Photo from indycar.com
In a predictably prominent Penske affair, Josef Newgarden cruised to his eleventh career win at St. Pete over Scott Dixon. “It just worked out perfectly,” the positive pilot postulated post race.
During the pre race show, Paul Tracy exclaimed “there are Swedes everywhere!” Sounds like an ideal beach party to us. Also included was a nice update and interview with Robert Wickens, who vowed to come back from his devastating, paralizing injury last season at Pocono.
A controversial qualifying session, which saw Dixon initially miss the top twelve before not only making the fast six but starting fourth, had Will “Sour Grapes” Power on pole, again predictably. In fact, an all Penske front row rounded out by Newgarden was trailed by an all Ganassi second row – with the Swedish rookie Rosenqvist actually outpacing defending champ Dixie – and an all Andretti third row of 500 winners Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi. In other qualifying news, only Marco can manage to run out of fuel without turning a single lap.
The start saw a slight delay thanks to the cumbersome two seater and – as usual – failed radio communication with same. Why they insist upon trying to talk to the backseat rider time after time in vain is simply beyond us. Power typically jumped the green flag and Rosenqvist – who expressed dismay with his team’s pit stops on the day – occupied second as Newkid initially faded. Rossi gained a spot to fifth during an unusually clean start. Cars quickly settled into street course single file follow the leader.
Photo from zimbio.com
Almost immediately, two time defending winner and Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais’ drive train let go, giving the aforementioned Swede Rosenqvist a temporary lead after Power dived into the pits on lap 16. Rossi then took point briefly as Rosenqvist, Newgarden, Dixon and RHR all pitted ahead of him in a strategy that for the AA driver ultimately failed. No sooner was RHR back out when his Honda engine spectacularly let go, bringing out the first full course caution of the season. His was the second Honda in quick succession to experience problems – in the first twenty laps.
Photo from dailytelegraph.com.au
Power led and as the race returned to green the unlikable Aussie got sideways, opening the door wide for the pursuing Swede. Rosenqvist locked ’em up to out-brake Power and retake the lead, sliding his car precariously through the corners. Newkid, Dixon and Rossi rounded out the top five in the early going. At that point Ed Carpenter Racing’s Ed Jones tapped the inside barrier and flew hard into the outside wall for the day’s second caution. Stopped on course, the Dubai born Brit was then narrowly missed by Zach “son of Dracula” Veach before being hit by AJ Foyt’s Matt Leist, ending his day as well.
Photo from indystar.com
The restart was amateurishly waved off before the race finally resumed with no changes at the front and Brit Jack Harvey racing James Hinchcliffe hard – to the point of bumping – while at the same time Rossi challenged Dixon. This after Dixie’d been chopped suey-like by Newkid. Further back a position actually changed hands as Charlie Kimball got around Simon Pagenaud before entering the pits. Rosenqvist led Power, Newgarden, Dixie and Rossi. Eighteen year old rookie/legacy Colton Herta pulled the old outside/inside to get around Veach for position, foreshadowing a strong showing.
The Swedish leader (Prime Minister?) nearly brushed the wall as the field settled back into parade formation typical of street courses. After pit stops, Rosenqvist almost lost it while getting pinched by Power upon returning to the track, losing the lead. Following stops and cars cycling through, Newkid led prior to the halfway point and would hardly relinquish it. Dixon soon got around Power for second, making contact as the two swapped back and forth through the turns with Rosenqvist following closely.
Then NBCSN’s technical difficulties kicked in, marking an inauspicious start to the peacock network’s exclusive coverage of the series. Combined with Robin Miller’s looser grasp on the English language than Swede Rosie, it was quite a start to NBC’s IndyCar era. According to the muffled audio feed, Max “Paris” Chilton went all diva on Newkid and held up the show as Daffy Leigh Diffey vamped during the roughly five minutes without video coverage.
Apparently Newgarden continued to lead Dixon, Power, Rosenqvist and Rossi with 34 to go. Diffey lamely attempted to cover the faux pas, mentioning in less than convincing manner the “positivity surrounding the NTT IndyCar series right now.” Hmmm. After a final round of stops – which were actually televised – Newgarden regained the lead after Rosie pitted late and dropped back to fifth. Suddenly a rumored IRR banner appeared on course, adding yet another unnecessary chicane to the already sketchy track. Rudely, it was run over, dragged and finally torn to bits by several cars, including Hinch’s. That’s a Canuck for ya.
The scruffy, unsponsored teenager Herta had the drive of the race, finishing eighth after battling back from a poor restart that took him to the rear of the field. Although his lead fluctuated, in the end Newgarden cruised to victory in yet another predictably foregone street course race. It was an unusually tough day for Honda, with multiple engine expirations and Chevy sweeping the podium, not to mention Marco’s trademark futility. Newkid’s result was never really in doubt the second half of the race, even if NBCSN’s ability to telecast the conclusion was.