INDYCAR Pre-Race Media: St. Pete Track Trends, Race Preview

TRACK: Streets of St. Pete (1.8-mile, 14-turn street course), DISTANCE: 100 Laps (181 Miles)

Push-to-pass parameters (NTT INDYCAR SERIES): 150 seconds of total time with a maximum single duration of 15 seconds. The push-to-pass is not available on the initial start or any restart unless it occurs in the final two laps or three minutes of a timed race

Firestone tire allotment (NTT INDYCAR SERIES): Six sets primary, four sets alternate. One additional set is available to rookie drivers for use in the Friday afternoon practice session

2021 race winner: Colton Herta, 1:51:51.4115, 96.552 mph

2021 NTT P1 Award winner: Colton Herta, 1:00.3210, 107.425 mph

Qualifying lap record: Jordan King, 1:00.0476; 107.914 mph, March 10, 2018 (set in Round 1 of qualifying)

At-track schedule (All Times Local/Eastern Time): 

Friday, Feb. 25

10:05-10:50 a.m. –  Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires practice

3:40-4:25 p.m. – NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice, Peacock Premium

1:40-2:10 p.m. –  Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires qualifying

5:40-6:10 p.m. – Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires practice

Saturday, Feb. 26

9-9:45 a.m. – NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice, Peacock Premium

12:30-1:45 p.m. – Qualifying for the NTT P1 Award (three rounds of knockout qualifying), Peacock Premium (Live)

Sunday, Feb. 27

8:45-9:15 a.m. – NTT INDYCAR SERIES warmup, Peacock Premium

9:30 a.m. – Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (60 minutes), Peacock Premium (Live)

Noon – NBC Sports on air

12:23 p.m. – “Drivers, start your engines”

12:30 p.m. – Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding (100 laps / 181 miles), NBC, Telemundo and Peacock Premium (Live)

TRACK HISTORY/TRENDS

This will mark the 18th straight year the series has been coming to St. Pete, but the first time since 2019 that this race will serve as the season opener and first time since 2003 that we’re racing here in February. In 2020, the race was moved from March to the season finale in October due to COVID and last year it was moved again from the season opener to late April in hopes of being able to host more fans by doing so.

  • Penske has won 5 of the last 8 years here including 2 of the last 3 at that from Josef Newgarden. He was runner-up a year ago.
  • 15 of the 17 years has the winner came from a top 10 starting position.
  • 12 of the last 16 race winners at St. Pete started in the top five.
  • Just three times has the pole winner won at St. Pete, including last year. The last one before? 2010.
  • 3 of the last 6 years this race has seen just 2 total cautions. We had 6 in 2020 and 3 last April.
  • Each winner since 2015 repeated the next year
    • Juan Pablo Montoya won in 2015 and again in 2016
    • Sebastien Bourdais won in 2017 and again in 2018
    • Josef Newgarden won in 2019 and again in 2020
    • Colton Herta won in 2021…2022?
  • Normally, with a street race, grip levels are few and far between. That makes the Firestone primary tire the best option. Last year, the reds actually were the best as the always faster tire, didn’t have the drop off like it typically does making the faster tire the preferred one.
  • With the race being shortened to 100 laps a few years ago, this race has been a 2 stopper.

TRACK COMPARISONS/WHO’S BEEN GOOD ON THEM

St. Pete being a street course is unique in the sense that we don’t have many of them on the schedule. In 2020 there was just one – this race. Last year, we have a few more in Long Beach, Belle Isle and Nashville joining St. Pete. These are the best comparisons to St. Pete in the fact that the top drivers on those places are also good at St. Pete too.

As far as who’s good on them, look no further than Josef Newgarden. Since the start of the 2019 season, Newgarden is one of just three multi-time winners on them with three trips to victory lane on these types of tracks, two of which coming on the streets of St. Pete.

Marcus Ericsson (Belle Isle, Nashville) and Colton Herta (St. Pete, Long Beach) each scored two wins on them last year though.

You notice by the names, it’s the big teams good on street courses.

Penske has won four of those last 10 races and Andretti scoring three wins and Ganassi two themselves. Arrow McLaren SP has the other victory in that span.

Andretti says this is their top types of circuits, where Penske is probably second in nature followed by Ganassi.

Newgarden, Herta, Ericsson and O’Ward though have been the strongest the last couple of seasons on these tracks and I suspect they will be again on Sunday. They went 1-2 (Newgarden, O’Ward) in the 2020 season finale at St. Pete and the only reason it wasn’t 1-2-3 was due to Herta’s late race misfortunes.

They went 1-2 again (Herta, Newgarden) at St. Pete back in last March with Ericsson in seventh for a second straight year on the Florida circuit. In Belle Isle, it was 1-3 (Ericsson, O’Ward) in Race 1 and 1-2-4-9 (O’Ward, Newgarden, Herta, Ericsson) in Race 2. Ericsson won Nashville last August and Herta-Newgarden going 1-2 at Long Beach last September.

The thing is though, while Newgarden, Herta, Ericsson and Pato O’Ward were the best last year, we’ve also had a lot of parity on these circuits too.

If you go back to Race 2 at Belle Isle in 2019, we’ve had six different winners on street courses (Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud, Newgarden, Herta, Ericsson and O’Ward, Ericsson, Herta) in the last eight races run on them. In fact, we’ve had seven different winners in the last 11 if you throw in Alexander Rossi’s 2019 triumph at Long Beach too.

One driver not mentioned is Will Power. He’s one of the most accomplished street circuit racers too, earning 15 of his 39 career Indy-car wins on these types of layouts but his last coming in 2016. He did have a trio of top-10 finishes in last season’s street races, but his best effort actually came in the first race at Detroit where he finished 20th. He had led a race-high 37 laps and was leading when a red flag halted the race for an on-track incident. Power’s car would not fire back up due to an electrical issue when the race resumed with five laps to go and Ericsson became the benefactor of his misfortune. 

While the door appears to be open for the taking, I still think this is Newgarden’s race to lose.

Newgarden’s finishes on street courses since the start of the 2019 season?

1st, 2nd, 1st, 19th, 4th, 1st, 2nd, 10th, 2nd, 10th and 2nd respectively. While we’ve had parity, he’s the only constant up front with seven top two’s in the last 11 tries on them. He’s had three straight top two’s on this track.

Then you have the big teams dominating the series lately too.

In 2020, Ganassi, Penske and Andretti won 13 of the 14 races. RLL won the other. If you go back to 2019, the same three teams won 15 of the 17 events. The only two they didn’t win was by Harding Steinbrenner Racing and Colton Herta but they were aligned with Andretti, so it very well could fall under the Andretti umbrella.

In 2018, they won the final six races. If you go back to the second race of the season in 2018, they won 15 of the last 16 races of 2018. Combined that with 15 of the 17 in 2019 and all 14 in 2020 and that’s 44 of the last 47 races won by the “Big 3” teams entering the 2021 season. The only three races they didn’t win were Iowa (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in 2018) and COTA/Laguna Seca (HSR in 2019).

That’s it.

But, as we sit here today after just putting a bow on the 2021 season, Penske has won 3 times, Ganassi 6 and Andretti just three. RLL has been shutout while Arrow McLaren SP has won two races themselves and was the only team not of Penske and Ganassi vying for a championship last Sunday.

Can we still call this a “Big 3?”

RLL was closing that gap but they’ve won three times since the start of the 2018 season, all by Takuma Sato. Andretti has won nine times. Ganassi and Penske trump both. So I can see the case of the “Big 3” and everyone else but are we really there anymore?

The “Big 3” have combined to win every championship in the series since 2003 but AMSP was close to ending that reign this season with a now bright future ahead. Does that put them in the third spot over Andretti and RLL or do they just add themselves to the conversation?

I mean if you look at the Aeroscreen era, one can make a case that it’s more open now. Since the start of last season, Ganassi has won 11 times with Penske having won 10 times. Andretti has four wins with Arrow McLaren SP two. Meanwhile RLL, Ed Carpenter Racing and Meyer Shank Racing each have one win apiece.

It’s really a “Big 2” now but can we really classify that if one someone else wins the title? Has Arrow McLaren SP truly closed the gap to the “Big 3” and in fact passed both RLL and Andretti? One could say, yes.

So, who is the “Big 3” or is it a “Big 2?” Is it a “Big 5?” Does it have to be anything?


Favorites – Can Newgarden 3 peat?

Josef Newgarden 

He started his St. Pete career 0-for-7 not just in terms of victories, but top fives too. He’s since won two of the last three years and runner-up in the other. His finishes in his last 11 street course starts?

1st, 2nd, 1st, 19th, 4th, 1st, 2nd, 10th, 2nd, 10th and 2nd respectively. While we’ve had parity, he’s the only constant up front with seven top two’s in the last 11 tries on them.

Colton Herta

Has to be with Newgarden as the co-favorites right? He led 97 of 100 laps from the pole in taking this win last year. He also won the season finale on another street race at Long Beach too.

Scott Dixon

He may be 0-for-17 at St. Pete, but Dixon does have four runner-ups though and three podiums in his last five starts there. Furthermore, he’s not finished worse than seventh since 2016.

Pato O’Ward

He had a strong run in 2020 with a runner-up effort. He had a pair of podiums in Belle Isle including a win. If luck is on his side, O’Ward can win this race. He’s been feast or famine on street courses in his career and he’s due for a feast again.

Sleepers

Alexander Rossi

He had a car capable of winning 2020. He also ended the 2021 season with speed and entering a very pivotal year for him at Andretti. Rossi, has won two of the last three races on another street course in Long Beach and is usually a threat on these types of circuits. A pair of 21st place finishes in his last two St. Pete starts has him in the sleepers category.

Simon Pagenaud

He has seven top seven finishes in his last nine St. Pete starts but now moves to Honda power with Meyer Shank Racing. This car qualified on the front row and finished fourth last year, one spot behind Pagenaud who was with Penske at the time.

Helio Castroneves

He’s a three time winner at this track to go along with six straight top six finishes here including 10 in his last 11 tries. He had a strong car in Long Beach at the end of last season to carry some much needed momentum over to 2022.

Scott McLaughlin

This will be the third time he’s been to St. Pete and last year he was 11th. With a Penske car again, I like his chances.

Marcus Ericsson

He won twice on street courses in 2021 and has a pair of seventh place finishes in his last two St. Pete starts.

Felix Rosenqvist

As a rookie, he started third and led 31 laps en route to a fourth place finish. Can he recapture that magic this weekend? He was strong at the end of 2020 and eyeing a breakout season.

Jack Harvey

He was fourth last year with Meyer Shank Racing. What can he do with RLL? He has a pair of top 10’s in his last three St. Pete starts.


Of Note

An odd trend has started in the sense that this will be the fourth straight year we’ve had the season opener on a different venue. The 2019 season opened on the streets of St. Pete. The 2020 COVID year we started off in Texas. Last year was at Barber. Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon and Alex Palou won each of the last three season openers respectively. They also turned those wins into a championship at the seasons end. Can Sunday’s winner at St. Pete follow that trend?


Key Stat

We’ve only had 2 pole winners in 16 years here. Will Power has won nine poles at St. Pete but only one of them have resulted in a win.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s