Race: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
Date: March 12, 2017
No. 1 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet – Simon Pagenaud
Laps Completed: 110/110
Laps Led: 13
Points Position: 2nd (-12 pts.)
Recap: For the superstitious, Simon Pagenaud’s start to the 2017 season was a good omen as he brought the No. 1 PPG Automotive Refinish Chevrolet home in second place just as he did a season ago when he ultimately captured the series championship. A subpar qualifying performance on Saturday pushed Pagenaud to the rear of the field for a Sunday start in the 14th position. A Lap 1 incident involving Charlie Kimball and Graham Rahal opened the door for Pagenaud to quickly to crack the top 10. Following pit stops during the first caution of the day at Lap 26, Pagenaud claimed the lead and held it until eventual race winner Sebastien Bourdais made his way past on Lap 37. The No. 1 team saved a new set of Firestone alternate red tires for Pagenaud’s final stint of the race, but it was not quite enough for the reigning champ to catch Bourdais. Pagenaud was able to trim the lead to just over a second, but the aggressive driving elevated the tire temperatures on the PPG Chevy and accelerated the degradation on the Firestones. At the finish, Pagenaud crossed the line just over 10 seconds behind Bourdais for his fourth consecutive top-five result at St. Petersburg. With 13 laps led in the race, Pagenaud has led a lap in 14 of the last 18 INDYCAR races.
Quote: “All in all, I’m happy with the results. After qualifying, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but my PPG Chevy team showed why they are champions by figuring out how to get more speed out of the car. These cars are so precise and certain things change year-to-year. That can be upsetting. I’m not entirely sure how I got through that thing on the first lap. I just relied on my instinct and it worked out. I admit that I felt a little rusty earlier in the weekend but it was a lot better today. We started with a second here last year, so maybe that’s a good omen. We’ve got another test before Long Beach, so we’ll be ready to go when we get to California.”
No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet – Josef Newgarden
Laps Completed: 110/110
Laps Led: 0
Points Position: 8th (-29 pts.)
Recap: Josef Newgarden made an auspicious debut behind the wheel of the No. 2 Verizon Dallara/Chevrolet on Sunday afternoon at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The talented young American driver was caught off-sequence by an early yellow flag and fought from behind all afternoon long, before eventually coming home in eighth place. Newgarden started fourth in his Team Penske debut and slotted into sixth early on. Knowing that pit strategy would be the key to victory on the tight St. Pete street course, Newgarden and race strategist Tim Cindric began planning accordingly. However, an early yellow flag in the middle of the first round of pit stops shuffled the field, leaving Newgarden to fight from the back after several cars were able to stay out on track having pitted under green before the caution. For the remainder of the race, Newgarden tried to make up ground while running anywhere from eighth to 12th position as the No. 2 Verizon team looked for another caution flag to allow their strategy to come back around. Unfortunately, the race ran under the green flag to the finish and Newgarden was able to secure an eighth-place result – his top career effort at St. Pete. After one race, Newgarden sits eighth in the Verizon IndyCar Series point standings, 29 points behind leader Sebastien Bourdais.
Quote: “It was a good day for the Team Penske Verizon Chevrolet. We were a top-five car –maybe even a podium car. The yellows just didn’t fall our way and we found ourselves caught out during that first stint. Tim (Cindric) was going to bring me in, but we had just passed pit lane as the caution came out. I’ve been caught out by those type of yellows before and I’ve been the beneficiary of those type of yellows. That is the risk in this type of racing and sometimes it’s just the way it all plays outs. A top-10 is not ideal, but it could have been worse. We finished the race and learned a lot. I feel like it’s a good starting point for our team. It’s nice to get this first race under our belt and out of the way. It’s been a great first weekend with the team. We got what we needed out of it.”
No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet – Helio Castroneves
Laps Completed: 110/110
Laps Led: 0
Points Position: 6th (-25 pts.)
Recap: Helio Castroneves started Sunday’s race from the 16th position in his No. 3 Hitachi Chevrolet but was able to rally to a sixth-place finish on the Streets of St. Petersburg. Early on in the event, the No. 3 Hitachi Chevrolet suffered damage as it collided with the No. 15 car of Graham Rahal and had to pit for repairs. Castroneves came in on Lap 3 to replace the front wing but the stop was further delayed as a hose was caught under the car, lengthening his exit from the pits. On Lap 20, the car came in for a simple tire change and to add fuel. The three-time Indianapolis 500 and St. Pete winner returned to pit lane on Lap 50 for black Firestone tires and fuel. On his final pit stop of the day with 30 laps remaining, the No. 3 car was equipped with red tires and fuel. A quick stop helped Castroneves beat Marco Andretti off pit road to fuel his sixth-place finish. Castroneves has now finished sixth or better in his last six career races at St. Pete.
Quote: “For someone who started 16th and finished sixth, it’s pretty darn good. The No. 3 Hitachi Chevrolet boys did an excellent job. We had a little bit of luck and no luck. There was an accident that could have helped us out to finish on the podium, but we unfortunately got a piece in our nose so we had to take it off and stop again. Great job for everyone with Team Penske and the Hitachi group, especially on the pit stop when we were able to beat Marco [Andretti] in the end so that we could finish in the sixth position. Well done. Now, we move on to the next.”
No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet – Will Power
Laps Completed: 99/110 (mechanical)
Laps Led: 5
Points Position: 17th (-40 pts.)
Recap: The Streets of St. Petersburg took their toll on Will Power and the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet team on Sunday as the former series champion saw his race end prematurely. Power battled through several issues – including engine trouble late – to finish a disappointing 19th in the Verizon IndyCar Series season opener. Power started the race from the pole – his seventh pole in the last eight races at St. Pete and the 45th of his career – but he had problems early when he locked up the brakes on the first lap, flat spotting his right front tire. The issue caused a vibration that got worse, as the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet was forced to the pits on lap 15. A penalty for running over an air hose caused Power to serve a drive-through penalty on pit lane and he dropped to 18th in the running order. However, a timely caution flag caught over half of the field out before they had made their first pit stops, which cycled Power back toward the front. For the rest of the afternoon, Power continued to try and make up ground during green flag racing while running a different pit strategy than most of the field. Bad luck struck once again though, on lap 93, when the No. 12 experienced engine issues and Power started losing positions. The team made several pit stops to try and diagnose the issue, but Power eventually had to retire early on lap 99 of the 110-lap race. It marked the second consecutive year that the two-time St. Pete race winner was unable to finish at the venue, after illness brought an early end to his weekend last season.
Quote: “We locked up the right front there on the start and that caused a big vibration. We talked about coming in during that first yellow but that would have put us in a bad situation. We were able to make it long enough to a good lap number before we came in, then we got a pit road penalty. We still came out of that OK and it was going to be a P3 or P4 kind of day. Then we just ended up having some engine issues and that took us out of contention. It was a typical St. Pete race for me for the last few years. That’s not the way we wanted to start the season in the Verizon Chevy, but that’s how it goes.”
Next Race: The Verizon IndyCar Series heads west to California for the second race of the season, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, April 7-9. Race coverage will begin at 4 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network and the IndyCar Radio Network.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!