By: Tanner Watkins
March 10, 2019 | 9:00 AM
A welcome sight for teams and fans alike, Sunday at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg kicked off with a morning warm-up session for NTT IndyCar Series teams. The 30-minute session served as one last chance to test and tune on the 24 entries before this afternoon’s 110-lap race.
While times aren’t as important in morning warm-up – teams often take this time to run install laps, simulate pit stops and practice restart scenarios – the Honda bunch at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing impressed by placing Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal 1-2 on the leaderboard. Sato ran a best lap at 1m1.09s while Rahal was close behind with a lap time of 1m1.17s.
For today’s race, Sato will start 20th while Rahal will roll off 10th. Sato had advanced to the second round of qualifications yesterday – which would have guaranteed a top-12 grid spot – but a post-session infractions penalty relegated him to the back half of the grid.
Rounding out the top five were Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay (P3, 1m1.36s) and Alexander Rossi (P4, 1m1.40s), as well as second-year A.J. Foyt Racing driver Matheus Leist (P5, 1m1.41s). Hunter-Reay still had the quickest time of the weekend and led all drivers on the combined time sheet.
Andretti Autosport has been strong each of the three days in Florida, and as Rossi alluded to after this morning’s warm-up, it is all about finding the right fit setup-wise for each of the team’s drivers.
“We have fast race cars, it is just kind of finding what each individual driver likes and I am glad that we were able to do that last night,” Rossi relayed.
The session was slowed by one red flag period in the practice’s final ten minutes when Josef Newgarden locked up the brakes and spun his No. 2 Hitachi Chevrolet at the final hairpin.
No damage was done to the Team Penske machine, and the only other notable incident came around the same time when Scott Dixon had to use the run-off area at a different point on the track following a lock-up.
Seven of the top ten drivers during morning warm-up were driving Honda power plants (Leist, Newgarden and Spencer Pigot were the only Chevy reps in the first ten) and Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Felix Rosenqvist completed the most laps with 25 circuits registered. Rosenqvist was P14 on the time sheet, though he will start third on the grid today.
The first race of the NTT IndyCar Series season goes green later today with the 110-lap Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg kicking off at 12:30 p.m. Eastern. The race will be shown live on NBCSN as well as on the IndyCar Radio Network. Stay tuned to Open-Wheels for a race preview upcoming this morning.
Header image by Karl Zemlin/INDYCAR.