The 2019 NTT IndyCar Series officially got underway today with the first two practice sessions for this Sunday’s 2019 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Felix Rosenqvist and Ryan Hunter-Reay would be the two drivers that would finish fastest in each session.
The 2018 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg race weekend saw rookies defy all expectations to challenge right at the front. The 2019 race weekend seemed to get off to a similar start.
Chip Ganassi Racing‘s Felix Rosenqvist was one of the early leaders in the first forty-five-minute practice session; with an impressively competitive time given that he set his time very early in the session when the track was at it’s worst in terms of grip levels.
Team Penske‘s Will Power, Andretti Autosport‘s Alexander Rossi and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing‘s Takuma Sato would all have brief spells at the top of the time-sheets later in the session, but it was Rosenqvist who would end the session as the fastest driver after setting a great lap-time of 1:01.8215 just before the final ten minutes.
Ryan Hunter-Reay, the winner of last year’s season-finale at Sonoma Raceway, set the second-fastest time of the session with a lap-time just under two-tenths of a second slower than Rosenqvist. The Andretti Autosport driver was a matter of hundredths of a second faster than Arrow Schmidt Peterson‘s Marcus Ericsson in third place.
The rookies of Rosenqvist and Ericsson’s lap-times may have been helped by the addition of an extra set of Firestone tyres, which are given to all the rookies for the opening practice session. Nevertheless, the lap-times set by the two Swedish drivers demonstrates that both are feeling comfortable in their new surroundings heading into their first race weekend in IndyCar.
Last year’s title rivals, Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi would end the first session in fourth and fifth respectively, with a hundredth of a second separating the pair. Many are already tipping the pair to be the strongest contenders this season.
Takuma Sato was sixth fastest at the end of the session. His team-mate, Graham Rahal, was eighth fastest, with Penske’s Josef Newgarden sandwiched in-between in seventh place. Rahal’s session came to an early end after the American clipped the wall with his left-rear tyre; damaging the toe-link and putting the steering out of alignment.
Andretti’s Zach Veach took the ninth-fastest time, with Penske’s Will Power rounding out the top ten in the session.
Further back, Charlie Kimball put Carlin in fifteenth place in the first session of the British team’s second season of IndyCar. He was just ahead of British driver Jack Harvey in the #60 Meyer Shank Racing Honda. Harding Steinbrenner Racing‘s rookie, Colton Herta, was behind Harvey in the seventeenth position.
Santino Ferrucci set the twenty-first fastest time in the #19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. The rookie may seem quite far down the order, but he was still within a second of the fastest time set by the session-leader Rosenqvist; such is the closeness of the field already.
The final two spots on the leaderboard were occupied by the final two British drivers. Max Chilton was twenty-third fastest for Carlin and was 1.2-seconds slower than the fastest time by Rosenqvist.
Propping up the leaderboard was DragonSpeed‘s, Ben Hanley. The team and driver have only run a handful of shakedown laps prior to arriving at St. Petersburg. This session and the weekend as a whole will seemingly be all about finding the rhythm of IndyCar racing.
It was largely a trouble-free first outing for Hanley, but the British driver was forced to stop out on track at the end of the session after running out of fuel as the team attempted to work out fuel rates. Hanley was nearly collected by Sato as he made his way to the side of the track. Hanley and DragonSpeed would end the session hoping to run even more laps in the second session later in the day.
2019 NTT IndyCar Series – Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – Practice one – top twelve results:
[table id=3697 /]
Full session results can be found by clicking the following link: http://www.imscdn.com/INDYCAR/Documents/5480/2019-03-08/indycar-results-p1.pdf
The cars would head back onto the St. Petersburg street circuit later in the day with a much faster racing surface to greet them. The combination of the earlier practice running and the support series action meant that more rubber had gone onto the track, therefore promising faster lap-times.
Tony Kanaan would be one of the first drivers to set a lap in the #14 A.J. Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet, but soon it was Marco Andretti that would hit the top of the times with a much faster lap-time than the best from the first practice session. Marco was one of the first drivers onto the faster alternate tyre compound, as teams started to shift their focus to qualifying tomorrow.
Toward the end of the session, more and more drivers would head out onto the track on the faster tyre compound. Ultimately, it would be Marco’s team-mate Ryan Hunter-Reay that would take the fastest lap-time of the session, setting a 1:00.8969 – a lap-time very similar to that seen in the same session twelve months ago.
Ed Carpenter Racing‘s Spencer Pigot jumped up to take second place in the final minutes of the session. The American in the #21 Chevrolet is hoping to build off of positive momentum made at the end of last season. He has sometimes struggled on the road course and street circuits in the past, but if he can keep up his pace into the rest of the weekend, that may be about to change.
Marco Andretti would hold on to third place in the session for Andretti Herta, with Colton Herta just a fraction of a tenth slower for Harding Steinbrenner in fourth place.
It was an encouraging session for Carlin. Britain’s Max Chilton would end the session in a strong fifth place, just over two-tenths of a second off of the fastest lap time of the session. His team-mate, Charlie Kimball, was a couple of places further back in eighth place, with Andretti’s Alexander Rossi and Schmidt Peterson’s James Hinchcliffe separating the pair. Of course, it is only practice, but nevertheless, Carlin looks as though they could be much more competitive this year.
Penske’s Will Power and Josef Newgarden would complete the top ten in the session, with RLLR’s Rahal and Sato just outside the top ten in eleventh and twelfth respectively. Chip Ganassi Racing’s duo of Dixon and Rosenqvist were thirteenth and fourteenth.
Marcus Ericsson ended his second practice session in nineteenth place, but he was still within a second of the fastest time set by Hunter-Reay. Just behind him was Meyer Shank Racing’s Jack Harvey in twentieth place and Santino Ferrucci in twenty-first.
It was a difficult session for Andretti’s Zach Veach. The American, entering his sophomore season of IndyCar, seemed to struggle a lot with the braking performance of his #26 Honda, locking-up numerous times and heading into various run-off areas during the forty-five-minute session. He was classified in twenty-third place at the end of the session after complaining that his car felt “all messed up.”
Ben Hanley and DragonSpeed once again propped up the time-sheets. The British driver was one of the first out on track as he and the team continued to pound in lap after lap to get as much data as possible. Hanley was two seconds slower than the next car – twenty-third placed Veach – as the team keep focusing on consistency over pure performance.
One final practice session will take place tomorrow prior to the first qualifying session of the season. In 2018, a rookie took pole position for the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Given performances by the likes of Rosenqvist, Ericsson and Herta today, there is every chance that a young gun could take the fight to the veterans for the first pole position of 2019.
2019 NTT IndyCar Series – Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – Practice two – top twelve results:
[table id=3698 /]
Full session results can be found by clicking the following link: http://www.imscdn.com/INDYCAR/Documents/5481/2019-03-08/indycar-results-p2.pdf