By: Tanner Watkins
March 10, 2019 | 10:00 AM
Well race fans, the time has finally come. Wherever you may be reading, hopefully the frost of winter is wearing off, you have something planned for the grill, and an afternoon blocked off for today’s IndyCar season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg. Let’s get up to speed with today’s race preview.
Yesterday, Will Power and Team Penske showed those incremental improvements from Friday morning to Saturday afternoon were paying off as the Aussie took his eighth pole at the St. Petersburg street circuit. Power’s teammate Josef Newgarden was close behind and will complete an all-Penske front row when the field of 24 goes green this afternoon.
While Power and Penske dazzled in qualifying, Saturday’s time trial session wasn’t without additional intrigue. Rookie driver Colton Herta was poised for a spot in the Firestone Fast Six before a post-session infraction issued by IndyCar Race Control relegated the second-generation driver to an 11th place starting spot.
A similar fate was endured by veteran Takuma Sato, who was ready to move onto the second round of qualifying when Race Control eliminated the Japanese driver’s fastest lap for causing a local yellow in his session. That elevated Scott Dixon into Round Two after previously missing the cut, and Sato will now start deep in the field in 20th.
Though it offers little consolation, Sato was quickest in this morning’s warm-up session with teammate Graham Rahal (who start’s 10th today) right with him in P2.
And how could we omit mention of the red flag-filled 10 minutes during Group One’s qualification session yesterday? By rule, the clock continues to run during red flag periods in NTT IndyCar Series qualifying. When two on-track stoppages occurred in Round One – for Marco Andretti and Santino Ferrucci – it caught out multiple competitors when time expired on the session.
Two notables that will be coming from the rear today as a result of the qualifying snafu include the two-time defending race winner in St. Petersburg, Dale
Throughout the weekend, Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay has been the most consistent performer. The Florida native’s speed on the Firestone primary compound tire proves well for potential long-run efforts this afternoon, though he was slightly slower on the alternate tire in qualifications and slotted in fifth.
Hunter-Reay’s teammate Alexander Rossi will line up alongside him in sixth, while Marco Andretti had gotten off to a solid start this weekend before the fuel pickup issue in qualifications relegated him to a 17th place grid spot.
The final Andretti driver, Zach Veach, has been pushing hard each of the three days and has made a couple of uncharacteristic mistakes. Veach’s No. 26
Another headline to follow: the rookies are back with a ton of talent in 2019. Felix Rosenqvist out-qualified his five-time championship-winning teammate in Scott Dixon yesterday (the Chip Ganassi duo will start third and fourth) while the aforementioned Herta will be one to watch for.
Marcus Ericsson qualified 18th on Saturday afternoon but his weekend pace overall has been quicker than that, while remaining rookies Ben Hanley (starting 12th after the qualifying melee) and Santino Ferrucci (starting 24th) will likely add some sort of form during the race.
With Rosenqvist, Herta and Ericsson set to due battle today – and Pato O’Ward joining them at Circuit of the Americas – the 2019 rookie class could be one of the most competitive in recent memory.
ast but not least, how great is it to see Robert Wickens back at the race track? He has been quite visible during the weekend’s festivities in St. Petersburg and had the headset on for each on-track session that teammates James Hinchcliffe and the previously-mentioned Ericsson have participated in.
It was just one year ago when Wickens, as a rookie himself, wowed IndyCar fans with a dominating effort that nearly resulted in a win. Still hoping to see him back in a car by 2020.
Today’s event will feature a one-hour pre-race show on NBCSN which begins at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time, eventually leading into NBCSN’s race broadcast which kicks off at 1:30 p.m.
Additionally, fans can catch all 110 laps of the action on the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network with Mark Jaynes, Anders Krohn and the rest of the renowned radio crew doing their thing in St. Pete. To listen to the radio network – and view timing and scoring – check out RaceControl.IndyCar.com.
Header image by Chris Jones/INDYCAR.