A. J. Foyt Enterprises continued its strong start to the first weekend of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season as Takuma Sato headed the timesheets in the warm-up for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Sato topped the final 30 minutes of practice ahead of Sunday’s race with a best lap of 1:01.2361 to beat Graham Rahal by just 0.0001 seconds for P1.
Sato and teammate Jack Hawksworth showed a good pace throughout practice, and will start the 110 lap race from P11 and P10 respectively later today.
It proved to be a somewhat uneventful session until the finish when 2015 St. Petersburg winner Juan Pablo Montoya crashed his Penske at Turn 7, ending the session under a red flag and leaving his crew with plenty to repair ahead of the race later today.
It proved to be the latest in a series of setbacks for Penske, who may be without pole-sitter Will Power for the race later today as he continues to struggle with illness.
Oriol Servia deputized for Power in the no. 12 Verizon Team Penske car in warm-up, finishing the session in ninth place. By completing the session he is now eligible to race should he be required.
Spencer Pigot’s continued to learn from his mistakes on his debut IndyCar weekend, causing a red flag seven minutes into the session when he came to a stop in the run-off area. Once the recovery team had got the car back going again, Pigot was able to return to the pits before continuing in the session under green.
Josef Newgarden finished as the top Chevrolet-powered driver in third place ahead of Marco Andretti and Scott Dixon, while Simon Pagenaud led Penske’s charge in sixth. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports drivers Mikhail Aleshin and James Hinchcliffe both made the top 10 despite suffering spins, and were joined by Sebastien Bourdais who finished eighth.
Helio Castroneves narrowly missed out on the top 10, finishing 11th ahead of Tony Kanaan and Montoya. Charlie Kimball ended the session 14th in front of Luca Filippi and debutant Alexander Rossi, the latter being the top rookie in the session.
Conor Daly bounced back from an early engine issue to finish 17th ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay and Pigot, while Max Chilton, Jack Hawksworth and Carlos Munoz rounded out the bottom three places at the checkered flag.
The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is due to go green at 12:52 ET on Sunday.
Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.
There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.
Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.
Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.
By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.
With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.
This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.
Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.
Two privateers have started the season on a high note.
Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.
The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.
Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.
In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.