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(Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

Josef Newgarden Wins in St. Petersburg; Rookies Impress in Season Opener

The 2019 NTT IndyCar Series opened on Sunday at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg much the way it began last year — with a stellar performance from a rookie driver that ultimately went unrewarded on the unforgiving street circuit.

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist came firing out of the gate in his inaugural IndyCar race, leading for a stretch early, but had victory snatched away by an advantageous veteran — Josef Newgarden.

Rosenqvist looked ready to follow-up Robert Wickens‘ dominant 2018 St. Pete performance with one of his own, but the seasoned veteran and 2017 series champion Newgarden seized control of the opening round of the year around the halfway point of the race and never loosened his grip.

With smart pit-strategy and a few quick laps, Newgarden took the lead and never looked back, leading nearly all of the last 60 laps.

But it was Rosenqvist who made noise in the early stages, as he passed Newgarden during the opening charge to Turn 1, and then closely tailed leader Team Penske’s Will Power for the opening stretch of the race.

Power ducked in to pit lane on lap 13 when Dale Coyne Racing’s Sébastien Bourdais pulled off course with a mechanical issue, thinking that a full course caution would come out. But with Bourdais’ No. 18 safely behind the wall at Turn 10, the caution never came out, giving the lead to the young Swede.

Rosenqvist held the lead until making his first stop of the race, when Power cycled out ahead on the harder compound, black-sidewalled Firestone Firehawks and maintained a comfortable lead until Ryan Hunter-Reay‘s Andretti Autosport machine expired on the frontstretch.

Rosenqvist made Power pay on the restart, overtaking last year’s Indianapolis 500 winner by diving underneath the Penske driver into the first turn, then fighting off an over-under move from the No. 12 to stay at the head of the field.

But the Ganassi rookie gave up the lead near the mid-point of the race after leading 31 laps, stopping for fuel and fresh tires, only to have Newgarden, Power, and teammate Scott Dixon leapfrog him in the running order.

Newgarden, who stopped several laps later than Rosenqvist and Power, put in several flying laps to complete the undercut and put him in control of the race for good.

The 2017 champion built up a gap to second-place Dixon on the soft-compound Firestone Reds, which he never relinquished. Dixon added a bit of pressure in the last 10 laps, cutting Newgarden’s lead — as much as 10 seconds at one point — to under two seconds, but he never got any closer than that, allowing Newgarden to cruise into Victory Lane, setting the tone for his 2019 campaign.

“We’ve started on the right foot, for sure,” Newgarden told NBCSN’s Marty Snider in Victory Lane. “I’m really looking forward to the rest of the year. Street courses, I think, we feel better on, and we have to convert that to road courses now at COTA [Circuit of the Americas], and obviously Indianapolis is going to be a priority.”

Dixon’s runner-up finish marked a solid start to his title-defense, with Power rounding out the first podium of the year. Rosenqvist, in spite of the promising start to the day, came home fourth, and was followed closely by Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi.

Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe just missed out on a Top Five, finishing 6th, with Frenchman Simon Pagenaud behind him.

Rosenqvist wasn’t the only rookie with a solid introductory performance. Colton Herta gave Harding-Steinbrenner Racing only its second-ever top 10 finish in eighth, followed by Dale Coyne Racing’s Santino Ferrucci in 9th. Jack Harvey also impressed in the first of his 10-race schedule, taking home a Top 10 finish for the Ohio-based Meyer Shank Racing.

Formula 1 veteran Marcus Ericsson started off the day with an impressive charge through the field after starting in 18th, managing to crack the Top 10 before being forced to retire with a mechanical issue.

Ed Jones also looked comfortable early in his new ride with Ed Carpenter Racing, until he bounced off the inside wall in Turn 8 on lap 25, sending him careening in to the outside wall. A.J. Foyt Racing’s Matheus Leist just clipped Jones when he was exiting the turn, breaking his left rear suspension in the process. Both drivers were ok, but done for the day.

NTT INDYCAR SERIES FIRESTONE GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERSBURG RESULTS

NTT IndyCar Series teams take next weekend before returning to action at a new venue. The INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of the Americas will be held on March 24. Coverage begins at 1:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

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2 comments

  1. Avatar

    I found it easy on my Spectrum/Bright House Networks cable service.

  2. Avatar

    Couldn’t find it on TV and then discovered it was streamed on Sportsnet.ca. Lots of eyes there. NOT!