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Ryan Hunter-Reay nips Josef Newgarden in Saturday practice

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Ryan Hunter-Reay remained atop the speed charts Saturday in the final practice before qualifying for the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Hunter Reay’s Andretti Autosport Dallara-Honda (1:00.8966) nipped the Team Penske Chevrolet of Josef Newgarden (1:00.9005) by nearly 4 thousandths of a second for the best lap in the 50-minute session. Takuma Sato, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power rounded out the top five.

Hunter-Reay also was fastest in Friday’s combined practice speeds.

Qualifying will take place at 2:30 p.m. Saturday on the 1.8-mile street course, which will play host to the NTT IndyCar Series opener Sunday at 1:30 p.m. on NBCSN.

The rest of the top 10 Saturday morning were Ed Jones, Scott Dixon, Felix Rosenqvist, Colton Herta and Marco Andretti.

After two caution-free sessions Friday, there were four red flags Saturday morning. Andretti Autosport’s Zach Veach caused the first, avoiding major damage to his Dallara-Honda when he spun off course and made contact in Turn 13.

The red flag flew a second time for rookie Ben Hanley, who went off course in Turn 4.

Max Chilton brought out another stoppage when he spun in Turn 4 with 8 minutes to go in the session.

The final red flew when Jones spun with less than a minute left, ending the session.

INDYCAR: Patricio O’Ward turns heads in Carlin debut

Chris Jones / IndyCar
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While the top story coming out of Sunday’s IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas is undoubtedly 18-year-old Colton Herta’s victory in only his third IndyCar start, another teenager made quite some noise during the first IndyCar race at the facility.

19-year-old Patricio O’Ward made an impressive start to his 2019 IndyCar campaign by starting and finishing in eighth position. It was the first of his 13 races this season for Carlin Racing.

“I think it was a pretty good race for us. We ended exactly where we started and didn’t go backwards, so I’d say that was a successful day” O’Ward said. “I know the No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet had a top-five finish in it today and even though we couldn’t make it happen, it’s nice to know that we have the pace and can be fighting up front with the veteran drivers.”

O’Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights champ, made his series debut for Harding Steinbrenner Racing at last year’s season finale at Sonoma Raceway, where he made it to the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying and finished ninth. O’Ward was scheduled to race for the team full-time in 2019, but left in early February to pursue other options due to a lack of sponsorship.

Pato found a new home with Carlin, and despite missing preseason testing, he proved to be competitive from the get go and pressured some of IndyCar’s more tenured drivers, including Graham Rahal.

In what was undoubtedly the most daring move of the race, O’Ward ended a great battle with Rahal by hitting a superb outside pass on Lap 15.

O’Ward may have likely earned a better result on Sunday, if he didn’t have to save fuel in order to make the finish.

But with only two IndyCar starts to his credit, he is already racing like a seasoned veteran. Sunday’s IndyCar Classic may be the first of many successful outings for him this year.

After the race, he tweeted to his team: “Well done gentlemen … This is only the beginning.”

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