PREVIEW: 2020 NTT IndyCar Series – St. Petersburg

6 Mins read
Credit: Joe Skibinski / Courtesy of IndyCar

The start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series is just a few days away now! The 2020 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will take place this Sunday, with the teams and drivers of this year’s IndyCar grid hoping to kick the year off in the best possible way to lay the foundations for a good season.

The 1.8-mile Florida street circuit provides a tight and technical challenge right out of the gate for the drivers. This could be made even trickier this time around, as this Sunday’s race will be the first-ever IndyCar race with the new aeroscreen canopy fitted to the cars.

Here, we will get you up to date with who to watch in this year’s Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and what to look out for in general. To get totally up to speed with everything you need to know ahead of the season-opening race, make sure to check out our 2020 NTT IndyCar season preview.

What happened in 2019 in St. Petersburg?

Qualifying for last year’s season-opening race was somewhat a case of ‘business as usual’ in St. Petersburg. Team Penske‘s Will Power would take pole position at St. Petersburg for the eighth time in his career and the eighth time within the last ten years; an astonishing run of dominance.

The race, however, would be a different story for Will. He would lead for the opening laps of the race, but when Sebastien Bourdais stopped with a mechanical issue early on, Penske would pit Power from the lead in anticipation of an incoming caution. This caution would not come, thus putting Power on a disadvantaged, off-sequence strategy for the remainder of the race.

Power regained the lead later on when a caution did finally come out, prompting the rest of the field to pit whilst he stayed out. However, his now older tyres than those around him would cost him the lead to the rookie, Felix Rosenqvist, at the restart.

Rosenqvist would defy his lack of experience and lead much of the mid-stages of the race. However, a slow pit-stop toward the end of the race would cost him any chance of a victory or podium on his debut.

It was arguably during the penultimate pit-stop sequence that the race would be all but won. The planned strategy for most of the front-runners was to fit the primary, longer-lasting, Firestone tyres for the remaining two pit-stops to ensure they could comfortably get to the end of the race.

Penske, however, had a different idea for Josef Newgarden. They would fit him with the faster, alternate tyre compound, thus allowing him to negotiate traffic a little easier and to take the lead soon after. Josef would build up a ten-second advantage whilst the rest of the front-runners were stuck behind drivers who had yet to pit. What’s more, Newgarden was able to miraculously make his tyres last just as long as his rivals, with Josef pitting just one lap before the rest of the leaders came in for their final stops.

In the end, Newgarden would cross the line to take the win in St. Petersburg with an advantage of just over two seconds between himself and the reigning series champion, Scott Dixon, in second place. Dixon had been slowly closing in on Newgarden during the last stint of the race, but Josef’s advantage after the final pit-stop was too much to overcome.

The final spot on the podium would go the way of the pole-sitter, Will Power, with Felix Rosenqvist finishing just off of the podium in his first-ever NTT IndyCar Series race.

You can read the full qualifying and race report from last year’s race in St. Petersburg by following the links below: 

Credit: Chris Owens / Courtesy of IndyCar

What should I look out for this weekend?

This weekend’s Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be the first time in history that IndyCar will race with the aeroscreen canopy fitted to the cars. Introduced in the wake numerous cockpit safety improvements across the world of single-seater racing, the Aeroscreen is a, so far unique, device to IndyCar racing that stands as an alternative to devices such as Formula 1‘s HALO.

The concept has been tested during the last few years. Its first iteration was tested at Phoenix Raceway in 2018 before the design was radically altered by Red Bull Advanced Technologies to include a HALO-style framework. This was tested a number of times throughout the last year before its race debut this weekend.

Testing is one thing, but racing is a whole different thing. This weekend will be the first time that the drivers will compete with the aeroscreen. Whilst there have been next to no major complaints so far with the device, this weekend is where the drivers will discover any issues with visibility, heat or any other kind of aspect in a racing scenario.

Moving onto the drivers that you should keep an eye on this weekend, where better to start than with the driver that is not only the reigning series champion but also the defending winner at St. Petersburg. Josef Newgarden’s aforementioned victory twelve months ago was the perfect blend of a superb strategy and a driver able to complete that strategy perfectly.

Josef’s title last year was largely down to his consistently high finishes at virtually every race. If he wants to successfully defend his title against a grid of hugely talented drivers, he will want the best start to the year that he can get; which will mean he won’t be targeting anything other than a victory.

As we mentioned earlier, Newgarden’s team-mate, Will Power, has an incredible qualifying record on the streets of St. Petersburg. Eight pole positions in the last ten years is a testament to how well he gets on with the tricky circuit. However, despite starting on pole position eight times, Power has only won at St. Petersburg on two prior occasions. The last few years, in particular, have seen Power desperately unlucky in Florida, with a poor strategy call costing him a shot at the win last year and an opening lap spin after starting on pole position putting him deep in the field back in 2018.

Power will undoubtedly feel some kind of pressure heading into 2020 after yet another lacklustre season. The pace to fight for the title was there for most of the year, but the luck and execution in the races were notably absent on more than one occasion. After a decent end to the year – with two victories in the last four races – Power will be hoping to carry the momentum into 2020 to start his season as he means to go on.

Another driver who had the pace but not the luck to win twelve months ago is Felix Rosenqvist. Felix defied his rookie status to lead much of the race last year, with only a slow pit-stop costing him in the fight for the win. This time around, Felix will have the same speed but also the experience of both the series and the race track. After coming so close to getting his first win at Mid-Ohio last year, will the first race of his sophomore season see Felix stand on the top step of the podium?

If Rosenqvist wants a shot at the victory, it is fairly likely that he will have to fight Colton Herta in the process. Colton’s race at St. Petersburg was damaged before he even started twelve months ago after a penalty in qualifying cost him a spot in the shootout for pole position. Now, with two victories under his belt and basically a full-on Andretti Autosport car underneath him, Herta could have a real shot at the title this year. If he wants to do so, he’ll be hoping to be in contention this weekend.

Lastly, keep an eye on the battle of the newcomers to IndyCar racing this weekend. The battle for the rookie of the year title this season will be between three full-time drivers: Arrow McLaren SP‘s Oliver Askew, Dale Coyne Racing with Team GOH‘s Alex Palou and Ed Carpenter Racing‘s Rinus VeeKay. Both Askew and VeeKay have experience racing at St. Petersburg from their time in Indy Lights, whilst Palou will come in having never raced on the Florida streets before. Last year’s rookie title came down to the wire at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, so every point will be crucial in the battle of the young guns.

Credit: Jonathan Ferrey (Getty Images) / Courtesy of IndyCar

What is the schedule for the weekend?

Friday 13 March

10:45 ET / 16:45 GMT – Practice one
15:00 ET / 20:00 GMT – Practice two

Saturday 14 March

10:45 ET / 16:45 GMT – Practice three
14:40 ET / 19:40 GMT – Qualifying

Sunday 15 March

15:00 ET / 20:00 GMT – Race

Where can I watch the 2020 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg?

As a part of the IndyCar’s UK coverage deal, both qualifying and the race will be broadcasted live on Sky Sports F1.

In the United States, television coverage for qualifying and the race will be shown on NBCSN.

Further coverage of practice will be provided in the United States by NBC Sports Gold.

How can I keep up to date with all the race action?

If you cannot make it to St. Petersburg for this weekend’s race, you can keep up to date with all the action across the weekend right here at The Checkered Flag. We will have coverage of this weekend’s practice, qualifying and race sessions.

Be sure to also follow IndyCar on Twitter – @IndyCar – for live updates throughout the event.

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Reporter from the East of England. Covering the NTT IndyCar Series for The Checkered Flag. Also an eSports racing driver on iRacing.
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