Josef Newgarden has taken victory in the opening race of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series, the 2019 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The Team Penske driver benefitted from a fantastic strategy call by his engineer to get into the lead of the race during the mid-stages, a lead that he would not relinquish for the remainder of the event.
Reigning series champion Scott Dixon tried his best to reel in Newgarden in the closing stages, but his efforts were to no avail. He finished in second place, with pole-sitter Will Power taking the final spot on the podium. Rookie Felix Rosenqvist led many laps on-route to secure fourth place on debut.
Stunning track conditions greeted the twenty-four drivers for the start of the 2019 IndyCar season. Pole-sitter Will Power used his grid spot to his advantage, sprinting off to an early lead at the drop of the green flag. The field bunched up in the positions behind, with Rosenqvist soaking up the pressure of the veterans around him to not only hold onto his position but to also pass Josef Newgarden into turn one and take second place.
The opening stages of the race saw most drivers maintain position and get into a rhythm after lap one. Power maintained his lead, but Rosenqvist defied his experience to close up to the back of the former-champion at the front.
Power held the lead until his first stop of the race, which came around a little prematurely on lap thirteen. Sebastien Bourdais, winner of the last two races at St. Pete, was forced to retire from the race with a mechanical issue, which led to Penske opting to pit Power just in case a caution came out. Sadly for Power, no caution would come, with Will now in an unfavourable circumstance having pitted several laps before the optimum strategy would have wanted.
The rest of the field would pit later on, but a caution would fly soon after when Ryan Hunter-Reay‘s Andretti Autosport engine expired. On the restart, Power, with slightly more used tyres, would get out of shape when getting on the power out of the final corner. This allowed Rosenqvist to dive up the inside into turn one, locking up in the process but still managing to hold on and take away the lead of the race.
Power tried to re-pass Rosenqvist, but the Swede would soon break away from the field. It was a stunning middle portion of the race for Felix, leading for an extended period until a slow pit-stop later in the race would see him lose positions.
Whilst Rosenqvist was not having the best penultimate pit-stop, Penske was giving Newgarden what would ultimately be the best strategy call of the race. The rest of the leaders opted for the longer-lasting but slower primary tyre compound, but Newgarden instead pitted for the alternate, faster tyres. Newgarden, crucially, had pitted a few laps later than his rivals, which ended up being a fantastic call, as the likes of Power and Dixon had been stuck behind Marco Andretti on an alternate strategy.
Newgarden took the lead of the race and went on to pull out a lead of almost ten seconds whilst his rivals continued to try and pass Andretti. Dixon would finally clear Marco, but he had a lot of work to do in the closing stages to try and catch Josef out front.
Josef would put in a stunning penultimate stint to stay on the higher-degrading tyres for just as much time as those on the primary times. What’s more, he kept his lap-times right up there with those around him throughout the stint. As a result, when Josef pitted for one last time, his rivals only stayed out one further lap before joining him.
For the final thirty laps stint, all of the leaders were on the same tyres. Dixon started to reel in Newgarden with the aid of lapped traffic, but once both hit clear air in the closing stages, Newgarden stabilised the gap once more.
In the end, Newgarden would cross the line at the end of lap one-hundred and ten to take the chequered flag with a 2.9-second lead over Scott Dixon. For Josef, it would be the first time that he has won on the streets of St. Petersburg and it would be the best start possible for the 2017 champion.
Prior to the race, Newgarden had told the media that the pressure was on himself and his team-mates to do well, given how well Penske has recently been performing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship. The win for Josef will undoubtedly please the captain, Roger Penske, with his team showing that they are fast no matter where they are racing.
Reigning champion Scott Dixon would have to settle for second place, but the New Zealander will undoubtedly be happy to leave the opening weekend with a decent haul of points; getting his potential championship defending year off to a solid start.
Pole-sitter Will Power would take the final spot on the podium for Penske. The Australian admitted post-race that his potential run for the win had been curtailed after his early first pit-stop. His problems were compounded when he dropped behind Felix Rosenqvist, but nevertheless, the Australian will be happy to have finished the race without incident this time around.
Arguably the star of the race was Ganassi’s Felix Rosenqvist. Felix had a lot of pressure thrust upon him in the lead up to his debut, with many people up and down the paddock citing the Swede as a potential one to watch given his reputation within the Ganassi camp.
Felix stated prior to the race that a top-five finish would be a great result for him. He would take the chequered flag in fourth place, having impressively led over thirty laps in the middle of the race. His pass to take the lead from Will Power was also sensational. Considering this is his first race, Felix will undoubtedly be one to watch as he continues to get to grips with IndyCar racing.
Andretti’s Alexander Rossi drove a somewhat quiet race to take fifth place. The Californian said post-race that might have had a chance at challenging Rosenqvist for fourth had he not been held up by the lapped Carlin Chevrolet of Max Chilton. Arrow Schmidt Peterson‘s James Hinchcliffe would finish just behind in a decent sixth place, with Penske’s Simon Pagenaud driving a solid race to finish in seventh after starting down in thirteenth.
Another decent performance came from Harding Steinbrenner Racing‘s rookie, Colton Herta. The American was forced to start eleventh after a penalty during qualifying on Saturday. The American teenager had a quiet beginning to the race as he settled into a rhythm, but in the closing stages, Colton was able to break into the top ten and finish in an eventual eighth place.
Just behind Herta was fellow rookie Santino Ferrucci. The American Dale Coyne Racing driver made up the most positions of anyone during the race, moving up fourteen spots from his qualifying position of twenty-third to a race finish of ninth. Another young gun finished in the final spot inside the top ten. Meyer Shank Racing‘s Jack Harvey impressed many on Saturday by qualifying in seventh place. The British driver put in a great effort to take tenth place, his best finish in IndyCar to date.
Spencer Pigot would finish just outside of the top ten for Ed Carpenter Racing. He was the final car to finish on the lead lap, with Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti the first cars classified a lap-down.
Further back, Carlin had a tough end to the race. The British team had been running up near the top ten with Charlie Kimball for much of the race, but a late pit-stop for a front-wing change would relegate the American to a seventeenth-place finish, just behind his team-mate, Max Chilton, in sixteenth place.
It was a decent debut weekend for DragonSpeed and Ben Hanley. The team finished the race two laps down on the leaders, but they will be thankful to have gotten a race distance under their belts in their first weekend. Hanley was the final driver running at the chequered flag.
Six drivers failed to make it to the end of the race. Bourdais and Hunter-Reay were the most notable retirements, with both likely to be hugely disappointed after what could have been a much better weekend. They were soon joined in retirement by Ed Jones and Matheus Leist, with Jones having hit the wall before being collected by Leist in the middle stages of the race.
Before the chequered flag flew, Marcus Ericsson and Takuma Sato would join the list of retirements. Both drivers would suffer mechanical issues that would see them bring their cars back to pit-road.
The NTT IndyCar Series will be back in action in two weeks time for the championships first race at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. The race will take place on Sunday, March 24.
2019 NTT IndyCar Series – Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – Race results:
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