Wilson, Newgarden make big leaps from qualifying to race in St. Petersburg

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Top movers on Sunday in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg were Justin Wilson of Dale Coyne Racing and Josef Newgarden of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. The pair ended in eighth and ninth in the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series opener.

For both of them though, they probably wished they had qualified a little better.

Wilson started only 16th in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda but made strides in setup in the Sunday morning warmup, ending in eighth after adjustments working with new engineer Michael Cannon.

A methodical move forward saw Wilson eventually end in the same position for the race, but with some greater heights on the running order during pit stop cycles thanks to an off-sequence strategy.

“We made some big improvements in the warm up this morning and I really felt we had a strong car to get after it,” said the English gentle giant also known as “Bad ass.” “The Dale Coyne Racing guys did a great job giving me the clear track early on because the car was fast.

“I was just hoping to get a bit more of a clear track! It seemed really difficult to get by people today,” he added. “With the alternate strategy, we were running hard in clean air and I was just trying to make the most of it. At one stage I was managing fuel, managing tires and managing the brakes, as well as trying to run as fast as I could! So it was a tough balancing act trying not to use up too much of the car early on.”

Wilson tweeted Monday that it was a tough race, but he did quite well.

Newgarden started 22nd and stone last on the field but went into stealth mode during the race. Like Wilson, Newgarden was in his first race with a new engineer in Jeremy Milless.

The Tennessee native told me earlier in the week that he’s a major superhero junkie, and on this occasion the No. 67 Florida Lottery Honda appeared like the Flash – he was a stealth fighter with an invisibility cloak.

He made moves through the field although many weren’t caught on TV. Near the end of the race, he had an opportunity to catch Wilson but was unable to get past due in part to Wilson’s excellent corner exit from the final turn, Turn 14.

“We started really buried in the field. Starting 22nd is not ideal and we had a really tough go on Saturday,” said the third-year driver. “That just put us on the back foot for the race. What we need to do is qualify better and have a better weekend as a whole. We kept fighting; there are a lot of fighters on this team who never give up. We scored a top-10 finish, which is wonderful.”

Wilson’s Coyne teammate, rookie Carlos Huertas, accomplished his main goal of finishing the race. To be honest, the Colombian was one of the drivers that impressed me the most this weekend – he was not out of his depth on track, he kept the car in one piece and was reasonably close to the field considering a substantial lack of testing time.

Verstappen doesn’t want F1 season to end after recent run of form

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Max Verstappen says he is not ready for the 2017 Formula 1 season to come to an end after enjoying a run of strong form through the closing stages of the campaign.

Verstappen endured a rocky run of form through to the end of the European season that saw him suffer a number of reliability issues and score just a single podium finish, taking third in China back in April.

However, the Dutchman has rallied to score more points than any other driver in the last five races, including victories in Malaysia and Mexico, as well as a podium finish in Japan.

Verstappen heads into next weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix chasing a third win of the year to sign off, but joked he does not want the season to end just as he’s got into a good groove.

“We will, of course, try and end the season with a strong result in Abu Dhabi,” Verstappen said. “Last year was actually quite a good race after skipping a pit stop following a spin at Turn 1, it was hard to manage the tires to the end of the race but we did it and finished fourth.

“I would say that my favorite part of the track is at Turns 2 and 3, the fast left, right. It’s also very cool driving underneath the hotel and racing in the darkness with all the lights.

“The final sector at Yas Marina is actually quite technical so you have to be really precise there, but it should also be our strongest part of the track.

“There are quite a few overtaking opportunities to make the race interesting, before the long straight at the hairpin and then at the end of the straight under braking for the next chicane section.

“Abu Dhabi is the last race on the calendar, but I don’t actually want the season to end. I’m really fired up at the moment and I just want to keep going.

“The nice thing will be to spend some time with friends and family over the winter break and then I will look ahead to January and get back into training before it all starts again.”