Photo: Walter G. Arce Sr. /ASP Inc.

DEHARDE: Friday St. Petersburg IndyCar Musings

By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — Friday for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg had many interesting happenings across all the INDYCAR system so let’s take a look from the top down.

In the NTT IndyCar Series practice sessions, Felix Rosenqvist led the first session in his first race for Chip Ganassi Racing in the No. 10 NTT Data Honda. The Swede was ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay in the first session but Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 Andretti Autosports DHL Honda led the second session.

What’s more odd is that Hunter-Reay was the only driver in the top five of both sessions. There was a different cast of characters in the top five that included Max Chilton, Colton Herta, Marco Andretti, Spencer Pigot, Marcus Ericsson, Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi. Variety really makes Saturday’s practice and qualifying hard to predict but if Hunter-Reay’s car stays as good as it has been, then we might see him finally win at St. Petersburg.

“We definitely made some changes between the sessions and at first I thought it was a bit of a handful and it still is,” said Hunter-Reay. “We are right on the edge of tipping it over. It was a good outing, the Firestone reds (alternate tires) came in real quickly, as the Firestone reds usually do. The car was pretty good. It is a handful at the moment, I’d like it to be a little bit more polite in a few areas. We will put our heads together as a team and work with Honda to get this No. 28 DHL up front, but it is a good first step.”

Moving down to Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires, race one qualifying for Saturday came with a Belardi Auto Racing driver on pole. No longer is he Zachary Claman De Melo, instead he simply wants to be referred to as Zachary Claman.

“I’m just going by Zachary Claman, it’s easier! I made a new logo and it looks cool with ZC so I just figured I’d drop the De Melo. I mean, it’s still my name but for announcers and stuff it’s just easier to go Zach Claman.”

If name simplification worked for Rinus VeeKay, it might work with Claman.

It was also nice to see Toby Sowery and Oliver Askew get second and third place respectively in qualifying for Saturday’s Indy Lights race. Sowery’s deal to race in Indy Lights came together pretty much in the days before Homestead in a partnership with BN Racing and Team Pelfrey and the British racer will be looking to impress.

In Indy Pro 2000 Championship presented by Cooper Tires, the big shocker was that Kyle Kirkwood finished last after an early exit from the race on Friday. Kirkwood won 12 of 14 races in the 2018 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship but will be looking to get his championship run back on track on Saturday. The big winner was Parker Thompson.

The Canadian managed to make good on a late race restart that gave him flashbacks to 2017. In 2017, Thompson led on a late restart at St. Petersburg but overshot the first corner in the second USF2000 race that weekend and lost to Oliver Askew. This time around, Rasmus Lindh was in second but Thompson was older and wiser and stayed in front.

USF2000’s debut race for 2019 was a bit of a downer. Multiple incidents and a red flag marred the race but Braden Eves gave Cape Motorsports a win to start the 2019 season. Alex Baron’s car for Legacy Autosport barrel rolled before the first turn but he will be back racing again.

Saturday’s racing action begins with Indy Pro 2000 at 11:25 am, USF2000 at 12:20 pm and Indy Lights at 1:15 pm.

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A 2012 graduate of LSU, Christopher DeHarde primarily focuses on the NTT IndyCar Series and the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship. DeHarde has actively covered motorsports since 2014.