The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season is under way.
Rookie Matheus Leist — at 19, the youngest driver on the circuit this season and pilot for A.J. Foyt Racing — was fastest in the first practice session of the new season, Friday on the temporary street course in St. Petersburg, Florida, in preparation for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
The young Brazilian covered the circuit in 1:01.7231, his best overall lap of 20 that he took during the session. He also was the fastest Chevrolet driver.
Honda took the next five spots: defending Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg winner Sebastien Bourdais (1:01.7719), followed by Ryan Hunter-Reay (1:01.8812), 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi (1:02.0415), Scott Dixon (1:02.0560), rookie Robert Wickens (1:02.1833), 2016 series champ Simon Pagenaud (1:02.2162), Will Power (1:02.3069), Leist’s teammate Tony Kanaan (1:02.3370) and Spencer Pigot (1:02.3565).
11th through 20th were rookie Jordan King (1:02.4112), Graham Rahal (1:02.4569), Ed Jones (1:02.4569), rookie Zachary Claman De Melo (1:02.7376), defending series champ Josef Newgarden was 15th fastest in the field (1:02.9667), followed by Zack Veach (1:02.7902), Jack Harvey (1:02.8416), Marco Andretti (1:02.8843), James Hinchcliffe (1:03.0515) and Max Chilton (1:03.3742).
20th through 24th were Charlie Kimball (1:03.6210), 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato (1:03.6243), Gabby Chaves (1:04.1845) and rookie Rene Binder (1:04.8859).
Taking the most laps were De Melo and Harvey, with 21 laps each.
There was three incidents of note – all minor – in the session.
With just under 23 minutes remaining in the session, and while he had the fastest lap at the time, Kanaan spun coming into Turn 4.
Kanaan, who moved to A.J. Foyt Racing during the offseason after four seasons with Chip Ganassi Racing, was piloting the Chevrolet-powered No. 14 when the rear end broke free.
The car did not make contact with either a wall or another car. The incident brought out the red flag and Kanaan limped his car back to the pits for service.
With about 15:45 left in the session, Hinchcliffe also spun into the run-off area in Turn 10, but quickly got going again.
With just under 10 minutes left, Hunter-Reay spun in Turn 4. But like Kanaan’s spin, there was no contact and Hunter-Reay was able to continue on.
The second IndyCar practice session will start at 3:10 p.m. ET today.
Saturday, there will be a third practice at 11:10 a.m. ET, followed by qualifying at 2:20 p.m. ET.
Sunday, the pre-race warm-up takes place at 8:45 a.m. ET, pre-race ceremonies and driver introductions take place at Noon, with the green flag set to start the season opener at 12:30 p.m. ET.
After thrilling ‘Evel Live,’ Travis Pastrana back in action this weekend
It’s been 2 ½ months since Travis Pastrana channeled his inner Evel Knievel in “Evel Live” in Las Vegas on July 8.
The legendary motorcycle stunt rider and rallycross driver successfully replicated three of Knievel’s most infamous career motorcycle jumps, capped off by jumping – some would call it flying – over the fountain at Caesar’s Palace.
All without a scratch or any type of malfunction.
“It was awesome,” Pastrana told NBC Sports’ MotorSportsTalk in an exclusive interview. “Obviously, to do something live, a live stunt which hasn’t been done, is cool.
“And just the nostalgia, to live a day in Evel Knievel’s boots, literally, was awesome. To have the whole Knievel family out there, his three kids, and my mom and dad all out there, it was just a real awesome day.
“And to have the chance to jump the Caeser’s (Palace) fountain, probably the most infamous and iconic stunt location in the world. All that added up to be a really, really great event and I think it came off really well.”
Pastrana spoke at length about the logistics of setting up the three jumps in two different venues, getting from Point A in one part of Las Vegas to Point B (Caesar’s), and dealing with potential weather concerns.
“That’s the greatest part about Nitro Circus (Pastrana’s company) is having an amazing team so that when an idea like this comes up, we can make it turn into fruition and a possibility,” Pastrana said. “The idea came up less than a year before it was pulled off.
“I couldn’t have been more proud of my team and all the guys there. When we called Caesar’s, we thought for sure they were going to say no. Then they said yes.
“Then we talked to the Knievel family and they said, ‘this is going to be great. Go ahead.’ It was like, be careful for what you ask for because it just happened. And then we had a bike just like Evel’s, although a more modern day (version).”
While Pastrana and his team pulled off everything seamlessly, there was a lot of worry and concern, especially on Pastrana’s part, since he was the focal point of the stunt, which was televised live.
“I didn’t sleep at all the night before,” he said. “And then everything just worked out. It’s what you hope for, for sure. But with every race, every event, everything, there’s always something like a $5 part break in a half-million dollar vehicle. Something always goes wrong.
“The fact that everything went as well as it could – I mean, they were calling for 80 percent chance of rain with wind gusts up to 60 mph (on the day of the event).
“And the storm kind of went 20 miles south, it didn’t get that windy, and you have to think to yourself, ‘Man, that was a live event, and representing Evel Knievel, the stunt man of Vegas, you’ve gotta go for it.’”
Pastrana vowed to perform the stunts rain or shine. But if it had rained, he had his doubts that he’d be able to pull it off.
“Successfully, probably not,” the 34-year-old Pastrana said with a laugh. “That was the thing, what I had said coming up to it.
“When Evel got to Wembley Stadium (to do his infamous 13-bus jump in 1975), he said, ‘Look, the busses are bigger than they are in the U.S., I miscalculated the distance, this bike is not going to go as fast as I thought it would go. I’m not going to make it, but I told you guys I was going to put on a show, and I’m going to deliver.’
“That’s why I wanted to be the guy on this particular stunt. I can’t tell someone else when there are bad conditions or the bike is overheating or something else is going wrong to go, but with Nitro Circus and our history, and his family there, it just has to go, no matter what happens. We were just real fortunate and lucky that it all worked out.”
While he certainly enjoyed doing them, the Annapolis, Maryland native said it’s unlikely he’ll have any more Evel-like jumps in his career.
“This was a perfect storm,” he said. “Everything was just lined up on this one. For me, that was not my last hurrah, if you will, but as far as doing a big stunt, I did my biggest stunt I’ve ever done last year with the double back-flip 360 and kind of realized, you know what, I’ve been lucky long enough, let me just focus on my family.
“But then this came up, and I was like, ‘Put me in, coach.’”
Pastrana returns to the track this Saturday and Sunday for the third annual Nitro World Games at the Utah Motorsports Campus (formerly known as Miller Motorsports Park) near Salt Lake City.
Saturday will feature Nitro Rallycross (NRX) Qualifiers and Heat Races, including some of the biggest names in the sport including Pastrana and rival Ken Block having some “unfinished business,” as well as Scott Speed, Tanner Foust, Patrik Sandell, Steve Arpin, Mattias Ekstrom, Chris Atkinson and Timmy Hansen.
On Sunday, the action includes the FMX Best Trick Finals, NRX Semi-Finals and Finals and FMX Quarterpipe Finals.
Among FMX Quarterpipe competitors are Colby Raha, Jarryd McNeil, Axell Hodges, Elijah Aldoff, Corey Creed and Kohl Denney.
And among riders and drivers taking part in the Best Trick Finals are defending champ Harry Bink, along with Pat Bowden, Christian Meyer, Josh Sheehan, William Van den Putte, Blake Williams, and Davi Johnson.
“Having the opportunity to kind of reinvent the sport for the American audience and for the drivers – I mean, we have Talladega-sized berms – right and left turns, dirt and pavement, huge jumps, there’s a triple-crossover,” Pastrana said. “World Games is basically the bigger of international sports. We take the most exciting sports, the biggest air, the least technical … and try to make it even bigger.
“I couldn’t be more excited. I think it’s going to be real exciting for the drivers, lots of options. It’s not a track that’s just built for a one-off event, it’s going to be a permanent place here so people can come out here and practice and keep getting better like European tracks do. So it should be good.”
Pastrana said Nitro Circus does over 70 live shows around the world per year, but he’s also excited about preparing for a lengthy residency in Las Vegas beginning next March.
Given all the things he’s accomplished over his career, Pastrana was asked if there’s anything remaining on his bucket list that he still hopes to do.
“I love racing, I love competing and I feel like I’ve competed in almost everything all over the world,” he said. “But the Daytona 500 is something … and I’ve never done a drag race. So those two would be pretty cool, wouldn’t they?”