Photo: IndyCar

Team Penske endures troublesome day at St. Petersburg

Leave a comment

In a surprising twist of fate, none of the three drivers from the powerhouse Team Penske were factors during the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, with all three suffering various problems that prevented them from being contenders during the race.

The trouble started early when Will Power, who started second alongside polesitter Robert Wickens, spun in Turn 3 after battling with Wickens for the early lead on the opening lap. Power’s No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet gently backed into the wall, doing damage to the rear wing and eventually forcing a pit stop for repairs.

Will Power had to recover from a Lap 1 spin at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Photo: IndyCar

Power eventually rebounded to finish 10th, but his was a day of “what might have been.”

“I was on the back foot from the very beginning,” Power detailed afterward. “(Robert) Wickens and I touched in Turn 1 and I spun around. There wasn’t a lot of room. That set us back and we fought the rest of the day.”

Still, Power’s spirits are high and he thinks Sunday’s race was merely a small hiccup.

“Not a perfect day, but we have a good Verizon Chevrolet team, and we will come back ready to race at (ISM Raceway),” he finished.

Defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden also saw his fair share of challenges, which started during Saturday qualifying when he failed to advance out of Round 1.

Starting 13th, Newgarden had his eyes set on moving forward, but his plans got disrupted following a Lap 39 restart when he suffered a cut tire. While a caution for Jack Harvey, who crashed on the run up to Turn 13 after also suffering a cut tire, prevented Newgarden’s issue from being compounded, it still put yet another obstacle in front of him and the No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet team, as they had to go off strategy in hopes of regaining track position.

He eventually recovered to finish seventh, but he felt the car had much more in it if circumstances played out differently.

“We had a great Chevy package – it’s just sad we couldn’t take better advantage of it,” he lamented. “I felt we had really good power today from Chevrolet. The Hitachi car, overall, was pretty strong. We were just fighting all day to catch back up and we were on the wrong end on the fuel mileage and getting run into and cutting the tire didn’t help us. But I think if a couple of things would’ve gone differently, I really think a podium finish was in the cards for today.”

Meanwhile, as Newgarden and Power were able to finish in the top 10 after their issues, Simon Pagenaud languished in 13th. Starting 11th, Pagenaud simply didn’t catch the breaks he needed to use pit strategy to move forward, with an air gun issue during his first pit stop on lap 23 only making matters worse.

Simon Pagenaud was mysteriously a non-factor at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Photo: IndyCar

For Pagenaud, Sunday’s was a race to forget.

“It was a hard-fought day. We had a tire gun problem on the first stop and I feel bad for the Menards crew. That’s a tough thing to happen and they did such a good job on the next two stops. Unfortunately, that put us back in the pack and we just couldn’t make up ground from there,” Pagenaud explained.

Team Penske will look to regroup ahead of next month’s Phoenix Grand Prix at ISM Raceway (April 7 on NBCSN).

Follow@KyleMLavigne

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

Leave a comment

Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.