Grosjean fastest in the opening INDYCAR practice from St. Pete

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla — INDYCAR is back. On Friday from the sun filled west coast of Florida skies, the 26 stars of the NTT INDYCAR Series took to the 1.8-mile streets of St. Pete in preparation of Sunday’s season opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete (12 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network).

Romain Grosjean (1:01.0525-seconds) was quickest in Friday’s session but that doesn’t necessarily translate well over to a race win this weekend though. Just three times has the pole winner won at St. Pete, including last year. The last one before? 2010.

“Just felt good,” Grosjean said on his practice on Friday. “The car was performing well as we could see. Obviously quite a bit of traffic out there, but nice to put in a lap, and we did a couple of test items to get a read. I think we’ve got a very, very strong baseline, but I think there’s a little bit more to come if we put it all together. Hopefully we can find that and have fun for the rest of the weekend.”

Still, being up front early usually leads to a good showing. Every race winner since 2018 has been in the top 10 of the first practice session of the weekend.

It’s fitting that on the day that INDYCAR released the fan poll data that Grosjean was the most popular driver in the field, he goes P1 in his debut with Andretti Autosport.

“After only one year in INDYCAR being voted most popular or favorite driver has been quite incredible,” he said of the honor.

“I’ve got a story; I come from 10 years in Formula 1 before. Came back to racing in INDYCAR, discovered a championship where I think it was a rebirth. I use the Phoenix as a nickname. It’s not only related to the fire thing, it’s related to a rebirth of myself through INDYCAR, to have fun racing, to enjoy myself.

“The fans give me so much, and I tried to give back last year through all of my experiences, through the States, through driving the RV, eating far too many donuts, barbecue on the 1st of January and fro-yo. Yeah, it was amazing.”

We wondered how he’d fare in moving from the Dale Coyne Racing/Rick Ware Racing car to the Andretti Autosport Honda program and those questions were answered that he should be very strong.

“I think we know we’ve got a very strong team. We’ve got a very strong car. Up to us if we push each other.

“I think it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be exciting to learn from the other guys and also give some of my knowledge, but yes, I joined the team, and you never know what you’re going to get. But first run in Sebring last week just brought me that feeling that we were going to go have a good baseline, and that’s the case again today.

“We just need to keep working and make sure that every weekend we’re performing well.”

His Andretti teammate of Colton Herta (1:01.1567-seconds) was second in his No. 26 Honda. Herta, was third quick last year but turned that into a pole as well as leading 97 of 100 laps in a race win last April.

“It was good,” Herta said. “Kind of for me, left off or brought it back where we left off from last year with the car. It felt really good in the first session. Surprising amount of grip. No, it was all good for me.”

Alexander Rossi (1:01.4570-seconds) was sixth to give AA three cars in the top six on Friday. Will Power (1:01.2282-seconds) and his former Team Penske teammate of Simon Pagenaud (1:01.3249-seconds) were third and fourth respectively while Graham Rahal (1:01.3683-seconds) rounded out the top five in his No. 15 Honda.

It was six Honda’s in the top seven overall.

Defending series champion Alex Palou was 17th fastest in his No. 10 Honda. The Spaniard turned in a top lap of 1:01.7267-seconds). He was joined in the back by Scott Dixon (1:01.7747-seconds) and Pato O’Ward (1:01.8297-seconds) as they were 20th and 21st respectively.

Josef Newgarden was 14th in having the top four of the final standings last year going – 17th, 14th, 21st and 20th respectively.

The field was as tight as ever. It was only .7772-seconds from first to 21st in that session. We only saw one incident when Jimmie Johnson had a brake fire as he had to pull off course in Turn 10.

“Yeah, the parity is so close,” Will Power said. “No one has an advantage. We’ve got the absolute everything out of this car you can possibly get out of it, so it’s come down to the smallest of details.

“Yeah, it’ll be an interesting year. There’s so many good guys that can win now. You can not really predict even weekend who will be on pole or who will win and then also who really will be in the mix of the championship.”

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