St. Petersburg Preview

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And just like that, we’re ready for Round Two of the seventeen race schedule for the NTT IndyCar Series. Alex Palou didn’t get a lot of time to savor his first career IndyCar win. Today, he and the rest of the paddock have another challenge in front of them as they take on the streets of St. Petersburg in this weekend’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

This was the race that was initially cancelled last year at the last minute…literally. The track build had been done and all of the teams were onsite, ready to launch into the first practice of the season; when the plug was pulled. Not only that, but the three scheduled April races was scrapped as well. The teams packed up and went home, not knowing when or if a wheel would be turned in 2020.

As it turned out, the first half of the schedule fell victim to the pandemic. Barber, COTA, Long Beach and Belle Isle were cancelled and never came back in 2020. St. Petersburg joined the GMR Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500 on the re-scheduled list. The first race to run was at Texas in the first part of June. St. Petersburg was moved from being the traditional season-opener in March, to hosting the season-finale in October.

So, here we are just six months later; with the race being moved again – from the season-opener to about six weeks later as the second race of the season.

While Barber was just one race out of a scheduled seventeen this season, there are several teams and drivers that need to have a good this weekend, or they will find themselves in a hole just two races in. The first one that comes to mind is Josef Newgarden. I wasn’t the only one that picked Newgarden to win the championship for 2021. His mistake on the first lap in Barber has put him in a situation where he really needs to win, to make up for what happened last weekend.

While Newgarden is the most obvious, there are several other drivers that need a good weekend for various reasons. Felix Rosenqvist probably feels pressured to have a good showing, just to show his new bosses at Arrow McLaren SP that they didn’t make a big mistake. While Colton Herta’s status at Andretti Autosport is not threatened, he has been mentioned as a championship contender. He will be playing catch-up for the rest of the season, if he has another poor showing this weekend.

One contender that did have a good weekend at Barber is six-time and reigning champion Scott Dixon. Much has been made that St. Petersburg is not one of Dixon’s best tracks. It’s true that he has never won at St. Petersburg in sixteen tries, but he has had good results. In fact, he has six podiums and five more Top-Tens. If Palou does not have another outstanding weekend, it could be Dixon and Will Power at the top of the point standings on Sunday night.

The NTT IndyCar Series is in a long stretch. We fans have been conditioned to open the season with a race, then have to wait a couple of weeks or more for Round Two. This year, we get three events and four races in a row before heading into the Month of May. It may be tough on the crews, but we fans are loving it. By this time next week, the teams will be preparing to race a double-header at Texas Motor Speedway. With four races over three straight weekends, expect a lot of movement in the points. The driver that can be consistently good over that span could have a decided advantage heading into the Month of May.

There will be a couple of new liveries this weekend, both from Team Penske. While Josef Newgarden will be back in the Hitachi colors again this week, and Will Power returns in the black and red Verizon 5G car; Scott McLaughlin will be sporting a red and white car with Dex Imaging on the sidepods. It looks very similar to the red and white Verizon car that Juan Montoya drove to his second Indianapolis 500 win in 2015.

Dex

The eye-popper will be the Australian Gold Car, driven by Simon Pagenaud. It seems to me it would make more sense for Australian Will Power to drive this car, than a Frenchman, but what do I know? Usually, Power is in a Verizon car for the entire season – without exception. Based on a couple of texts and e-mails I received this week, I think most people expected me to hate this car with its mirror-chrome finish. I love it! If it looks as good in the sunshine on the track, as it does in a photo – this car will draw a lot of eyes.

Gold

Alexander Rossi will be driving the pink and gray AutoNation car this weekend. I’m not really a fan of this scheme. His blue and gold NAPA livery looks great. This one, not so much. Plus, at a glance, it is easily confused with Jack Harvey car. I’m just glad Alex Palou is no longer driving a pink car, also. Speaking of Alex Palou, he will be driving a light blue NTT Data Car this weekend.

Unlike Barber, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be a three-day weekend. Practice One gets underway Friday at 4:15 EDT on Peacock. Practice Two rolls off at 9:45 EDT Saturday morning, also on Peacock. If you want to watch Qualifying live, tune in to Peacock at 1:45 EDT Saturday afternoon. You can also catch it delayed on NBCSN at 10:00 pm EDT on Saturday night. You can watch the Sunday morning warm-up on Peacock at 9:05 EDT Sunday morning (which is why it’s called the Sunday morning warm-up). But don’t plan a lot away from your television after the warm-up, because it is an early start for race coverage. Pre-race coverage starts at Noon EDT on Big NBC (over-the-air network). With a 12:42 pm green flag. Paul Tracy will not be in the booth this weekend.

Josef Newgarden won this race back in October. He also won during more normal times in March of 2019. He had a weekend last weekend that I’m sure he wants to flush away and forget about it. Winning this weekend will be a big step in accomplishing that. That is why I believe the veteran driver from Nashville will win. Surely I can’t curse him two weeks in a row by picking him…can I?

Like Barber, it looks like the weekend weather will be outstanding. Temperatures will be in the mid-80s on Friday and Saturday, with plenty of sun. Sunday morning has a small chance for a shower, but it will be sunny and 80° as the green flag flies.

After being onsite all weekend at Barber, Mrs. Oilpressure and I are looking forward to relaxing and watching this one from our couch. This race is usually exciting and unpredictable, especially as the cars funnel into the first turn. I’m sure Sunday’s race will be no different.

George Phillips

4 Responses to “St. Petersburg Preview”

  1. Maurice E. Kessler Says:

    The 2nd line from the 3rd paragraph from the end needs corrected.😇

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Seems like a good place for both a Rossi and a Newgarden rebound.

    Pagenaud did begin his American open wheel career in Aussie Vineyards colors… though to be fair so did Will Power.

  3. this too: …” He also won dung more…”

  4. I love Simon’s new livery. Very sharp. Paul was in the booth this morning at practice. Yah!

    I’d like to see Colton, Pato and Alex Rossi, in addition to Josef, have a solid weekend.

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