Hawksworth, Filippi score solid top-10s to open season at St. Petersburg

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ST. PETERSBURG – With veteran drivers locking out the top seven positions in Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, it was easy to overlook the younger or lesser- experienced drivers in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

But both Jack Hawksworth and Luca Filippi did an excellent job to end eighth and ninth in their first races with A.J. Foyt Enterprises and CFH Racing, respectively.

Hawksworth started 21st in the No. 41 ABC Supply Co. Honda and was the first driver into the pits for a new wing – an A.J. Foyt team representative confirmed they’re up to five they’ve used thus far this season – after getting caught up in an opening lap skirmish.

And so began the roller coaster ride where Hawksworth, on an alternate strategy, popped in and out of the top three, led five laps and then hung on for eighth after a late-race pit stop to make it to the finish.

Perhaps his craziest moment in the race came on a Lap 53 restart when he led the field back to green, had Sage Karam move underneath him into Turn 1 and then watch as Will Power passed them both to reassume the lead.

“Really fun race, really entertaining,” Hawksworth said post-race. “After the disappointment in qualifying, the guys really worked hard last night and found what was wrong and corrected it and gave me a fast car today.

“We lost the front wing on the first lap, replaced it, then had some contact in the middle of the race and lost an end fence. I didn’t have a clue what was going on out there, I was just pushing like crazy all the way through once we got into clean air because I knew that was going to be important.

“The guys made good stops, got me in clean air and we finished in the top 10 from the back of the grid. I was really happy for the whole ABC Supply team. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy with an eighth-place finish before.”

Filippi, the Italian driver who is confirmed for all 10 road and street courses races in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, had a quiet, uneventful race – which was precisely what he needed after several incidents interrupted his cameo appearances each of the last two years. He started 19th and stealthily snuck up to ninth by the checkered flag.

“I am happy with that,” Filippi said. “Obviously, so many things are new to me. On one hand we want to have good results, on the other hand we know that we have to learn a little before we can really fight for the podium. The team did a great job, they gave me great pit stops and we can build on this. This is a good start for the season, from here I can just get better and better.”

Their respective teammates, Josef Newgarden (CFH Racing) and Takuma Sato (A.J. Foyt Enterprises), both had wing issues that dented their chances and resigned them to 12th and 13th.

Newgarden ran the second half of the race with a broken front wing on his No. 67 Hartman Oil CFH Racing Chevrolet, following contact between Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball on Lap 54. Newgarden ran into the back of Sebastien Bourdais’ car.

After starting fifth as the only Honda in the Firestone Fast Six, Sato’s race came unglued after Lap 33 when he pitted for a new front wing assembly – one provided by Dale Coyne Racing – and was then sent to the rear of the field for a blend line violation.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).