The NTT IndyCar Series has arrived in St Petersburg, but this time it will be as the season finale where a champion will be crowned. Traditionally the season-opening event, the Firestone Grand Prix will be the first and only temporary street circuit race in 2020. For the 15th consecutive year, the championship will be decided in the final race. The two eligible drivers have combined to win the last three titles, and have a total of seven championships between them. It will be Scott Dixon against Josef Newgarden in another battle between Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske.
While these two are the focus this weekend, there are plenty of other storylines to keep an eye on. During qualifying today, it was another spectacular performance by Will Power, who captured his 9th career St Petersburg pole in just 12 tries. No other driver in the field has more than one pole here. It is also the 10th pole here for Team Penske. Power posted a top lap of 1 minute, 1.0369 seconds in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet in the Firestone Fast Six of qualifying for Sunday’s race.
Qualification Results for the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg
Alexander Rossi will start alongside Power on the front row tomorrow. It was a great day for Andretti Autosport, with Rossi, Colton Herta, and James Hinchcliffe all qualifying in the first two rows. Jack Harvey and Meyer Shank Racing have an alliance with Andretti, and qualified 5th on Saturday. Rounding out the Firestone Fast Six was Arrow McLaren SP’s young driver Pato O’Ward. Sebastien Bourdais had a great run for AJ Foyt’s team, and will start 7th at his home track tomorrow. The two title contenders did not shine in qualifying, as Josef Newgarden qualified 8th and Scott Dixon will start in 11th position.
Dixon entered the weekend with a 32-point lead over Newgarden in the standings. The Kiwi merely needs to finish 11th or better to clinch the title, while Newgarden will need to win the race and have Dixon finish at the back of the field. The latter is something that Dixon has not done at all this year, despite cooling off significantly over the course of the second half of the season. Dixon has never won this race but has come close several times. He has four runner-up finishes but hasn’t led a lap in the last seven St Pete races. Newgarden is the defending race winner, and Dixon finished right behind him in 2nd place.
Newgarden knows the odds are against him tomorrow, but he is not ready to concede the championship. “We took a swing at it for Q2, and it wasn’t the right direction,” Newgarden said. “I didn’t get the most out of it. I definitely had a lot of slides and wasn’t clean. I think just putting a clean lap together would have been good to transfer, and we just didn’t do the job. It makes our program a little harder for tomorrow, but we’ve still got to go for the win with the Hitachi Chevy boys. Yeah, we can we from there. We just made it a little harder.”
The second half of the season hasn’t been great by Dixon’s standards, but he knows what he needs to do tomorrow to secure his 6th series title. “It was a little bit strange,” Dixon said. “Our first qualifying session, the car felt really good. Just didn’t really piece it together very well. Then we kind of flip-flopped on how we did it. The first run we did three (laps) on black and then four (laps) on red. And we thought the reds came in quick enough. But right then, with how the traffic was and having to slow down, it was really only two laps. Each corner I was making, the car was getting more grip. But I just needed another lap. It is what it is. Our mistake.”
One day after Team Penske announced that Scott McLaughlin will drive a 4th full-time car in IndyCar next season, the three-time Supercars champion impressed quickly in the morning practice session. He found the limits later on, which ended up biting him during qualifying. Still, it was easy to see the talent that he has and why Penske made the move to sign him.
This is the 5th pole of the season for Power, and the 62nd of his career. He is now just five behind Mario Andretti on the all-time poles list. “I thought we had worse tires than the other guys, but I just absolutely nailed it, man,” Power said. “Really, really good lap. I had to work the wheel hard for that one. I’m so stoked to get the Verizon car on pole again. Hopefully we can get Chevy in Victory Lane tomorrow. That would be fantastic.”
The race distance is 100 laps, which is 180 miles around the 1.8-mile 14-turn street circuit. Power won the pole for last year’s race, and Newgarden is the defending race winner. Coverage for the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg begins at 2:30 PM ET on NBC. There will not be any pre-race coverage, with a 2:32 PM green flag time.
Photos courtesy of IndyCar
WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “I thought we had worse tires than the other guys, but I just absolutely nailed it, man. Really, really good lap. I had to work the wheel hard for that one. I’m so stoked to get the Verizon car on pole again. Hopefully we can get Chevy in Victory Lane tomorrow. That would be fantastic.” (About your mastery of qualifying): “I’m able always to take it to another level, and I can only do it once a weekend, I reckon. It’s something I love. I just absolutely love getting the most out of something and perfecting a craft I’ve been working at for 25 years.” (About race strategy): “Unfortunately, it’s looking a bit like a fuel race, but we’ll be going hard, man. Doing the normal thing, trying to win the race and finish the season on a high.”
ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 AutoNation / NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “I think every round of qualifying we got better. We started the weekend strong in practice, so I think that’s a huge difference- maker on these weekends when you only have the one practice session. It’s a really good effort for the team to do the offline development. We haven’t been to a street course yet this year, so to have three cars in the top six is a testament to that. I think we just have to keep chipping away at it, and we’re in a good position to go and get that first win tomorrow.”
COLTON HERTA (No. 88 Capstone Turbine #ShiftToGreen Honda): “Pretty frustrated to lose it by that much. The Capstone #ShiftToGreen Honda definitely was the car to do it. We’ll look forward to tomorrow. We’re going to try some stuff in warm-up and go from there.”
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda): “Obviously, very happy to make it into the Fast Six. It’s only the second time we’ve had the chance to do that this year, and it was nice to have pace in practice and carry it over into qualifying – all three runs. In the final session, we thought we were stronger on blacks in Q1 and Q2, so we rolled the dice a bit. I think with the massive delay we had, it cooled off a lot, track temps went down. I think r eds would have been the right choice, but I stand by the decision we made. It was a strategic call to try and pull something out. But happy to be on the second row and happy that a bunch of my teammates are up there with us. Now we just have to put our heads down and have a good one tomorrow.”
JACK HARVEY (No. 60 AutoNation / SiriusXM Honda): “We had a pretty good qualifying car, and our pace at the end there was still pretty decent. There’s no reason we shouldn’t have a great race. We’ve been in the top five now in every discipline of track – road courses, ovals, street circuit. Now, it’s just a nice day to show myself, the team and the rest of the paddock that we can do it on all types of tracks. It was a good day. I think the relief of coming back to St. Pete is the biggest thing this weekend. I know that COVID hasn’t gone away , but it kind of feels like it’s come full circle in some ways because we left St. Pete in March having no idea what the future looked like, and we still don’t know exactly what it will look like apart from that we can tackle it.”
PATO O’WARD (No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet): “The practice wasn’t great for us, but we made our way back to the front part of the field during qualifying. The No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet is starting on the third row, so we can try and win the race from there. It’s going to be tough to pass, and pit stop windows aren’t going to be as big as they used to be because the race is 10laps shorter. I think if we have a good, consistent race and good pit stops, we should be in contention in the end.”
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 14 AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “A much better start to the weekend here in St. Petersburg compared to our starting positions in Indy, so really proud of the group on the 14 car. It’s still touch and go; you never know what you’re going to get.But it all worked out today. We’ll get P7 out of qualifying and start there tomorrow, so looking forward to it, and thanks for everybody’s support.”
JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): “We took a swing at it for Q2, and it wasn’t the right direction. I didn’t get the most out of it. I definitely had a lot of slides and wasn’t clean. I think just putting a clean lap together would have been good to transfer, and we just didn’t do the job. It makes our program a little harder for tomorrow, but we’ve still got to go for the win with the Hitachi Chevy boys. Yeah, we can we from there. We just made it a little harder.”
RINUS VEEKAY (No. 21 SONAX Chevrolet): “That was a little stressful between sessions. I had a really good lap to advance. In Round 2, I made a little correction in the las t corner, which cost me about a tenth of a second. I think I could have made it if that didn’t happen, but that’s racing. Starting ninthis still pretty good . I’m happy with the SONAX Chevy, and I cannot wait to send it tomorrow.”
OLIVER ASKEW (No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet): “I haven’t been in an Indy car in a bit over a month, so I was a bit rusty. But it was great to be back here at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Big shoutout to everyone at INDYCAR and Green Savoree for making this event happen. To have it as a season finale is pretty incredible. It’s a home race for me, and I’ll have some family out here tomorrow that I hope to put on a good show for them and Arrow McLaren SP in my final race.”
CONOR DALY (No. 20 U.S. Air Force Chevrolet): “An interesting qualifying session for us. We thought we were in, we didn’t know we were in, we didn’t know we were out, and then we were out. We’re starting 14th, which is OK. We need a little but more out of the car, and I need to deliver the right information to help us get there. We can have a good day tomorrow, for sure. We just have to stay in the fight, move forward and use some good strategy. We have definitely made progress with the U.S. Air Force Chevrolet, and I am looking forward to tomorrow!”
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “The first qualifying session the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda felt pretty good. We just didn’t piece it together that well. We flip flopped how we did it in the first run. In the first run we did three laps on blacks and four on reds. We thought the reds came in quick enough, but then with how the traffic was and having to slow down, there were really only two laps. The car was getting more grip in each corner, but we needed another lap. It is what it is. I think we’re starting P11 now and Newgarden is in P8. That definitely helps us a lot with him not qualifying on pole and getting extra points. We will keep working hard. We’ve got a warmup session in the morning and we’re going to see what we can make of it.”
MARCUS ERICSSON (No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “I think practice was pretty good. We got a lot of laps in and a good read on the car. I was pretty happy going into qualifying. Then I think we had a good qualifying session , and everything went according to plan. However, it’s super disappointing to miss out on advancing by less than a tenth of a second. This is disappointing because I felt like we had a good car and drove well. We have a bit of work to do tomorrow.”
SANTINO FERRUCCI (No. 18 SealMaster Honda): “It was a very interesting first day for the SealMaster Honda team. We have a better race car than a qualifying car. We’re struggling to break into the top 10. I’m struggling. I’ve been bouncing the car off the wall multiple times in both practice and qualifying. We’re not extracting the best out of the lap time. We’ve just got to tidy it up for tomorrow, and we’ll be fine.”
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “An unfortunate result. Coming out of practice we went and completely switched the setup over to some of our teammates’ (setups). We had a pretty good running going to advance, and the rear of the car broke loose in Turn 5. We were only looking for two-tenths of a second, and that was enough to lose that gap. Unfortunately, we are going to start in a spot that is less than ideal, but we will get creative to make it to the front.”
CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 4 Tresiba / AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “It’s nice to be back with fans and nice to be back at St. Pete. It feels strange to be ending the season here and running our last qualifying of the year instead of our first qualifying of the year. It is nice to be back at a street circuit because that’s one of the places where INDYCAR really shines. Man, it’s really tight here at St. Pete. We were just within a couple tenths of advancing the No. 4 Tresiba Chevrolet into the top 12, I think it was something like .3 of a percent we were off – really small – but there is definitely room to improve the car, and we’ll do that overnight and be ready to go racing tomorrow. There’s always a little bit of chaos that seems to happen here at St. Pete, and we’ll just be ready to take advantage of it.”
SCOTT McLAUGHLIN (No. 3 Shell V-Power Nitro+ Chevrolet): “We were probably better than where we ended up. But I stuffed up my red tire lap – I just need to get used to the grip. It was nice in practice because I had a lot of black tire runs but only got one on the red, and it was the same in qualifying. I’m not making any excuses. With a little more time, we will be OK . I’m disappointed with myself, but it is what it is. It’s tough to learn on a road course and learning the space around you. I’m used to knocking mirrors off on a wall, not necessarily my tire. We are just pushing trying to find our limits in a fast-forward motion. I just need to thank everyone with Shell V-Power Nitro +, Team Penske and everyone. We will have a go at it tomorrow.”
SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): “I’m sure happy. The Menards Chevrolet has been really good all day long. We’ve made some big improvement, which is encouraging for 2021. In that last session, Dixon was in front of me the whole run. So we were stuck behind him, and I had to do my laps. I’ve just not been on the right side of the stick this year in qualifying. We had a car fast enough for the Fast Six, no question, but Dixon was the slowest car on the track.”
ALEX PALOU (No. 55 Guaranteed Rate Honda): “Practice this morning went really well, but I think our result was maybe a bit better than the actual pace of our Guaranteed Rate Honda. Qualifying was difficult because we didn’t really get the ultimate lap because of traffic and then the red flag at the end. We were missing, I think, a tenth from making it into the next round. I’m a bit upset about that, but we should be fine for the race tomorrow. The car is better than where we are starting , and hopefully we can finish in the top 10 again. I really like the St. Petersburg street course.It’s different from what I’m most used to, and with limited practice time it makes it tough to learn the track and see the limits, but it’s been fun so far.”
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 United Rentals Honda): “We didn’t perform very well today. In the first practice, we didn’t get a run on the reds. It’s my fault. I wanted to complete a run on blacks and should have just come in and given ourselves an opportuni ty, and I didn’t do that. And then the red came out and reduced the session. Then we went into qualifying a little blind. I think we had enough speed. I pushed it really hard into Turn 1 on Lap 2, got four wheels locked up and about went around, and it really hurt us. I’m going to take this one on the chin, and we’re going to move on. Tomorrow’s going to be a tough day from where we start, but I think my second-best finish here of second place, I started second-to-last, so anything can happen.It’s 100 laps, and there is going to be plenty of excitement tomorrow. Let’s try to finish this thing off strong.”
FELIX ROSENQVIST (No. 10 NTT DATA Honda): “I thought the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda felt good. I had a bit of traffic on my laps, but I put a decent lap together to get us through. Then unfortunately we got penalized because we blocked the No. 55 car, which our software told us that he was on his out lap, but he wasn’t. Obviously, we trust the software that INDYCAR provides us, but it showed us the wrong thing, and we paid the price for it. It’s tough because thesame thing happened to us last year at Laguna. It is what it is.”
TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Panasonic / Mi-Jack Honda): “I brushed the wall. It was my mistake. Since the field was so tight, little things bit us. We made quite a few small changes on the car, which we felt was positive, but then putting everything together (in one lap) is always tough business. A small mistake made us not be able to transfer to the next round, so that was a shame. We are going in a positive direction, though , and have the warm-up session to continue to improve the car. We will look at the data tonight, and I think we can move forward in tomorrow’s warm-up.”