St. Pete, Long Beach, Toronto, and Laguna Seca in addition to working as a part of NBC’s coverage in the week prior to the Indianapolis 500. Hinchclffe will also be part of the team covering select IMSA races beginning with the Sebring 12 hour March 20-21.

From Earlier: Season Preview Part I

https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/90591962/posts/2604485664

Hinchcliffe will also work on the broadcast of the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 4th weekend. Additional duties include Indy Lights commentary on NBC Gold.

I think this can only enhance NBC’s coverage. Hinchcliffe was in the booth in 2015 while recovering from injuries in a practice accident at Indianapolis. He was a huge hit with the fans. He also had a few great experiences on Wind Tunnel.

Qualifying Day Critical for Title Hopefuls

Photo: Kyle McInnes

Good morning from Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca.

Today’s Schedule in Eastern Times:

1:00 pm Practice 3 NBC Gold

4:35 pm  Qualifying  NBCSN

Qualifying for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey could be critical to success in the race tomorrow. None of the title contenders have shown enough speed to go for the pole as of yesterday. It would be in Josef Newgarden’s favor for a non title contender to win the pole.  That is one less point for Alexander Rossi or Simon Pagenaud.

I look for an action packed practice and another dramatic qualifying session today. From yesterday the pole favorites are Colton Herta and Ryan Hunter-Reay.  I wouldn’t count out Felix Rosenqvist or Will Power either.

Notes

Per Racer Magazine Colton Herta as expected will drive for Andretti Autosport with backing from George Steinbrenner. Herta will be in a fifth car on the Andretti team.

Some thoughts on the track after a full day here:

The place appears daunting at first, but it is really not complicated. The worst part is it is almost all uphill.  Most of the track can be viewed from the top of the hill near the Corkscrew. There is a walking path from turn 9 back to the paddock. Golf cart shuttles provide transportation up to the Corkscrew.

The views of the mountains and the bay are outstanding from the top of the hill.

Food choices are disappointing after the great choices at Sonoma. Food offerings are somewhat limited and pricey.  Most places are cash only.

I recommend entering the track via South Boundary Road. The route has beautiful scenery along the one and a half mile trip to the entrance.

Back after Practice 3 with a report and the qualifying groups.

 

Good Morning from Weather Tech Raceway

My first impression of the track is how steep it is. The track is on top of a mountain. Unlike Watkins Glen, it appears to be built into the mountain. The drop off in the corkscrew is one of the most impressive sections  of track I’ve ever seen. There are other areas that seem like pretty big climbs and drops as well. I will do more looking around before and during the morning practice.

Colton Herta led yesterday’s test session. Among the title contenders, Josef Newgarden was fourth fastest in the afternoon practice.  In the morning test, Ryan Hunter=Reay did seven in laps in Alexander Rossi’s car to see if he could find something to help his teammate this weekend.

I was not aware that pit out and turn 1 go uphill. That will make out laps interesting on cold tires.

IMG_20190920_082641

I’ll be back after the first practice. Mark Miles and Jay Frye will give a state of the series address at 11:45 and I will include that as well.

Today’s Schedule:

10:30 -11:15 Practice 1

2:10- 2:55  Practice 2

3:10-3:40  Pit Stop Practice/ Warm up

All of today’s sessions will be on NBC Gold.

Indycar Schedule- Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey

All Times Pacific

Thursday, September 19

9:15-11:15- Open Test

1:30-5:30    Open Test

Friday, September 20

10;30 Practice 1

2:10  Practice 2

Saturday, September 21

10:00  Practice 3

1:35   Qualifying

Sunday, September 22

!2:15   Green Flag for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey

 

Practices will be on NBC Gold. Qualifying is on NBCSN. The race is on NBC. You may need to set your DVR to record on NBC.

 

 

Quick Thoughts- Grand Prix of Portland Qualifying

Photo: Kyle McInnes

Was that qualifying or boxing match? What a tremendous battle between Colton Herta and Will Power. They traded the lead back and forth for three rounds before Herta emerged on the pole. Power’s miscue in turn one on his next to last lap may have cost him the pole. Herta was quick all weekend, though, and the result isn’t a surprise.

This session was the best road/street course qualifying of the year. There was drama throughout.

Scott Dixon is the only one of the top four in points to get in the Fast Six. Leader Josef Newgarden starts 13th, a dangerous place to be going into turn 1 at the start here. Simon Pagenaud starts 18 and Alexander Rossi 7th. Watching the championship contenders’ progress in the race will be an interesting task tomorrow.

Jack Harvey has done a great job all year. In eight races to date, he has  finished in the top ten in four of them.  Today is the fifth time Harvey has advanced to at least the second round of qualifying. Today is his second Fast Six. I can’t wait to see what he does as a full time driver next year.

Conor Daly did it again. He jumps into a car for a different team and puts it into Round 2. Daly will start 9th, his best starting spot of the season. This is his second time in Round 2. He also has two top ten finishes. Daly deserves a full time ride in 2020. I don’t know what else he can do to prove himself.

Great job the Arrow Schmidt Peterson team to get both cars into Round 2.

Five teams in the Fast Six always makes the final round fun.

Felix Rosenqvist missed turn1 in two consecutive rounds but still made the Fast Six.

Power said after qualifying that there is not as much difference between the red and black tires this year as there was last year at Portland. He still thinks cars will be able to pass during the race.

Herta gambled by waiting to run one final lap on reds. He was nearly as fast on blacks.

Chalk up another one for the 2019 rookies. The scoreboard- 3 poles, 1 win.

Back tomorrow morning with a race preview. It looks like we will have a fun race tomorrow.