Quick Thoughts (After a Deep Breath)-Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Photo: Joe Skibinski, Indycar

The Race

If Indycar wants to make St. Pete the season finale, I’m fine with that.The venue produced the finale drama that is missing from long road courses. Mistakes on a street course are costly.

I hope this race shows Indycar that double points are unnecessary for the finale.

What a great drive by Josef Newgarden, capped by an amazing pass for the lead. His win was a normal ending to a race which typified how the year 2020 has gone overall.

Photo by Chris Owens, Indycar

It was great fun watching Newgarden and Scott Dixon both doing exactly what they needed to do to have a shot at winning the title. I hope we can see this championship rivalry for a few more years.

This race had everything- leaders crashing, yellows playing with strategy, some rain, the pace car running out of fuel, the title intrigue, and the Andretti Autosport drama on both ends of the grid.

 I have never seen a team that had a complete vise-grip on a weekend destruct as quickly as Andretti Autosport did today. The team had seemed to have figured out what was ailing them early in the season the last few races and were in line for a podium sweep at one point.

With Marco Andretti not qualifying for the Leaders’ Circle, you have to wonder if we see the 98 next year.

I hope Alexander Rossi uses all of this year’s frustrations to have a monster season in 2021. Today had to be particularly heartbreaking to be on the verge of salvaging something from this year and have it go away so fast.

I think James Hinchcliffe did enough this weekend to be the prime candidate for the 26 car next year.

A couple more laps of yellow and Alex Palou might have been able to get to the end of the race. I hope he will be back next year. I really like the way he drives.

Sebastien Bourdais appears to already be helping A. J. Foyt Racing. He was in the top 10 all weekend. After getting shuffled back on pit stops and with the aid of the cautions, he worked his way up to fourth at the end. Foyt placed both cars in the top 10 with Charlie Kimball finishing eighth.

Pato O’Ward didn’t win a race this year, but I will be shocked if he doesn’t win one in 2021. Arrow McLaren SP had a competitive season. Another nice drive today for his second runner-up finish of the year.

Congratulations to Rinus VeeKay, Indycar rookie of the Year. I’m glad that he will get another year at ECR to continue to grow as a driver.

I appreciate NBC going overtime with thier coverage to allow for an interview with Dixon.

The Title

Josef Newgarden (R) congratulates Scott Dixon on winning the Indycar series title. phot from NBC on Twitter

Scott Dixon has firmly placed himself on the same plane as Foyt and Mario Andretti. He now has six championships to go along with 50 career victories. I expect him to tie Foyt with seven titles and to end up with close to 60 race wins before he is done. I have been privileged to see both Foyt and Dixon race. While they drove in different eras, each had superior talent to their peers. I may not have appreciated Foyt at the time he drove for all his accomplishments, but his career has given me the perspective and context to appreciate Dixon while he is still active.

The last four series titles-

2017- Newgarden

2018-  Dixon

2019- Newgarden

2020- Dixon

We should have maybe three more years of this rivalry.

Dixon and Newgarden completed every lap this season. It is extremely rare that one driver accomplishes this feat in a season. It is obvious why they were the title contenders and that there was only a 16 point difference at the end.

I will be back on Tuesday with my season review, which may be divided into two parts. Thanks for follow along this weekend and all season. I appreciate you so much.

Herta Leads Warm Up

Colton herta led an incident free morning warmup session for this afternoons’ Firestone Grand Prix of St. petersburg, the final NTT Indycar Series race of the season. Points leader Scott Dixon was second, and runner up Josef Newgarden finished ninth.

Pole winner Will Power was focused on fuel runs and was 16th in the session.

The race may be a fuel saving two stop race. The Pit Windows are expected to be between laps 30-35 and 60-65. I anticipate many teams to start on reds, hope for a yellow to be done with them for the day, and rub the rest of the race on the primary tires.

Race coverage begins at 2:30 Eastern on NBC, with the green flag at 2:32.

The top six:

Race Day at St. Pete- The Title and Money on the Line

Good morning. Today’s schedule: (All Times Eastern)

10:40-11:10 Warm up NBC Gold

2:32 Green Flag NBC 2:30-4:30 100 laps

A reminder – cars will be on the pace lap when the television broadcast begins.

Scott Dixon just needs to maintain his starting position to win his sixth championship. The window of possibilities for Josef Newgarden shrunk a bit when he didn’t win the pole yesterday. His eighth startoing spot will make it hard for Newgarden to get the 53 maximum points today. Both drivers need to get through turn 1 of lap 1 cleanly.

The leaders’ Circle final spot is still up for grabs. Marco Andretti will start 23. The 98 is seven points out of the Circle at the moment and will need to move up to have a chance. Sebastien Bourdais’ seventh starting spot should help the 14 car keep the final spot. Conor Daly starts 14th. The 20 car is six points ahead of the 14 in 20th.

Simon Pagenaud was headed for his best qualifying effort of the year until his late spin cost him his two best laps. Still he starts 12th, which is an improvement. Pagenaud has not let where he starts affect his racing. he could be a factor today.

Rookie of the Year

When the green flag flies, Rinus VeeKay will earn Rookie of the Year honors. VeeKay, dribving for Ed Carpenter Racing, got off to an awful start this season at Texas. He crashed in qualifying and crashed early in the race, also taking out rookie Alex Palou. The rest of the season VeeKay showed tremendous improvement, capturing a pole and a podium spot at the Harvest Grand Prix.

Notes from the Ground

I received several messages yesterday from friends at the track. My friend Ed Murray said there wer fewer vendors, which was to be expected.. he said people were complying with mask wearing.

I later saw a photo from the stands where several fans were not wearing masks. I later heard from others that track staff was reminding people about the policy.

The track claims that nearly all tickets have sold.

I wonder how much of the grandstands will remain standing for the March race.

I applaud the efforts of Indycar, Green Savoree, and the city of St. Petersburg to put this race together for a second time this year.

I’ll be back with a quick warm up recap and then my race quick toughts this afternoon.

St.Pete Preview- The End of a Long and Winding Road

I really didn’t think this race would happen this year. Rescheduling a street race is a monumental task, and few cities would want to go through the inconvenience a second time in the same year. If the 2021 schedule holds, the NTT Indycar Series will return to St. Pete in a little more than four months. Kudos to everyone who made this event happen, but a special hat tip to the city of St. Petersburg, who had to bear the brunt of this uncertainty.

Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be the 15th edition of an Indycar race on the streets of the central Florida city. The first race was won by Paul Tracy in 2003. After a year’s absence, racing returned in 2005 and has continued uninterrupted since then.

This year’s race is scheduled for 100 laps, down from the 110 laps of the past few years, on the 1.8 mile, 14 turn course. 2020 is the first year St. Pete has hosted the finale. it is usually the season opener. In the span about four months, it will be the finale of one season and the opening race of the next year.

Although the title hunt is a two man race, and Scott Dixon is in a very good position to win his sixth title, there are several other things to look for this weekend. There is still a battle for the final Leaders’ Circle spot. Some drivers are hoping for a good showing to help secure a seat for 2021. Scott McLaughlin is making his Indycar debut, while a couple other drivers may not return to the series next season.

Championship on the Line

Scott Dixon heads into the weekend with a 32 point lead over Josef Newgarden. Dixon’s lead, which at one point had swelled to 117 points, has had what for him is a slump with four finishes in the bottom half of the top ten. Newgarden, meanwhile has steadily sliced the lead with two wins in the last four races.

Dixon needs to finish ninth or better to clinch the Astor Cup regardless of how Newgarden fares. Newgarden will need some help from Dixon to have a chance of winning his third title. I don’t see Dixon losing the crown.

Debuts and Auditions

Australian Supercars champ[ion Scott McLaughlin makes his long anticipated Indycar debut for Team Penske in car number 3. McLaughlin’s firast Indycar race had been set for the GMR Grand Prix in May. He participated in the Spring Training test in Austin and was third fastest. Mclaughlin will be a full time driver for Penske in 2021. It will be strange seeing someone besides Helio Castroneves in the number 3.

James Hinchcliffe, who is finishing the season for Andretti Autosport in car 26, which was vacated by Zach Veach, still has nothing set for next season. Coming off of 13th and 14th place finishes in the Harvest Grand Prixs, Hinchcliffe could use a good showing to insure he has a place on the grid next year.

Oliver Askew has been cleared to drive after undergoing concussion protocols. This is Askew’s last drive for Arrow McLaren SP. Askew will look to have a good weekend as he seeks a new ride for 2021. Felix rosenqvist will take Askew’s  seat at AMSP  next season.

Charlie Kimball is not confirmed for another year for A. J. Foyt’s number4 seat. He needs a strong showing to stay in contention for the ride.

The Battle for 22nd

Four cars will be jockeying to finish the season entrant points stand ing in 22nd, the final leader’s Circle spot. Entering St. Pete, Foyt’s number 14 car is in the final slot with 173 points. The 98 is 23rd with 166. The addition of Sebastien Bourdais to the 14 should help Foyt stay within the Circle. The 20 car of Ed Carpenter Racing is 21st with 179 points. One of these three cars will end up on the outside looking in for the $1 million plus payout from Indycar.

The race broadcast is on NBC beginning at 2:30 Eastern time Sunday. The green flag is at 2:32. Cars will be rolling when the broadcast begins and there will be no pre race show. The television window goes to 4:30, which may mean a very brief post race interview with the race winner and series champion.

My picks- Will Power to win the pole and the race. Scott Dixon will take his sixth  series championship.

Look for session reports tomorrow and a race wrap up Sunday evening.

 

Dixon, Newgarden Pursue “Strange” Championship

Points leader Scott Dixon and his closest challenger Josef Newgarden agree that whoever wins the title will consider the 2020 championship to be a strange one.

Scott Dixon

“I think it would probably be the strangest just I think how the season’s gone, the schedule change,the ups and downs,” Dixon shared on a zoom conference with Indycar media this afternoon.

Josef Newgarden

“Yeah, I would agree with Scott. It would be the strangest. I don’t know how you’re going to forget this year,” Newgarden said.

In preparing for the Harvest Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend, Dixon is approaching the doubleheader as they would any other race weekend and not focusing on clinching the title.

“I think, I don’t know, for us, we just have to treat it like any other race weekend and try to get maximum points. The obvious goal is to go out there and try to win, but unfortunately there’s 23, 24 others that have the same goal. Try to do better than we did at the last doubleheader at Mid-Ohio where I definitely made a very large mistake, that gave away some pretty easy points there.”

Newgarden trails Dixon by 72 points with three races left. he looks at the weekend the same way Dixon does- score more points and the rest will fall into place.

“I think I feel similar to how we felt all year. We sort of just approach it where we try and do the best job possible every weekend, control what we can control, try and score the most points, just like Scott.”

Both drivers are excited that fans will be allowed to attend. 10,00 fans per day are allowed into the track for the weekend.

Dixon said,

“I think it’s going to be fantastic to have up to 10,000 fans on each day. It’s definitely been a different dynamic I think for a lot of us this season,especially the Indianapolis 500 that ran without fans. We welcome the fans greatly. Hopefully the weather cooperates and we can have a fantastic weekend.”

Newgarden agreed,

“Excited to see fans back at a weekend. Everybody has been eager to get to a racetrack, at Indianapolis. Fun to see people around, socially distanced. Hopefully the weather is good. I haven’t even looked. Hopefully we have a good forecast for everybody that’s going to come out.”

Pracftice for the Harvest Grand Prix begins Thursday, with race 1 qualifying later that day. Race 1 is Friday at 3:30 pm Eastern on USA network. Race 2 is Saturday at 2:30 pm eastern on NBC.

Herta Wins Pole, Ferrucci on Front Row

Colton Herta survived a wet and wild qualifying session to take the pole for Race 2 at Mid Ohio. Yesterday’s pole winner Will Power spun on his out lap, causing a red flag . He will start at the rear of the field.

Jack Harvey spun and crashed into the there’s causing some damage to the rear of the car. Pato O’Ward also spun but his car was not damaged.

Both group sessions were disjointed with red flag interruptions.

Points leader Scott Dixon will start 3rd. Josef Newgarden, who trails Dixon by 76 points, starts 9th.

Starting Lineup coming in a bit.

Power Looks for Mid Ohio Sweep; Dixon Hopes to Extend Lead

Today’s schedule

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Today’s race is on NBC. Make sure to set your recording on the proper channel.

Can Will Power sweep the weekend? I think he has the best chance to win both poles and both races anyone has had his year. Scott Dixon needs to finish ahead if Josef Newgarden today to regain momentum.

Pato O’Ward had a disappointing day yesterday. I hope he can salvage part of the weekend.

Can Andretti Autosport find that little extra today?

I’ll have a brief report post qualifying. My Quick Thoughts will be up tomorrow morning.

Mid Ohio Preview- Fitness, Pit Stops, Position

Rounds 9 and 10 of the NTT Indycar Series are set for Mid Ohio Sports Car Course this weekend. The races will be the fourth doubleheader weekend of this strange year. Just getting to 10 races in this season of postponements and cancellations is an accomplishment. The series has three more events left on its 2020 schedule.

The race will have an audience of up to 6,000 fans. The State of Ohio approved that number. The track requested the state to host a bit over 9,000 fans. The NFL Browns and Bengals were each allowed 6,000 fans for their first two games. 6,000 spectators should be able to distance easily at Mid Ohio if not everyone sits in the popular esses area.

The two 75 lap races will be on two different networks. Saturday’s 5 pm Eastern start is on NBCSN, and Sunday’s 1 pm Eastern green flag is on NBC. Here are some things to look for this weekend.

Physical Fitness

Mid Ohio is one the more physical tracks on the Indycar circuit. One 90 lap race, the usual distance, wears a driver out. Sunday’s race could come down to who is the most physically fit. The veterans know how to prepare for what is essentially and endurance weekend. Will the fittest driver win on Sunday? If fitness is the key for day two, look for Simon Pagenaud or Tony Kanaan to do well. The rookies have youth on their side, which should help them over the weekend.

Pit Stops

This has been a season of pit errors. No team has been immune. Mid Ohio has had some notorious pit mistakes that have cost drivers victories. Josef Newgarden was on his way to his first Indycar win when the crew called him at the last minute. The team was as shocked as Josef at the call. he pulled into an unprepared pit. the disastrous stop resulted in a drive through penalty which cost him the race.

Mikhail Aleshin had the race in hand until an unsafe pit release caused a collision with another car, ruining his day.

Pit and tire strategy nearly cost Scott Dixon the win last year. He barely hung on to beat teammate Felix Rosenqvist.

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Scott Dixon leads Felix Rosenqvist in the closing laps of the 2019 MidOhio Honda Indy 200.

Track Position

Mid Ohio is not known as a track where passing is easy. Qualifying and track position is key here. Pit strategy in what should be a two stop race each day will also play into who is at the front. If the second stop is late enough, a full fuel load may not be needed, which could help a driver pick up spots on track.

Passing has been difficult everywhere this season. The different starting times may also play a role in how much passing occurs. Will the late Saturday start and cooler track temperatures help the racing for Race 1?

Spotter’s Guides-

https://thepitwindow.blog/2020/09/09/mid-ohio-spotters-guides/

Dixon Takes Another Step Toward Title Number 6

I think Scott Dixon will win one of the races and leave mid Ohio just a short step away from his sixth Indycar title. A nother victory will put him within one of tying mario Andretti for second place on the career win list.

My prediction for the other race- Pato O’Ward will get his first Indycar victory from the pole. O’Ward has been knocking on the door of the top step of the podium and this weekend, this key finally opens the lock.

If you are going to Mid Ohio, please review the track’s protocols at

https://midohio.com/covid19.