Josef Newgarden Wins at St Petersburg

Josef Newgarden was upset on Saturday that he missed the pole position by one spot.

That seemed to fuel his determination on Sunday. In his previous seven starts at St Petersburg, the young American had not finished better than 7th, and never even led a lap on the street circuit. That all changed today when he led 60 laps on his way to victory in the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg.

The win is the 11th of Newgarden’s career, and the ninth win at St Petersburg for Team Penske. Reigning series champion Scott Dixon finished in 2nd place, a spot he knows all too well. It is the fourth time that Dixon has finished runner-up at St Petersburg. He has never won the race in his 15 starts. Pole sitter Will Power managed to grab the final podium spot, putting a bow on the weekend for Roger Penske’s team.

Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg Box Score

While the top three title contenders filled out the podium, it was the driver that finished in 4th place that had everyone talking. Rookie Felix Rosenqvist had an outstanding weekend in his debut, qualifying 3rd and finishing 4th after leading 31 laps. He had some intense on-track battles with Power, and seemed to adapt to the cars and the street circuit very well. Chip Ganassi’s elite two-care lineup appears to be back in place. Alexander Rossi rounded out the top five on Sunday, leading the charge for Andretti Autosport.

James Hinchcliffe and Simon Pagenaud had solid finishes of 7th and 8th, but were unable to challenge for the lead during the race. Colton Herta was fast in testing, fast in practice, and fast in qualifying. It was no surprise that the rookie was quick on Sunday, giving the Harding-Steinbrenner Racing team a solid 8th place finish in the season-opener. Santino Ferrucci and Jack Harvey kept their cars clean and earned top-ten finishes for their teams on Sunday.

Lady luck wasn’t so kind to a pair of hometown drivers. Sebastien Bourdais was aiming for his third consecutive victory at St Petersburg, but it ended early when his Honda engine went up in flames. Ryan Hunter-Reay’s string of rough luck continued as well, as his engine expired on Lap 20. Hunter-Reay was fastest in practice on Friday, qualified in the top five on Saturday, and was running near the front on Sunday when his car came to a stop on the front stretch.

There was only one real incident on track, which came on Lap 26. Ed Jones clipped his right front tire coming into Turn 9, which shot him straight into the outside concrete barrier. It was a blind corner for those coming through behind him, and Matheus Leist barely clipped the right rear tire which ended his day. It was an extremely hard hit for Jones, in his Ed Racing Carpenter machine. He was able to exit the car under his own power, but he sustained a small non-displaced fracture of the distal fourth metacarpal in his left ring finger. Jones had the finger splinted and is scheduled to see a hand surgeon, but it is expected that proper splinting will allow him to continue driving.

The next race on the schedule is the IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas on March 24. NBC Sports Network will provide coverage for the event, which begins at 1 PM ET on Sunday.

Photos courtesy of IndyCar

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Driver Quotes

JOSEF NEWGARDEN: “We were literally talking about (tire strategy) right before the race. We were trying to figure out, should we go used (tires) or new Firestone reds (alternate tires) and we made the call at the last minute to stay with used (tires). We’ll have that advantage if we need it and we used it. It just worked out perfectly. I just can’t thank Chevy enough for all their support and what they put in this weekend. We had an incredible engine, we had everything we needed in fuel mileage and reliability and all the power. I’m telling you, we really figured things out on Saturday and it was a rocket ship. I’m so thankful to our group. We have the best of the best working at Team Penske.”

MATHEUS LEIST: “Unfortunately, not the ideal race that we wanted. I ended up hitting the No. 20 car on the restart, so another bad race here in St. Pete, but it is what it is. Sometimes it’s just not your day and you’ve got to keep working hard for the next one. I’m looking forward to the next (race) at COTA (Circuit of The Americas) now.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: “It’s not the finish we wanted. The Arrow car, honestly, had more pace than that. The first stint we were stuck behind Graham (Rahal), and we weren’t able to make up spots in that. About two-thirds of the way into the race, a banner started to come off in Turn 3, and unfortunately, a part of it wrapped around our front wing. These cars are so aero-sensitive that we lost a ton of downforce. Unfortunately, we got behind (Max) Chilton and he had no respect for lead lap cars. With the banner on the wing, I don’t know if we would’ve made many more positions than that so we will take it.

“I think we’ve shown our competitiveness. We obviously didn’t get where we needed in qualifying because of an issue we found after the fact. Our race pace was stronger than the end results, so we just have to go to Austin and execute every single day and every single lap of every session, and hopefully, we will be at the front.”

MARCUS ERICSSON: “It was a great race up until the end. We started quite far back, farther back than what we think we should’ve started. It was going well and we were well inside the top 10 when we had the problem (mechanical issue). Looking at what’s happening now, we were definitely going for a top eight in the Arrow car. It was just a shame because it was a really great race up until then.”

SCOTT DIXON: “All in all, a great day for the whole PNC Bank crew. Pit stops were phenomenal. Great points. Obviously, we were going for a win, so we just came one stop short, but congrats to Josef (Newgarden). Drove a hell of a race there and great strategy.” (About why he likes racing in St. Petersburg): “I think it’s fun. It’s technical. I think it’s the atmosphere. The city, as they say, embraces the race, and they do. Even walking around downtown, I think everybody – for me at least, living in Indianapolis – it’s nice to get some warm weather, especially this week. But I don’t know, the traffic has passing opportunities, Turn 1, Turn 4, you can maybe get sneaky occasionally, but a lot of circuits don’t have that combination. You’ve got to give Kim (Green) and Kevin (Savoree) a lot of credit, obviously Firestone, too, for sponsoring this event, but it just has a great feel about it, kicking off the season, I think everybody is happy to start the season.”

FELIX ROSENQVIST: “Top five is for sure satisfying, I think there was a bit more in it. I think some pit stops there didn’t really go as planned, but the NTT Data Honda was really good today. I think it was a good enough package to win the race. Just some small things didn’t go our way, but I’m really happy to be up here. I really have to thank my team, Chip Ganassi Racing, for starting off the season better than anyone could have expected.”

WILL POWER: “It was definitely a lot better points day than I’ve had in the past two years, so I’m really happy about that. We put ourselves in a tough position pitting early there. We had no defense. And really, me losing that position on the restart, I was stuck. I couldn’t pull the gap to negate the cold tire penalty because I was pitting early. I just kind of did my best to maintain a third-place finish. That was as much as we could do in that situation. We got more points than in the last two years, so we’re in the game.

“Tough race for us. We didn’t have the pace today. I mean, we tried. We had a pretty good start and then we caught a yellow (flag) that we didn’t need. It was one of those days that nothing goes right. Once we got going, we definitely didn’t have the pace to fight with those guys, so we just settled in. We needed a finish. Tough day.”

“I thought the United Rentals machine was pretty strong today and I thought the race was shaping up OK for us. We had a good first pit stop and I thought we were headed down the right path. Hinch (James Hinchcliffe) was about equal to us. I thought we were maybe a little better than Alex (Rossi), but we were struggling to get around (Jack) Harvey at that point. And Hinch said the same: he had a ton of straightline speed. Coulda, shoulda, woulda. It was a shame to get a puncture when we did. We’ve been on a little string of bad luck the last few races – the end of last year and to kick off this year – but hopefully, it will turn around in a hurry. I’m excited and happy with what I saw though. Our competitiveness this weekend versus last year here is definitely better. My hopes and expectations are pretty high.”

 “It wasn’t the weekend the No.18 SealMaster Honda team was looking for. A tough deal. No qualifying yesterday with a car that seemed to be pretty quick, then unfortunately, we had a non-team related issue with the car which took us out of the race. Really a shame, but we’ll regroup, keep working and see what we can do next race.”

“I can’t thank the No. 19 David Yurman, Cly-Del Manufacturing Dale Coyne Racing team enough. We found something in morning warmup that was unexpected and we made it work in the race. Our engineer, Michael Cannon, called a brilliant strategy and I had to do a lot of fuel saving, to say the least. We kept it clean and in the top 10 and that was the goal. I’m really happy with today’s result, especially considering where we started.”

“It’s been a frustrating weekend so far. We had the pace to be at the front in qualifying. Then today, the guys gave me a great race car. We had to take risks to get forward quickly. I made it from 16th to ninth, then I just tried to get a run on (James) Hinchcliffe unfortunately I clipped the inside wall in Turn 9 and that was it. I’m sorry for the team; they did great work and they deserved a better result.”

“Overall, it was a fairly frustrating first half of the race. I got shuffled back at the start and we really didn’t find our groove until later on. After that, we were able to make up some ground and gain some positions. Overall, we definitely have come away with a lot of things in mind to improve on for next time out at COTA. I appreciate all the support from Autogeek and my guys. We’ll try our best to fight up higher on the grid in a couple of weeks.”

“I had a fantastic time out there. The Menards Chevy was phenomenal today. It was really unfortunate that we didn’t have an opportunity to put a lap down in (the qualifying session) yesterday, which put us way back on the starting grid. Being able to come up through the field with this high level of competition was pretty amazing. The No. 22 crew was on it today making great calls and executing fast pit stops. We’re off to a great start for 2019.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL: “It was a disappointing result from a day with a lot of promise, but I can’t thank the No. 23 crew enough. The No. 23 Tresiba® Carlin Chevrolet was quick all day carrying over from qualifying yesterday. We just got caught out and knocked the front flap off on one of those restarts. Even though the restarts are pretty frantic, you really have to make the most of them with it being so hard to pass around here. It was just unfortunate. We had to come in and change the front wing putting us a lap down, but we kept fighting and learned a lot about the car and what we need to do on the next street circuit.”

“Obviously, not the day that we wanted. It just seemed to be a bit of a messy race – not on our part, but in general. We made a change overnight with the car that I think may have made things a little more complicated. We got hit into Turn 1 by (Takuma) Sato at some point and that kind of shuffled us back, and that’s where we ended up running. I feel we did what we could with what we had today. I’m thankful for all the work the guys put in and happy to have the support from Gainbridge here. I’m looking forward to going on to COTA – if you have one bad one a year, we got ours out of the way up front.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI: “It was really all we had, pretty much where we started. It’s good for points, but it’s disappointing (because) you always come to races wanting a win. It was a good setup in the race, I just think we were one step behind our competition. We found the optimal setup, or at least a car that I was comfortable with, but we need to be a little more on top of it. Nonetheless, a good recovery by the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Andretti Autosport boys.”

“We just gradually lost power today. Honda has been doing such a great job for us. They give us tremendous powerplants and great drivability, so we’ll have to go back and look at it. We definitely had a lot of positives this weekend for the DHL team. It’s unfortunate. Somehow, we have to avoid the bad luck and we’ll make a run for the championship. This one definitely stings. It’s going to put us behind the eight ball in points. We’ll figure it out. I have a great team behind me, and we’ll keep soldiering on. I have to thank all the fans for coming out and supporting us though – the NTT IndyCar Series has the best fans.”

TAKUMA SATO: “Everyone was on the same tire strategy. I think it’s the first time since Firestone brought out the red (alternate) tire that everyone chose to start on the same one, which means it was quite difficult to make a different strategy. Having said that, we made good progress. I overtook a few cars on the start and restarts, as well on track. We were steadily moving up the field and it was looking good for us. We weren’t the most competitive, but we were definitely moving up the field, which was positive. In the end, I am obviously disappointed not to finish. The boys worked so hard for us, it’s a shame not to finish it. COTA is the next race for us and we had a positive test. It’s a very dynamic course and I am looking forward to it.”

MAX CHILTON: “It was a very long day, but it was nice to finish on a high, if you can call it a high. On our last stint, the No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet showed good pace and good fuel save, but the weekend just didn’t go where we wanted it to. I made a mistake halfway through the race and went into the runoff area, but we got back going fairly quickly and only lost one spot. The second half of the race was actually pretty decent, but to get a good result here you have to get to the front and stay at the front to have a good race.”

 “As a whole, it’s been a really successful weekend. We had our best finishing position and our best qualifying position. Naturally, when you qualify well the hope is that it will transfer into the race. We can’t say it didn’t because we got our best race finish, but we definitely lacked some pace. The guys did a great job this weekend, we qualified seventh and finished 10th. We said prior to the season that we wanted to qualify in the top 12 and finish in the top ten, so by our own standards that was a great race.”

What an up and down race. We had a pretty poor start to the race. I bumped the wall after a restart and lost quite a bit of positions. We were all the way down in 17th position at one point. After that, we just had really great pace and were able to start making up positions when everyone was in the pits. An eighth-place finish isn’t too bad for the first race of the season. The Harding Steinbrenner Racing guys did a great job this weekend and I’m very happy with the No. 88 Latitude Vacation Club car. Can’t wait for next weekend.

MARCO ANDRETTI: “It was the toughest-fought 13th we’ve had in a while. We had to overcome qualifying and it’s just so hard to pass. You have to be flying in order to overtake. We got some guys but not enough. Then we got the flat tire and that was the nail in the coffin. We had a bit too much understeer for (the Firestone red tire) alternate pace, but the big killer was qualifying and then losing ground to that tire.”


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