Josef Newgarden’s gamble on a second stint of alternate ‘red’ tires paid off, as he drove away from the field to win the IndyCar season opener on the Streets of St. Petersburg. It is Newgarden’s 11th career victory and extends a winning streak to five consecutive years.
Newgarden, who went to sticker ‘reds’ on a stop at Lap 56, led 60 laps and took the lead for the final time on Lap 81 of 110.
“We were literally talking about it right before the race, Tim (Cindric, team strategist) and me were – trying to decide whether to go new or used reds [at the start], and we made the call at the last minute to go used,” Newgarden said on NBCSN after the race. “We’ll have that advantage if we needed it, and we used it. It just worked out perfectly.”
Newgarden had to survive traffic in the closing laps and it took a while to get around Marco Andretti. That allowed Scott Dixon to close within 2.5 seconds with laps running off the clock, but once clear of traffic, he was able to maintain his advantage.
“It was killing me,” Newgarden said. “It was definitely manufacturers playing good guys with each other. It was really tough. I just didn’t want to see people in front of me. I just wanted to keep running my laps. … Everyone was kind enough. It was still hard, but everyone was kind enough.”
Andretti and second-place Scott Dixon both race Hondas.
Dixon’s battle for second was hampered by the loss of his water bottle.
“It was definitely a tough race,” Dixon said. “We never really had any downtime. … It was pretty physical with no fluids.”
Dixon also noted the traffic that allowed him to get a run on Newgarden.
“It’s hard in those situations. You know the lapped traffic is trying to stay on the lead lap; they’re off strategy a little bit. I think it was Marco that was racing him pretty hard there at the end.”
Drivers from the front two rows dominated the race with polesitter Will Power taking the early lead before giving it over to rookie Felix Rosenqvist. Dixon and Newgarden also stayed among the top four for the entire race with the exception of pit stop sequences.
Power finished third.
In his first IndyCar race, Rosenqvist led 31 laps and finished fourth.
The battle for third and fourth came in the pits and while leaving them.
“I think there was a bit more in it,” Rosenqvist said. “Some of the pit stops didn’t really go as planned,” Rosenqvist said. “It was a good enough package to win the race. Just some small things didn;t really go our way, but I’m really happy.”
Power pitted on Lap 50. Rosenqvist pitted two laps later and was a little slower. When he exited the pits, Power nipped him at the exit and forced Rosenqvist to get hard on the brakes and almost spin.
Alexander Rossi rounded out the top five.
WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Rookies Colton Herta and Santino Ferrucci scored top-10s in the first race of the season, finishing eighth and ninth respectively. … Jack Harvey scored his first top 10 in a 10-race IndyCar career. … Simon Pagenaud overcame a 13th-place qualification effort to finish seventh.
WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Sebastien Bourdais’ bid for three consecutive St. Petersburg wins came to an end on Lap 13 with an engine failure; he finished last in 24th. … Ryan Hunter-Reay blew on Lap 20 while running seventh; the issue dropped him to 23rd. … Ed Jones went hard into the wall on Lap 26 and then Matheus Leist clipped his right rear tire; both drivers retired with crash damage, finishing 21st and 22nd respectively. … Marcus Ericsson pitted with engine problems just short of the halfway mark.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I got a run on (James Hinchcliffe) and I just caught the wall on Turn 9, which turned the car straight on into the outside wall. It sucks for the team after a joke of a qualifying session yesterday.” – Ed Jones on NBCSN after he retired from contact.
WHAT’S NEXT: IndyCar heads to Austin, Texas for the inaugural race at Circuit of the Americas on March 24.