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.