TRACK: Streets of St. Pete (1.8-mile, 14-turn street course), DISTANCE: 100 Laps (181 Miles)
This will mark the 19th straight year the series has been coming to St. Pete, but the second time since 2019 that this race will serve as the season opener. In 2020, the race was moved from March to the season finale in October due to COVID and in 2021 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 6 of the last 9 years here including 2 of the last 4 at that from Josef Newgarden. He was runner-up in 2021.
- 16 of the 18 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.
- Prior to 2021, just two times in 17 years had the pole winner won at St. Pete. The last one before then? 2010. The pole winner has now won though the last two years.
- 4 of the last 7 years this race has seen just 2 or fewer total cautions. We had 6 in 2020 and 3 in April 2021. Last year there was just one.
- Each winner with the exception of one 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…4th last year
TRACK COMPARISONS/WHO’S BEEN GOOD ON THEM
With 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 – here. In 2021, we added back a few more in Belle Isle, St. Pete, Nashville and Long Beach. The same were back the last two years with the addition of Toronto again this season and last.
These are the best comparisons to St. Pete in the fact that the top drivers on those places are also good here too.
If you go back to the start of the 2019 season, we’ve had 16 races on these tracks with 9 different winners. Josef Newgarden (4 wins), Scott Dixon (3 wins), Marcus Ericsson (2 wins) and Colton Herta (2 wins) are the only multi-time winners with 2 of Newgarden’s 4 wins coming here in St. Pete.
The big teams are strong on them with Penske winning 7 of those last 16 races, Ganassi with 4 and Andretti with 3. Arrow McLaren SP is the only other team to have won.
Penske won 3 of the 5 last year with Ganassi and Scott Dixon taking the other two.
One driver not mentioned is Will Power. He’s one of the most accomplished street circuit racers too, earning 16 of his 40 career Indy-car wins on these types of layouts.
Newgarden’s finishes on street courses since the start of the 2019 season?
1st, 2nd, 1st, 19th, 4th, 1st, 2nd, 10th, 2nd, 10th, 2nd, 16th, 1st, 4th, 10th and 6th respectively. While we’ve had parity, he’s the only constant up front with eight top two’s in the last 16 tries on them.
- Normally, with a street race, grip levels are few and far between. That makes the Firestone primary tire the best option. However, the last two years though, 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.
The 2021 race was a two-stop strategy event. Last year’s winning strategy was another two stopper as the top seven cars went with that strategy. In fact, the 10 drivers who elected to go with a two stopper all finished in the top 11. The lone exception?
See, with this being a 100 lap race, as long as cautions stay out of the way, this is pretty much a straight forward two stopper. The last two years, yellows were a non factor. We had 1 for 8 laps last year and it came after the commitments were already made for a 2 vs. 3 stopper. No one had to adjust their strategy due to David Malukas’ crash coming on Lap 24.
The winning move in 2021 was Colton Herta doing Firestone reds at the start, scuffed blacks and then fresh blacks for his two stops.
So, the ones in the top couple of rows could go with the winning strategy and everyone else behind having to try something different to leap frog them.
Pole sitter Scott McLaughlin went similar as Herta with reds, then stopping under caution for blacks on Lap 27 and doing the same under green flag conditions on Lap 64. Second place finisher Palou, started 10th but went reds until Lap 27, blacks until Lap 65 and blacks gain to the checkered.
Second place starter and third place finisher, Will Power, did the opposite at the beginning with the blacks until Lap 27, the reds until Lap 66 and blacks again until the end.
Dixon’s three stop strategy saw him pit on Lap 11 from his seventh place starting spot. He went from reds to blacks. He’d pit again on Lap 48 for blacks. But, he had to stop one more time on Lap 79 for blacks to the finish and would come home seventh after leading 26 times.
Newgarden, started ninth, pit on Lap 9, Lap 31 and Lap 68. He’d finish 16th.
O’Ward started 16th on reds and charged up to eighth before pitting on Lap 12. He’d pit again on Lap 47 then Lap 73 but could only mange being 12th as a result of strategy.
“We had a great start, going from 16th to ninth on the first lap,” he said. “From there, I was like ‘Oh yes, let’s get a great race in,’ but we didn’t really nail the strategy. We weren’t on the right strategy with the three-stop and got stuck back in 12th. We will give it hell in Texas.”
His AMSP teammate of Felix Rosenqvist was in the same boat. He started 21st and came home 17th.
“We ended 17th and really couldn’t move up in the field,” said the Swedish driver. “The way our strategy turned out is pretty much where we started the race. That’s what happens when you start in the back, you don’t really go anywhere unless you luck out with the strategy; which we didn’t have today. I thought the pace was pretty good, the best it was all weekend; but we couldn’t take advantage of it. Now, we will reload for Texas.”
Meyer Shank Racing once again had the wrong strategy too. Simon Pagenaud started sixth and had the same pattern as Dixon. He pit on Lap 11, Lap 42 and Lap 68. Unfortunately, by pitting early with Dixon and doing so six laps sooner than Dixon on the second stint cost him a top 10. He’d fall to 15th, or fifth on the three stop strategy.
Helio Castroneves stopped three times too but did so differently. He started 17th and pit on Lap 8, Lap 27 and Lap 66. He came home 14th.
It’s clear, the reds at the start and going two stops is the winning move.
Record Pace – The 2021 pole speed was 1:00.3210-seconds. The record was 1:00.0476-seconds set back in 2018. Without much change between the cars, plus the Aeroscreen still having that added additional weight, no one really expected the record to be seriously threatened last year.
But, it was.
In order to get out of the first round of qualifying, you had to eclipse the 1-minute barrier meaning all 12 cars had to best the four year old record.
Colton Herta broke it first going 59.4662-seconds in the first group of the first round. Will Power broke it next at 59.3929-seconds in the second group. Power, then broke it again in Q2 at 59.3466-seconds. That lap held off even during the Firestone Fast Six.
“No, I was surprised actually,” Power said of the record pace last year. “I didn’t even know what they did last year, and when they said that was the lap record, I was like, oh, okay. Yeah, I didn’t know that. That shows how far these cars and engines have come. They’re pretty fast.”
In order to position yourself for a win, you have to get out of the first round of qualifying. 16 of the 18 years has the winner came from a top 10 starting position. Even more, you really need to get to the Fast 6.
12 of the last 16 race winners at St. Pete started in the top five.
Where this is even more important is, out of the last 18 years, the eventual season champion scored a top 10 finish in 17 of those 18 seasons. They’ve accumulated 8 wins and 14 top 5’s in the process including four consecutive podium finishes.
In regard to St. Pete, the eventual champion has 15 top 10’s in the last 18 years there including 12 top 5’s. 3 of the last 4 years has seen the champion podium in St. Pete.
So, in order to get on the St. Pete podium, not just win, you have to qualify well still.
Over the last four years, there’s been 12 combined podium opportunities. 11 of those 12 came from top 10 starters. 8 of the 12 came from the top 2 rows with 5 of those 8 from the front row at that.
Just 4 times since 2011 did someone finish on the podium and not have a top 12 starting spot. Which essentially means, if you’re eliminated in the opening round of qualifying on Saturday, not only are your podium chances slim, your race winning chances are even longer and so are your championship aspirations.
That’s how crucial Saturday is.
Andretti Autosport won the preseason in terms of on track testing. They were the clear favorites leaving Thermal and topped the unofficial time charts down in Sebring last month. However, like we witness in other sports, the preseason doesn’t count.
Can the inexperienced team truly challenge for a race win out of the gates in St. Pete on Sunday?
It’s possible. Colton Herta just won here in 2021. Romain Grosjean had a pair of top five finishes on these tracks in 2022. Kyle Kirkwood looks like a championship contender in preseason testing and has a pair of Road to Indy wins on this very track.
But, with Herta having more starts (65) than the other three teammates combined (64), do they have enough experience to beat Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing? Andretti has just three total wins in St. Pete (2005, 2013, 2021).
Penske has won this race in 3 of the last four years. They and Ganassi combined to win all 5 of the street course races in 2022.
Who comes out on top on Sunday?
Ganassi has won just once (2011) however which leads this to being a potential Penske event.
After a brief stint last year of starting the year in February, the race moves back a week to March. Was February the right spot for this race however?
For the first time since 2003, this race was run in February, not the spring or even the Fall for that matter in 2020. In fact, that 2003 race was sanctioned by Champ Car as the last time an open wheel race was run prior to March. But, was this the right call? Last year’s race weekend proved that it was. It was a risk that paid off.
The March date was always coexistent with spring breaks around this country. It allowed families to make the trek to the Florida Gulf Coast and make the INDYCAR race part of their spring break plans. Now that it was in February, we wondered if it would be affected. Not only was it not, the crowd was larger now than it was ever before. INDYCAR and track officials noted that the crowd during last year’s race weekend was up 49% over 2019 and that an estimate crowd of 200k was here this weekend. Fans from 23 different countries and all 50 states were represented.
Now the race is back a week. Can March deliver again?
Florida is a strong market for INDYCAR with 4 cities ranked in the top 33 of viewership ratings. Ft. Myers-Naples was tops in the Sunshine State and 2nd overall. Tampa-St. Pete and Sarasota ranked 15th. West Palm Beach was 30th while Orlando-Daytona-Melbourne was 33rd.
In regard to St. Pete in general, the city generates an economic impact of approx. $48 million annually off this race alone.
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 four years and runner-up in another.
Newgarden has 4 street course wins in 4 seasons and being 16th, 1st, 4th, 10th and sixth on them last year.
Has to be with Newgarden as the co-favorites right? He led 97 of 100 laps from the pole in taking this win in 2021 and was fourth last year. Street courses are where Herta is fast. He should have won at Nashville in 2021 and Long Beach last year. He made self inflicted mistakes in chasing wins in both. He did win the 2021 season finale at Long Beach though too. Herta also had 4 top 8’s in all 5 street courses run in 2022 as well.
This will be the fourth time that he’s been to St. Pete as he enters this season off of an emotional win here a year ago. McLaughlin started on pole and led 49 of 100 laps in the victory.
He had 3 podiums and 5 top 6’s in 5 tries on these tracks this season including a runner-up here.
He may be 0-for-18 at St. Pete, but Dixon does have four runner-ups though and three podiums in his last six starts there. Furthermore, he’s not finished worse than eighth since 2016. Last year, he was 8th in St. Pete, 6th in Long Beach, 3rd in Belle Isle and won at both Toronto and Nashville.
5th last year and 2nd in Long Beach put him here.
He was quick in both tests this offseason, can he take Rossi’s car that was strong on street courses to a potential win in 2023? In Indy Lights, he was 1st and 2nd in 2021. In Indy Pro 2000, he was 14th and 2nd while in USF2000, he was 1st and 5th. Last year he was 18th with Foyt.
Meyer Shank Racing
Both drivers were at their best on street courses last season. Simon Pagenaud has seven top seven finishes in his last 10 St. Pete starts. This car qualified on the front row and finished fourth last in 2021, one spot behind Pagenaud who was with Penske at the time.
Helio Castroneves is a three-time winner at this track to go along with six top six finishes here in his last 7 tries including 10 in his last 12 in general.
Sebring was the turning point last year. Graham Rahal was 4th in Toronto while Christian Lundgaard was 8th. Actually, Rahal had 3 Top-7 finishes on the 5 street courses a year ago while Lundgaard closed out the year on them with a pair of 8th place runs. He also finished 11th here as a rookie in 2022 as well. Rahal has 3 Top 10 finishes in his last 5 St. Pete starts including a runner-up in 2018.
Jack Harvey was fourth in 2021 with Meyer Shank Racing. He has a pair of top 10’s in his last four St. Pete starts.
9 poles here, 3 top 4 finishes in 5 street course races last year should have him on the favorites list. However, while being 3rd last year, Power hasn’t finished better than that in each of his last 7 St. Pete starts either.
He won twice on street courses in 2021 and has a pair of seventh place finishes and 9th in the other in his last three St. Pete starts. While he’s a great fantasy play, he also scored just 1 top 5 in the 5 street course races in 2022.
He had a strong run in 2020 with a runner-up effort here. He also had a pair of podiums in Belle Isle including a win. If luck is on his side, O’Ward can win this race. However, he was only 5th (Long Beach, Belle Isle) in 2022 and 12th, 11th and 24th respectively in the other three.
He had a car capable of winning 2020. He also ended the 2021 season with speed. Now, he’s with McLaren. The two-time Long Beach winner has a pair of 21st place finishes and 20th last year in his last three St. Pete starts too.
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 only 17th last year and just had 1 top 5’s and 3 top 10 in 5 street races last season.
Ed Carpenter Racing
This also hasn’t been a strong suit for them either. Conor Daly was 21st, 12th, 12th, 20th and 17th on these tracks respectively last year while Rinus VeeKay was 6th, 13th, 16th, 13th and 12th himself. In 5 St. Pete starts, Daly’s best finish is 13th. VeeKay has a pair of top 10’s in three tries himself, but no top 5’s.
AJ Foyt Racing
They’ve not won a race since 2013 and were 18-24-25 in St. Pete, 10-16-26 in Long Beach, 20-24-27 in Belle Isle, 22-24 in Toronto and 19-25 in Nashville. Benjamin Pedersen is a rookie and Santino Ferrucci was 23rd his last time out here in…2020.
The young driver hasn’t exceled on these types of tracks. He’s finished 19th, 24th, 14th and 15th respectively on them a year ago and also missed Belle Isle due to an injury.
He was 22nd, 25th, 18th, 18th and 22nd in 5 street course events last season.
Will Power has won nine poles at St. Pete but only one of them have resulted in a win.