By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Josef Newgarden’s quest for a St. Pete three-peat starts off on a positive note, topping Friday’s practice session. Newgarden was one of seven drivers who had a time below 61 seconds with him setting time of 1:00.803.
The two-time IndyCar champion made it clear that his Lap 1 error from Barber Motorsports Park is the least of his concerns. With a strong start to his weekend, can you blame him?
“It’s so early. As far as points go, it’s not ideal. Obviously in a perfect world we would have started off with much better points and ideally a win,” said Newgarden.
“As far as the championship goes, I don’t know how we can look at that at the moment. We want to have a solid weekend. It was a shame we just didn’t even really get to be in the race. It’s more of a shame when you affect other people’s days, like Colton, I felt bad about that, amongst others.
Excited to get going. I think for us as a team and a unit, we want to get back on track and do our thing, get a race underneath us. Championship-wise I think it’s way too early to start thinking about that.”
Colton Herta was the third quickest and led the Honda cavalry. He got acclimated quickly to the 1.8-mile street circuit. Noted he found some good and bad things out of his No. 26 Honda.
“It’s pretty astounding how much grip we had initially compared to previous years of first practice,” said Herta. “There’s a lot of grip. It could be a really fast weekend to come.”
Following a brief delay due to timing and scoring issues, there were three notable moments that unraveled.
Fellow Frenchmen Romain Grosjean and Sebastien Bourdais overshot Turn 10 and used the access road. While Grosjean (19th fastest) was able to get his No. 51 Honda going, the same can’t be said about the two-time St. Pete winner.
Bourdais’ No. 14 Chevrolet stalled and the session had to be stopped with under two minutes to go. He was only 14th quickest out of the 24-car field.
In between those two episodes, Turn 8 also saw some action. Once again, things looked tough for Felix Rosenqvist who over shot the circuit. Fortunately for the Swede who finished fourth in 2019, he was able to be among the seven drivers who ran under 61 seconds. His time of 1:00.996 was just 0.193 seconds behind Newgarden.
Last Sunday’s winner Alex Palou only mustered a time of 1:01.739 seconds which was only 20th fastest.
Saturday’s coverage begins with Saturday morning’s practice session at 9:45 am ET. Then at 1:45 pm ET, the fight for the pole and arguably the track record will unfold. Both sessions will be streamed live on Peacock.
A year ago, it was Will Power who won the NTT P1 Pole Award at St. Pete. The Aussie was fastest for much of the session until Newgarden knocked him down to second quickest by 0.007 seconds.
The current track record is held by Jordan King with a time of 60.0476 seconds back in 2018. Herta believes a time of under a minute can be done, but it’ll take a few things to become a reality.
“I think we’re a 60.8. I think Josef did a 60.80,” said Herta. “Still have a little bit to go, but you kind of expect six, seven 10ths from the reds if you nailed the lap. So we’ll see.”