A light drizzle that grew somewhat heavier in qualifying for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg produced a number of surprising results. Among them, a few big names within the Verizon IndyCar Series failed to advance passed the first round.
Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, the defending IndyCar champion, was the first big name to find misfortune, with Round 1 being a struggle for him and the No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet team. Newgarden tried desperately to turn in a lap quick enough to advance into Round 2, but came up just short. He’ll start Sunday’s race in 13th.
“It just wasn’t enough. I thought I did an okay lap, but everyone picked up more than I thought they would,” Newgarden explained in an interview with the Advance Autoparts INDYCAR Radio Network.
He added, “It just wasn’t enough at the end of the day. We’re working hard this weekend. I think Chevy’s given us a really good product to work with, we’re really happy with our engine, and it’s fun driving the Hitachi car. Not what we wanted to start the weekend in qualifying, but I think we’ll have what it takes to maybe race this out and maybe contend for a win, so we just got to work on our race car now.”
However, Newgarden’s struggles paled in comparison to Graham Rahal’s. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver, who was only 20th quickest during Friday practice, spun during Round 1 and brought out a red flag, costing him his two fastest laps, in an incident that appeared to be the first sign of rain hitting the track.
Rahal and the team subsequently elected not to go back out, saving their softer red tires for the race, and will start 24th, last on the grid.
“It seemed O.K. and the next thing I knew, it just went around,” Rahal said of the incident. “I’m disappointed clearly for everybody. I don’t know what the pace would have been, but it was giving me positive vibes. I thought that on the used blacks (Firestone primary tires), when others were on new blacks, we were pretty competitive, so I felt like going forward we should be half decent. I’m disappointed for the first race to start off this way but we can’t get too down on ourselves. We’ve just got to stay focused.”
Others who struggled in qualifying were Marco Andretti, who will start 18th after incurring a penalty for qualifying interference, and defending race winner Sebastien Bourdais, who failed to advance from Round 1 and will start 14th.