The season-opening IndyCar race on the streets and runways of St. Petersburg saw one rookie challenge for the win, two others finish in the top 10, and another wondering what might have been.
Felix Rosenqvist stole the show by challenging for the lead immediately after starting third and settling into a comfortable fourth-place running position. He finished there, wedged between veterans Will Power (who won the championship in 2014 and finished third in the standings the past two years) and Alexander Rossi (who finished second to Scott Dixon last year).
But as Rosenqvist stood on pit road and patiently took every question the media directed at him, two other freshman drivers headed to the garage with top-10 finishes.
Colton Herta (eighth) and Santino Ferrucci (ninth) had bigger obstacles to overcome during the afternoon. Herta started just outside the top 10 in 11th. Ferrucci’s day was much less promising when the green flag first waved over the field.
He crashed in the first round of qualification, brought out a red flag and had his time disallowed. Ferrucci started on the back row and had to meticulously work his way through the field. He did so by staying on the lead lap and out of trouble. By the time Ed Jones and Matheus Leist exited with crash damage on Lap 25, Ferrucci was up to 18th.
It took a little strategy to climb all the way into the top 10, but once the checkers waved over Josef Newgarden at the end of 110 laps, Ferrucci was ninth.
“We found something in morning warmup that was unexpected, and we made it work in the race,” Ferrucci said. “Our engineer, Michael Cannon, called a brilliant strategy, and I had to do a lot of fuel saving, to say the least. We kept it clean and in the top 10, and that was the goal. I’m really happy with today’s result, especially considering where we started.”
Ferrucci’s first IndyCar top 10 came in his fifth race. He came close last September with an 11th at Sonoma Raceway.
Herta had a less consistent race. Making his second IndyCar start, he scraped the wall early. That caused him to drop through the field until he was running only one spot ahead of Ferrucci at the time of the Jones accident.
“What an up and down race,” Herta said. “We had a pretty poor start to the race. I bumped the wall after a restart and lost quite a bit of positions. We were all the way down in 17th position at one point. After that, we just had really great pace and were able to start making up positions when everyone was in the pits. An eighth-place finish isn’t too bad for the first race of the season.”
Lost in the box score was the strength of Marcus Ericsson’s run. For most of the first half of the race, he was the second-best rookie. Prior to his retirement for an engine failure, he was running 12th – two spots ahead of Herta and four in front of Ferrucci.
“It was a great race up until the end. We started quite far back, farther back than what we think we should’ve started. It was going well and we were well inside the top 10 when we had the problem (mechanical issue). Looking at what’s happening now, we were definitely going for a top eight in the Arrow car. It was just a shame because it was a really great race up until then.”