Quick Thoughts- Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

I like this trend. For the second year in a row, the winner of the season opener is a second year driver winning his first race. Scott McLaughlin had to battle Alex Palou for the win. It was not an easy win despite his starting from pole on a street course.

The battle for the lead over the last 15 laps was a great way to start the season.

I don’t recall a St. Pete race with just one yellow. The long green stints may have changed some strategy, which made this race intriguing.

Rinus VeeKay is back. He backed up a strong qualifying effort with a sixth place finish. VeeKay also led 13 laps during an extended stint.

Nice Debuts

In spite of several on track adventures in practice the last two days, Romain Grosjean had a solid debut with Andretti Autosport with a fifth place finish.

Takuma Sato earned a 10th place result after starting 22nd in his first race for Dale Coyne Racing.

Christian Lundgaard was the top finishing rookie in 11th.

Whatever Happened to…

Josef Newgarden was never a factor in the race. He started ninth, but went to an alternate three stop strategy, which had him mired in 16th at the end. newgarden has seemed a step behind his teammates all weekend.

Alexander Rossi dropped to 20th from starting 13th. He led 10 laps during pit cycles. I’m not sure what’s going with the 27 team.

Kyle Kirkwood started strong but ended 18th.

Arrow McLaren drivers Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist each improved four spots from their starting spots, but O’Ward’s 12 the was the best they could muster. Rosenqvist came home in17th.

Fans Came Back

Today was the ninth time I have attended this race. The crowd was the largest I have seen. For many fans this was their first race in nearly three years. I think more local people attended than have come in a while as well.

I will have more on the race tomorrow. Thanks for following all weekend.

McLaughlin on St. Pete Pole as Penske Sweeps Front Row

Scott McLaughlin turned a sizzling final lap as time expired to win the pole for tomorrow’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by RP Funding. He edged teammate Will Power, who will start on the front row for the 12th time at St. Pete.

Scott McLaughlin on his pole winning lap

Group 1 in Round 1 ended with six different teams advancing, including A. J Foyt Racing with Kyle Kirkwood, Ed Carpenter Racing driver Rinus Veekay. Colton Herta led the round with a time of 59.466 seconds, followed by Graham Rahal, VeeKay, Scott Dixon, Kirkwood, and Josef Newgarden.

Group 2 saw Power lead with a lap of 59,394 seconds, followed by McLaughlin, Romain Grosjean, Simon Pagenaud, Marcus Ericsson, Alex Palou. Palou and Grosjean recovered from heavy damage in the morning practice.

The second round saw a great battle for the lead between Power, Grosjean, McLaughlin, and Herta, with Power taking the round. Power set a track record with his lap of 59.346 seconds.

Will Power

The Firestone Fast Six looked to be comfortably in Power’s grasp as Herta, Grosjean, and Pagenaud all failed to beat his time. McLaughlin’s final lap was 0.12 seconds better than his teammate. The second year driver has earned his first career pole.

Two drivers and teams who had great drives today- Kyle Kirkwood of A. J. Foyt Racing and Rinus VeeKay of Ed Carpenter Racing. Neither team is known for their prowess on road and street courses, nut today may be a sign that the situation could be about to change. Kirkwood finished fifth in Round 1. The rookie has shown in two days how talented he is.

VeeKay appears to be fully recovered from the shoulder injury he suffered mid -season last year. VeeKay was third in Round 1, sixth in Round 2, will start fourth tomorrow.

Qualifying Results:

McLaughlin Fastest in Practice

Scott McLaughlin led a disjointed practice session interrupted by three red flags, which consumed nearly a third of the time allotted. Indycar plans to extend sessions in this instance when possible. A street event, with a packed schedule, does not allow for time extensions.

McLaughlin, in his second Indycar season, posted a time of 0.59.734, the only lap under 60 seconds so far. Colton Herta was second for the second day in a row, 0.351 seconds behind.

Simon Pagenaud, fourth on Friday moved up to third.

Romain Grosjean, yesterday’s leader, was involved in a multicar incident. He ran into the back of a slowing Takuma Sato.

The first red flag flew 20 minutes into the session when Jack Harvey clipped the turn 9 wall. The last red flag with about five minutes left involved 2021 series champion Alex Palou, who had a hard hit at turn 9. The session restarted for one more lap.

Ed Carpenter Racing had a strong practice with Rinus VeeKay sixth and Conor Daly 11th. Rookie Kyle Kirkwood, 12th Friday, improved to eighth this morning.

Rinus VeeKay
Kyle Kirkwood

Results

McLaughlin Tops Practice 2; Palou Leads Title Hopefuls

Indycar photo by Chris Jones

Rookie Scott McLaughlin recorded the fastest time in the final warmup before Indycar qualifying with a time of 1:10.875. For the second day, Colton Herta was second, this time 0.18 seconds behind. Team Penske placed all four cars in the top 10, with Simon Pagenaud fourth, Will Power fifth, and Josef Newgarden 10th.

Points leader Alex Palou was third quickest, the best of the top three title contenders. Newgarden was 10th and Pato O’Ward was 20th. Scott Dixon, still mathematically eligible, finished the session 18th.

Qualifying begins at 5:05

The top 10:

Qualifying Groups:

Group 1 Group 2

Colton Herta Scott McLaughlin

Simon Pagenaud Alex Palou

Felix Rosenqvist Will Power

Ryan Hunter-Reay Alexander Rossi

Josef Newgarden Alexander Rossi

Marcus Ericsson Ed Jones

Graham Rahal Jack Harvey

Romain Grosjean James Hinchcliffe

Scott Dixon Oliver Askew

Pato O’Ward Max Chilton

Sebastien Bourdais Callum Ilott

Jimmie Johnson Helio Castroneves

Takuma Sato Conor Daly

Rinus VeeKay

Dalton Kellett

Portland Finish Makes Monterey Grand Prix Key for Palou

The keys to the kingdom lie just beyond Alex Palou’s grasp. Another good result at Weather Tech Raceway this coming weekend could make Long Beach a little easier for the second year Spanish driver. There are some clinching scenarios for next Sunday, but they all involve Palou getting maximum points. I don’t think that is likely to happen. His main goal is just to finish ahead of his two main competitors.

Scott McLaughlin led the first laps of his Indycar career yesterday. Photo: Joe Skibinski, Indycar

The Rookie of the Year is still up for grabs. Scott McLaughlin finished ninth and lead five laps yesterday to increase his lead over Romain Grosjean to 38 points. Grosjean had closed to within seven points in August. Grosjean sat out the first three ovals of 2021. This race is much closer than it should be, since one of the races Grosjean missed was the double points Indianapolis 500. The French driver has looked forward to Laguna Seca all year, and I suspect he will do well there. The Rookie award will not be settled until after Long Beach.

Entrant Points- The Race for 22nd

Two full time entrants will miss receiving Leaders’ Circle money for 2022. Car 7, Felix Rosenqvist currently sits 23rd with 189 points, Followed by the 59 of Max Chilton at 144 points and the number 4 of Dalton Kellett.

A strong final three races by Felix Rosenqvist will secure the Leaders’ Circle for the 7 car

Car 45. driven by Santino Ferrucci, Christian Lundgaard, and Oliver Askew. in 2021, lost the 22nd spot yesterday with a 24th place finish. The car has 171 points, but my understanding is that it is not eligible for the Leaders’ Circle because it did not run the full season.

Final Thoughts on Portland

For a track with no elevation changes, yesterday’s race had quite a few ups and downs for several drivers. Credit to the top three starters, who fought back to finish where they started.

Alexander Rossi’s first podium of the season may give him the momentum to score well in the final two races. In 2018 and 2019 he dominated at Long Beach, winning the last race there by 20 seconds. I think he breaks his winless drought in the season finale.

Good results at last- Jack Harvey and Felix Rosenqvist ended a season of with top 10 finishes Sunday. Harvey finished fourth, finally having a trouble free race. Rosenqvist crossed the line sixth. He has struggled at times this season, and has been unable to give much help to teammate O’Ward in his battle for the championship.

Callum Ilott had a respectable debut. The 2020 F2 runner up qualified 19th but finished 25th due to a mechanical issue.

Chip Ganassi Racing has won six of the 14 races this year. Scott Dixon is third on the team in number of victories. I can’t believe I had to write that.

Engine count– Palou, O’Ward, and Newgarden have all reached or exceeded their engine allowance for 2021. Scott Dixon has one engine remaining.

Genesys 300-Quick Thoughts

Photo of Scott Dixon by Chris Jones, Indycar

Scott Dixon’s masterful drive last night has us on the cusp of history. Dixon now has won 51 Indycar races, one shy of Mario Andretti’s 52 victory total. If he doesn’t win tonight, he should tie Andretti later this season, and will probably pass Andretti as well.

Dixon shot to the front from his third starting spot and led all but four laps the rest of the night. I loved the way he toyed with Scott McLaughlin at the end, keeping Mclauglin at arm’s length while avoiding getting mixed up with lapped traffic. Dixon is the best of this era by far.

The other Scott from new Zealand, McLaughlin drove a great race and got himself into second with a great pit call on the last stop. Staring 15th, McLaughlin was steady and let the race come to him. I didn’t expect this type of performance from a rookie on an oval, but I knew he would get a couple of podiums this year.

Scott McLaughlin heading to his first career podium. Indycar photo by Joe Skibinski

I guess if you are a driver from new Zealand and your name is Scott, you need to be looking at Indycar.

Notes

Today’s starting grid is again by entrant points as they stand following last night’s race. Dixon is on the pole and Alex Palou starts second. All four Team Penske cars will start in the top 10. I will have more on today’s race later.

Indycar dropped the ball keeping fans informed about what was happening schedule wise. I don’t know why Peacock did not come one when pr4actice was scheduled to begin. The announcers could have discussed the situation and reviewed possible scenarios for the race.

Tony Kanaan can still drive. Kanaan started 23rd and finished 11th.

Alex Palou is the only driver to have l4ed a lap in all three races. Palou and Dixon are the only drivers to have finished in the top 10 in every race this season.

Andretti Autosport continues to struggle. Colton Herta had a solid top five in hand before his brake issue. Alexander rosi finished a quiet eighth. Jack Harvey, whose Meyer-Shank team has a technical alliance with Andretti, was seventh. Harvey is now fifth in points. Herta dropped to 10th after winning at St. Pete.

The race itself was only good dafter the final pit stop, that was a result of the restart with 39 laps to go. Texas has become an unraceable track because of the JP1 compound taking away the second groove. Maybe it’s time to say goodbye to this track. It’s become another track NASCAR has ruined just so their cars can put on a staged show once a year.

Pato O’Ward and Arrow McLaren SP finally hit on a strategy that worked and reached the podium. Yje team struggled last week folowing their pole at Barber. O’Ward told me last week good strategy was the missing element in their program. O’Ward moved to fourth in points and may be ready to get his first Indycar win today.

I liked The pit stop clock NBCSN had at the bottom of the scoring pylon. I loved comparing the pit stop times when several drivers stopped at the same time. I hope this feature stays. It definitely helped capture the competition between drivers battling for a position.

Thank you all for following yesterday. Today seems less uncertain. I will have a preview of today’s race aroun mid Day. The race begins at 5:15 Eastern on NBCSN.

Mclaughlin in Pennzoil Car for 500

Scott Mclaughlin will drive the number 3 Pennzoil Car in the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500. He will use the paint scheme which Helio Castroneves used in his last race with Team Penske.

The three time Australian Supercars champion revealed the car in this video this morning.

I think.its time to retire the term yellow submarine. Just because the car is yellow and sponsored by Pennzoil doesn’t make it the yellow submarine. That was a special car driven by Johnny Rutherford. The chassis was unique. This is a spec Dallara.

IMS Mass Vaccination Clinics Resume Tomorrow

Thursday is the first day of three April weekends of mass COVID vaccination clinics at IMS. THE first clinic was a resounding success with more than 16,000 shots dispensed. The goal for the April clinics iss 96,000 vaccinations. Ad of today, Indiana residents age 16 and older are eligible for the vaccine.

Rookies Agree They Have a Lot to Learn

Photo of Romaiin Grosjean by Chris Owens, Indycar

Indycar’s 2021 rookie class is unusual. Three drivers, successful in other major disciplines, older than the typical first year driver, have decided to take the plunge into Indycar. Scott McLaughlin, Jimmie Johnson, and Romain Grosjean spoke to the media yesterday during Indycar’s content day. Unlike past years where some of the rookies have moved up from Indy Lights with some knowledge of the cars and driving style required, the three newcomers come from NASCAR, Australian Supercars, and Formula 1. Two have multiple championships in their previous series.

All three are happy with their progress during pre-season testing, but all admit they have a long way to go to be competitive in the Indycar series.

Scott McLaughlin. Photo by Chris Owens, Indycar

McLaughlin summed up the steep learning curve.

, “There’s a lot of things I’ve got to get used to. For instance, even just driving a turbo car. I’ve never really done that before in Australia. For me, I’m learning boost levels, aero maps, trusting aero, aerodynamics through corners and stuff.”

Jimmie Johnson by Chris Owens, Indycar

Johnson talked about driving an Indycar.

“…the intensity of driving that car. It’s a monster. That’s the best way I can put it. There’s so much power,so much downforce, so much grip. It’s wild to drive.”

He also said that gettintg the final 10 to 15 percent woukld the hardest to reach.

“But that last little bit, that’s what the elite guys are so good at and chase their whole career. I don’t know if I’ll get to100 percent with the amount of years that I have to give this a try, but there’s still so many things I haven’t even experienced yet. I’ve never been on a red tire. I’ve just recently had a chance to drive a street circuit tire and understand how much more grip it has versus a traditional road course tire.When you look at the street course tracks, I won’t even be able to drive on one until the practice, the opening practice session that we have prior to qualifying.”

Grosjean noted the different driving style needed for an Indycar compared to a formula 1 machine:

“I think it’s the driving style. It’sfairly different between Formula 1 and INDYCAR. Does itcome from the tires, the car, from the aero, the mechanicalgrip? I don’t really know. I just found that it was different todrive and to go fast.That’s something I really adapted between Barber andLaguna. I think I’m going to the simulator tomorrow beforeflying home. I think we’ve got some good tests that wewant to do with Dale Coyne and Honda, get as muchknowledge as we can before we start the season.”

Grosjean has a good understanding of where he is as far as driving this season. In spite of his 20 year racing career, he said,

“But I need to remind myself I’m a rookie. Even though I got 20 years experience in racing, I’m a rookie. From the rolling start to the refueling to the racetracks, there’s many,many things to learn.We will take step by step. We’ll see how things are going. But the whole team has been great helping me to find my marks. Honda has been really helpful as well in getting me up to speed, telling me all the procedures. The team has been really good.”

In spite of their success, or perhaps because of it, in other series, the 2021 Rookie class has a realistic perspective on what they can achieve this season. I’m impressed that this trio has made the decision to try a new type of racing.

Rosenqvist to AMSP is Official; Dragonspeed Closes Indycar Program

Arrow McLaren SP officially confirmed felix rosenqvist as driver the number 7 car for 2021. The Swedish driver completed his second year in the Indycar series with Chip ganhassi racing. Rosenqvist finished 11th in the season standings and got his first Indycar win at Road America in race 2.

The announcement from the team:

Felix Rosenqvist joins Arrow McLaren SP for 2021

Felix Rosenqvist will join Arrow McLaren SP for the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, the team confirmed today, piloting the No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. Rosenqvist will get his first run in the car and begin duties with the team during an upcoming test at Barber Motorsports Park on November 2nd.

“I can’t wait to take the next step in my career and join Arrow McLaren SP. The team has shown itself to be a consistent challenger this year and I’m looking forward to working with Pato to help take it forward,” said Rosenqvist. “I want to thank Sam, Ric, Zak, and the entire team for giving me this opportunity and I’m already working to be as prepared as possible for next season. It’s going to be fun.”

Rosenqvist, a 28-year-old from Sweden with a diverse motorsport background, will start his third season in the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES, with his career accomplishments already including eight top five finishes and a win at Road America this year.

“We’ve been watching Felix since he came over to Indy Lights in 2016 and have been constantly impressed by his performance over the past two years,” said Arrow McLaren SP co-owner Sam Schmidt. “We think that he and Pato complement each other well and together we believe they will help us on our journey forward as a team.”

“It’s not very often that you get the opportunity to combine two young, established talents like Pato and Felix,” said McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown. “I think this pairing gives us a strong driver lineup and I’m excited to see what they can do together on and off the track.”

Rosenqvist will team up with Arrow McLaren SP driver Pato O’Ward, who finished his first full season in fourth place and looks forward to combining efforts with his former on-track rival.

“I am looking forward to working alongside Felix. He is a driver I truly respect, in and out of the car, and I’m sure we will work well together,” said O’Ward. “I think we can learn a lot from each other to develop the strongest package possible at every race weekend together with the team.”

Follow along with the team on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube at @ArrowMcLarenSP.

Dragonspeed Closure Benefits Meyer Shank Racing

Dragonspeed has closed the doors on its Indycar program. The team debuted at St. Petersburg in 2019 with Ben Hanley. Dragonspeed appeared in the Indianapolis 500 the last two years, finishing 23rd in August.

Team owner Elton Julian cited COVID as a factor in the decision to focus on their sports car program. Julian said the pandemic set his team back two years.

Dragonspeed sold its Dallara chassis to Meyer Shank Racing. The move accelerates MSR’s plan to field a second car in the Indycar series. The plan is to build the schedule gradually as they ddi with Jack Harvey’s now full time entry.

It’s sad to see a team leave the series, but the silver lining could be Meyer Shank adding another entry to the grid.

IMS Test Postponed to Friday

The scheduled Thursday Indycar test has been postponed to tomorrow, Friday, October 3,0 due to inclement weather. Trust me, it’s not clement. Fans are welcome to watch from the turn 2 mounds.

Enter at gate 2, where you will indergo a temperature screening. Facial coverings are required at all times and no food or drink is allowed on the mounds.

Scheduled to participate in the test are Scott Dixon, Takuma Sato, Josef Newgarden, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Ed Carpenter, and Pato O’Ward.

Newgarden and Sato tested Wednesday as the series experimented with some nose pieces.to create more front downforce and improve passing ability.

Yesterday Scott McLaughlin completed his Speedway Rookie Orientation Program.