Newgarden, Penske Triumph Over Rivals in IndyCar Season-Opener at St. Petersburg
The 2017 series champion draws first-blood against the likes of Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport.
Team Penske showed its early-season strength in Sunday's Grand Prix of St. Petersburg as Josef Newgarden managed a win against the talent-stacked field including six former IndyCar series champions. The Tennessee-born driver beat reigning title-winner Scott Dixon to P1 while also pushing his teammate and polesitter Will Power to the bottom step of the podium with career win number 11.
Racecraft was key for Newgarden and Co. as his main competitors—the pair of Chip Ganassi Racing Hondas and the aforementioned Power—were especially fast around the 1.8-mile street course. The Penske pit wall called for a green-flag pit stop sequence that allowed Newgarden to capitalize on clear track ahead, earning him the lead and command of the 110-lap race. In total, Newgarden led 60 laps in his No. 2 Hitachi Chevrolet.
“It’s risk and reward,” said Tim Cindric, Team Penske president and Newgarden's race strategist. “When those guys pitted in front of him he (Newgarden) did a great job of knocking out laps but as you’re doing that, those five or six laps, knowing that if a caution comes, you’re the zero—you’re done for the day.”
Attrition early on swiftly took the talents of Ryan Hunter-Reay and Sebastien Bourdais out of the running, the latter looking to claim a third consecutive victory at the Florida contest. Other incidents forced Ed Carpenter Racing's Ed Jones to retire as well as Brazilian sophomore driver Matheus Leist. This made way for the frontrunners who demanded most of the attention throughout the race, particularly Ganassi rookie Felix Rosenqvist of Sweden.
Rosenqvist piloted his No. 10 NTT Data Honda brilliantly throughout the day and made a stellar pass on last year's Indianapolis 500 winner Will Power. He ended his day with an impressive P4 result, just outside the podium after qualifying in third ahead of veteran teammate Scott Dixon.
Rounding out the top five was Andretti Autosport's Alexander Rossi in the No. 27 Honda. The 2018 championship runner-up ran a relatively drama-free race compared to last season's buzzed-about battle with Robert Wickens in St. Pete.
"It’s always great to have so much success on the track, especially to start the season," said team owner Roger Penske. "We’ve had a strong start with our NASCAR program and locking Brad and Joey into the playoffs. And getting two early wins with our Supercar program and the new Mustang has been great for our group in Australia."
“Now to come out here and have a pole with Will, sweep the front row and win the race with Josef is a great way to start our season on the IndyCar side with Chevrolet. Next week, we will be at Sebring and try to get our Acura Team Penske program in victory lane in the historic 12 hours race. But we need to keep looking out the windshield. The competition in all these series is strong and they will keep improving," the Captain concluded.