After being involved in the first-lap wreck at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, Colton Herta rebounded in the best way possible by converting a pole position into a clinical race win in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, his first street course win in the NTT IndyCar Series and Andretti Autosport‘s first on the Streets of St. Petersburg since 2013. Josef Newgarden, who was also involved in that wreck at Barber Motorsports Park last weekend, finished in second place, while his Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud finished off a fantastic weekend with a third place finish.
Herta lead the field to green and kept the top spot as every car funneled through turn 1 without issue. Fifth place starter Sebastien Bourdais had minor contact with the rear ends of Newgarden and Pagenaud that put a hole in his nose, but it was not enough to significantly impact his performance and he continued on. Almost immediately, Herta began to gap second-place Jack Harvey, building a 2 second gap by lap 8. The top four (Herta, Harvey, Newgarden and Pagenaud) spaced themselves out from the rest of the pack, ho were closely packed through the rest of the field.
On lap 16, Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Jimmie Johnson locked up his right front tyre and went off track at the hairpin turn 13, making light contact with the tyre barrier. No caution was thrown right away, as Johnson was stopped in first gear and trying to reverse. Some drivers took advantage of this and quickly made pit stops, including the likes of Will Power, Romain Grosjean, Felix Rosenqvist, Scott McLaughlin and more, before the caution finally came out on lap 17.
The race restarted on lap 22, and once again everyone made it through turn 1 cleanly. The next lap however, Takuma Sato made wheel to wheel contact with James Hinchcliffe, immediately cutting down the right front tyre of the “Mayor of Hinchtown” while battling for twelfth place. The subsequent pit stop for Hinchcliffe put him one lap down.
While Herta streaked away at the front of the pack, Harvey’s red-wall option tyres began to wear out, and he was soon passed by Newgarden on lap 31 who was racing on the black-wall primary tyres. Harvey continued to hang on to third place, but held up Pagenaud and the rest of the field until his pit stop on lap 34. On lap 35, Herta pit from the lead for the primary tyres, and Newgarden followed with the same strategy. After pit stops cycled through, both drivers reclaimed their original positions.
By staying out to lap 36, Pagenaud was able to jump Harvey with an overcut to take third place. Alexander Rossi, who also pit that lap, was not so fortunate. Having worked himself up into the top ten after starting eleventh, he made contact with Graham Rahal entering turn 4 on his out lap. Rahal dived to Rossi’s inside, and his front wing punctured Rossi’s right front tyre sending both straight-on at turn 5. Neither car hit the wall and no caution was thrown, but once again Rossi was on the bad side of lady luck and finished the race twenty-first, while Rahal finished fifteenth.
From there on, the second stint was smooth sailing for Herta, who built up a gap of over 6.5 seconds to Newgarden in second place. On lap 64, Rinus Veekay was the first to make his second and final pit stop of the day, and soon the leaders followed. On lap 68, Herta pit for primary tyres, while Newgarden was forced to put on fresh option tyres, as he had not used them at all to this point in the race. After the pit stops cycled through, Herta once again took back his lead with Newgarden behind.
The long green flag run finally came to an end as Jimmie Johnson brought out another caution with 27 laps to go, going wide in turn three and spinning. The 7-time NASCAR Cup Series champion kept his car off the wall, but did not have the afternoon he was looking for. He finished twenty-second.
This caution erased Herta’s near ten-second gap to Newgarden, who had the most seconds remaining of push to pass boost in the field and was on the faster option tyre. With 24 laps to go, the race went back to green and Herta kept his lead into turn 1. Just when Herta thought he was safe, another caution was put out with 21 laps to go. Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan driver Ed Jones made contact with Hinchcliffe into turn 4, and was then rear-ended by a passing Patricio O’Ward. All parties were able to keep racing after the incident, with Jones finishing twentieth and Hinchcliffe eighteenth. O’Ward, who started in sixth place, had a weekend to forget as he struggled with pace and overboost issues. The young Mexican driver finished the race sandwiched between Jones and Hinchcliffe in nineteenth.
With 17 laps to go Newgarden was given one more shot to make a move on Herta, and he once again did not make it in turn 1. Herta was then able to cruise to the victory, leading all but three laps of the entire event. Newgarden held his spot and finished in second place, while Pagenaud came home in third to complete a great weekend in a beautiful gold-wrapped livery.
Harvey came home in fourth place with an incredible effort for Meyer Shank Racing, a great result for a team in their second full year of competition. Not to mention he held off reigning series champion Dixon, who finished in fifth. The Iceman was a beneficiary of Rossi’s accident as well as a good pit stop to move up from the fringes of the top ten.
Despite his contact with Hinchcliffe early, Sato tore through the field to finish sixth after starting the event in fifteenth. With both Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing co-owners at the track, the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner gave his team a result to be very proud of.
Marcus Ericsson, like Sato, worked his way up from a sixteenth place start to finish in seventh, his third consecutive top ten finish dating back to last season. The Swede was the last Ganassi car in the top ten, as points leader Alex Palou struggled to a seventeenth place finish.
The biggest mover of the weekend was Power, who made up twelve positions from his twentieth place starting spot to finish in eighth place. His incredible effort to work back into the top ten was enough to keep him second in the points standings, now tied with Dixon at 65 points.
Rinus Veekay finished the race in ninth place, unable to recover positions after a serious lock-up on the first restart. This would not stop the young Ed Carpenter Racing driver from finishing in the top ten, and keeping St. Petersburg resident Bourdais behind him as he finished tenth.
The rookies had fairly decent showings, as McLaughlin had an impressive run just outside the top ten, finishing eleventh. McLaughlin finished twenty-second last year at this track, and the New Zealand native will be happy with his improvement on that result. Grosjean finished the race in thirteenth, fighting a steering issue after contact with the wall in turn 10 early in the race.
Although he struggled this race, Palou still holds the championship lead with 67 points. Herta’s win skyrocked him up the points to fourth with 62 points, behind the tie of Power and Dixon. Pagenaud’s great weekend put him fifth in the points now with 54 points.
There is no time for the drivers to rest yet, as the series will be on-track for the third weekend in a row on 1-2 May for the Genesys 300 and Xpel 375 doubleheader event at Texas Motor Speedway.
Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Final Results
|1||26||Colton Herta||USA||Andretti Autosport||01:51:51.411|
|2||2||Josef Newgarden||USA||Team Penske||+ 2.493 sec.|
|3||22||Simon Pagenaud||FRA||Team Penske||+ 6.149 sec.|
|4||60||Jack Harvey||ENG||Meyer Shank Racing||+ 8.083 sec.|
|5||9||Scott Dixon||NZL||Chip Ganassi Racing||+ 8.949 sec.|
|6||30||Takuma Sato||JPN||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||+ 11.680 sec.|
|7||8||Marcus Ericsson||SWE||Chip Ganassi Racing||+ 11.939 sec.|
|8||12||Will Power||AUS||Team Penske||+ 13.236 sec.|
|9||21||Rinus VeeKay||NED||Ed Carpenter Racing||+ 13.719 sec.|
|10||14||Sebastien Bourdais||FRA||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||+ 15.995 sec.|
|11||3||Scott McLaughlin (R)||NZL||Team Penske||+ 17.592 sec.|
|12||7||Felix Rosenqvist||SWE||Arrow McLaren SP||+ 18.563 sec.|
|13||51||Romain Grosjean (R)||SUI||Dale Coyne Racing w/ Rick Ware Racing||+ 22.727 sec.|
|14||28||Ryan Hunter-Reay||USA||Andretti Autosport||+ 24.127 sec.|
|15||15||Graham Rahal||USA||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||+ 24.792 sec.|
|16||20||Conor Daly||USA||Ed Carpenter Racing||+ 48.160 sec.|
|17||10||Alex Palou||ESP||Chip Ganassi Racing||+ 1 lap|
|18||29||James Hinchcliffe||CAN||Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport||+ 1 lap|
|19||5||Pato O’Ward||MEX||Arrow McLaren SP||+ 1 lap|
|20||18||Ed Jones||UAE||Dale Coyne Racing w/ Vasser-Sullivan||+ 1 lap|
|21||27||Alexander Rossi||USA||Andretti Autosport||+ 2 laps|
|22||48||Jimmie Johnson (R)||USA||Chip Ganassi Racing||+ 5 laps|
|23||4||Dalton Kellett||CAN||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||Off Course|