IndyCar

PREVIEW: 2022 NTT IndyCar Series – Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

4 Mins read
(Photo Credit: Joe Skibinski / Penske Entertainment / Courtesy of IndyCar)

The 2022 NTT IndyCar Series season is finally upon us, and in less than six months since last season’s thrilling finale in Long Beach the grid looks completely different. Four rookies will be making their first starts in IndyCar, while two return for their first full seasons in the sport. On top of that, plenty of veteran drivers find themselves with new teams. All have their eyes on one prize, the Astor Cup.

But as they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same, and when it comes to starting the IndyCar Series season where better to do it than the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida. Here’s everything you need to know ahead of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR?

Colton Herta dominated last year’s event, taking the pole position and leading all but three laps of the race.

The young American cruised through the first two stints of the race, boasting a gap of over ten seconds to second-place Josef Newgarden. However, a caution with 27 laps to go changed that, as Jimmie Johnson spun in turn three. With the most push to pass boost left of any driver in the field and the faster option tyres, it seemed that this was Newgarden’s opportunity to steal the win, but Herta held strong.

Another caution a few laps later with 21 to go for contact between James Hinchcliffe and Ed Jones, and the restart with 17 laps to go gave Newgarden one more chance to pass Herta into turn one. He wasn’t able to make the move, and Herta sailed to his first win of the season and first career win on a street course. Newgarden finished second, with his Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud third.

(Photo Credit: Chris Jones / Penske Entertainment / Courtesy of IndyCar)

You can read the full race report here.

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR THIS WEEKEND?

First things first are the rookies, six in total. Callum Ilott of Juncos Hollinger Racing and Christian Lundgaard of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing have experience in IndyCar races already having competed last season, but this will be their first time on the streets of St. Pete. For the other four, Devlin DeFrancesco of Andretti Autosport, David Malukas of Dale Coyne Racing, and the teammates Kyle Kirkwood and Tatiana Calderon of A.J. Foyt Enterprises, this will be their first real race weekend in IndyCar. Watching these six young stars adapt to a new track, and for some a new car, will definitely be worth keeping a close eye on.

There are also some series veterans that have found new homes, and will also be adjusting to race weekends in new firesuits. After spending his entire career with Meyer Shank Racing since they joined the sport in 2017, Jack Harvey has made the jump to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Harvey finished fourth at St. Pete last year and started third. When at his best, Harvey is a contender for a top five finish, but has struggled with consistency throughout a full season. He will be searching for that with RLLR this year.

Taking Harvey’s spot is Pagenaud, moving from Penske with his old teammate Helio Castroneves as Penske drops to a three-car operation and MSR grows to two. While this driver lineup feels geared towards another Indianapolis 500 victory, don’t count out these veterans throughout the season. Pagenaud finished third at St. Pete last season and Castroneves has won three times here. They are not a team to sleep on.

Speaking of the Indianapolis 500, two-time winner Takuma Sato left RLLR and now joins Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing, and will serve as a fantastic mentor to the young Malukas as well as being competitive in his own right this season. He fills the spot left by Romain Grosjean, who made the most high-profile driver transfer of the offseason to Andretti Autosport replacing the departing Ryan Hunter-Reay. Grosjean took IndyCar by storm in his rookie year and is ready to take on the full calendar in 2022, and with race engineer Olivier Boisson joining him at Andretti, he might have an easier transition than others. All eyes will be on “the Phoenix” in one of the most competitive cars on the grid.

Alex Palou testing at Sebring International Raceway ahead of the 2022 season. (Photo Credit: James Black / Penske Entertainmet / Courtesy of IndyCar)

Many of last season’s title contending teams remain unchanged. Chip Ganassi Racing retained all four of their drivers from last season, with Jimmie Johnson now moving to a full time schedule. All eyes will be on Alex Palou, who shot to the top of the IndyCar world by winning the championship last season. He needs to hold off the “Iceman” Scott Dixon if he wants to retain his title, who will be looking to win his seventh series title. Marcus Ericsson shouldn’t be overlooked either, finally breaking through for two race wins last season.

Arrow McLaren SP return with the the same lineup and a striking new livery. Pato O’Ward came within reach of the championship last year, and will be a top contender once again. He will look to start the season with a strong finish or even a win. His teammate, Felix Rosenqvist, will certainly be motivated to keep up with his teammate and leave a disappointing 2021 campaign in the past.

Herta ended last season with a sweep of the final two races at Laguna Seca and Long Beach, and will be hoping that momentum carries over into a performance much like the one he had here last year. Herta struggled with consistency in 2021 but has the talent to compete for the title if he can produce strong finishes week after week.

Finally, we come to Team Penske. Despite downsizing to three cars full time, “The Captain” and his crew won’t be any less competitive. Penske has dominated St. Pete with 10 wins total at the track, with Newgarden winning twice in the last three years. Will Power also owns two wins here, and they will be threats for the win, and the championship, this season.

WEEKEND SCHEDULE

Friday 25 February

1540 EST / 2040 GMT – Practice 1

Saturday 26 February

0900 EST / 1400 GMT – Practice 2

1230 EST / 1730 GMT – Qualifying

Sunday 25 April

1200 EST / 1700 GMT – Race

WHERE CAN I WATCH?

Coverage in the UK for qualifying and the race will be provided by Sky Sports F1.

In the United States, coverage for the race will be on NBC. Practice and Qualifying will be shown live on the Peacock streaming service.

HOW CAN I KEEP UP WITH ALL THE ACTION?

You can follow all the all the action here at The Checkered Flag. We will be providing coverage of the practice, qualifying, and race sessions.

You can also follow IndyCar on Twitter (@Indycar) for live updates during the sessions.

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Lifelong sports junkie, currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Hofstra University. Lead writer for Indycar at The Checkered Flag.
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