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

Up to Speed: 2021 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Preview

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

For the second time in six months, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg takes center stage for the NTT IndyCar Series.

While it was intended to be this season’s opening round, that honor went to Barber Motorsports Park last Sunday. That race certainly had a mixed bag of cars setting themselves apart due to excellent strategy. Look no further than Alex Palou, who won the opening round and determined to continue his momentum in Florida.

“We’re coming from our first win to a street course that I love. I’m sure we’re going to have a really strong performance,” said Palou. “We’ve been working on our street course program back at the shop, on the sim, and preparing with some videos from last year. I’m sure we’re going to have really strong results.”

The popular street course has produced a lot of unpredictable outcomes. Such as a race lead going away due to an incident like Robert Wickens in 2018 and Alexander Rossi last October.

When certain pitfalls occur, another driver picks up the pieces. In those cases, it was Sebastien Bourdais and Josef Newgarden respectively.

After an awful last Sunday, Newgarden is looking to turn his campaign around with a third straight St. Pete victory.

Another guy looking to bounce back is Felix Rosenqvist, who too had his share of shortcomings at St. Pete. That being in 2019 when he led 31 laps only to finish fourth.

“It’s finally time to go back to a street course. It’s definitely one of the highlights of the calendar,” said Rosenqvist. We had a tough weekend at Barber which I want to forget all about and move on. It’s so nice to be back at St. Pete already one week after.”

Like last Sunday, the same 24 daring men will look to conquer Round 2. Those who continue to thrive will set themselves apart from the rest of the competition. Those who are off to a rough start must deliver if they want to be genuine contenders for the Astor Cup.

By the Numbers

What: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, NTT IndyCar Series Race No. 2 of 17

Where: Streets of St. Petersburg – St. Petersburg, Florida (Opened: 1985, first INDYCAR event was 2003)

When: Sunday, April 25

TV/Radio: NBC, 12:00 pm ET / INDYCAR Radio Network (SiriusXM Channel 211)

Track Size: 1.8 mile street circuit

Race Length: 100 laps, 181 miles

Recent Race Winner: Josef Newgarden – No. 1 Team Penske Chevrolet (Started eighth, 21 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Jordan King – No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet (60.0476 seconds, 107.914 mph – March 10, 2018)

From the Driver’s Seat

Sebastien Bourdais – No. 14 AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet

“I’m really excited to run at St. Petersburg. Obviously, a grand prix at home so it’s a sweet thing to race in front of friends and family. It’s a great track with great memories. Hopefully, we can create some more.”

Alex Palou – No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

“I’m thinking about St. Pete, free practice, qualifying, and hopefully gets lots of points and hopefully be on the podium and hopefully win the race,” said Palou after winning at Barber.

“This championship is so long that you need to take it one race at a time, and yeah, maybe when it’s three races to go we can start talking about what’s really the championship or how is it going.

“But at the moment let’s focus on St. Pete, try to do the best result we can there. If we have a car to finish fifth, try to finish fourth, and that’s what we’re going to try to do all year.”

Last Time at St. Petersburg

The final round of a four-month IndyCar campaign came to an end last October and it didn’t disappoint.

Weather, chaos and the debut of Scott McLaughlin were among the main takeaways from the 2020 event. McLaughlin will look to have a better outing after his race was cut short due to a crash.

McLaughlin wasn’t the only one who had their day heartbroken, look no further than Rossi. For much of the race, he had the car to beat until he took got bitten in an accident.

When the dust finally settled, it was Newgarden who scored his second straight victory in the Florida street venue. He noted that strategy was critical because full green flag race wasn’t an end-all-be-all. It showed his confidence he had on his No. 1 Team Penske squad.

“That played into our favor today. We had the flow of the race we needed, but it wasn’t anything they gave us. We had a solid day,” said Newgarden. “We needed to be fairly quick. I think we had a fairly quick car, and we just had to make some moves. That’s all we could do to try and get to the front. We outlasted everybody and did what we needed to do.”

The grand picture was indeed the championship for Newgarden, but it wasn’t meant to be. Thus, he wasn’t able to retain the No. 1 plate as Scott Dixon capped off his wire-to-wire championship campaign.

“We knew coming into this that fate wasn’t in our own hands,” Newgarden added. “We weren’t going to be able to decide things. So, we just did what we could and hoped for the best.”

Dixon wound up third in the finale, but it didn’t matter as he hoisted the Astor Cup. It signified his sixth IndyCar championship of his career and he’s far from done with his ongoing legendary career. All credit went to the entire No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing team, who were the real MVPs at the end of the day.

“It’s all the team. I can’t thank everybody on this team enough,” said Dixon. “Obviously, Chip (Ganassi), Mike (Hull) and Barry (Wanser) and everybody involved – obviously, Honda. I’m proud to be powered by Honda and what they’ve been able to pull out this year given the deficit we’ve had going into Indy previous years. They nailed it.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, April 23

  • NTT IndyCar Series Practice 1 (4:15 pm to 5:00 pm – Peacock)

Saturday, April 24

  • NTT IndyCar Series Practice 2 (9:45 am to 10:30 am – Peacock)
  • NTT IndyCar Series Qualifying (1:45 pm to 3:00 pm – Peacock (Live)/NBCSN (10:00 pm))
  • Indy Lights – Race 1 (3:10 pm to 4:05 pm – Peacock)

Sunday, April 25

  • NTT IndyCar Series Warm-Up (9:05 am to 9:35 am – Peacock)
  • Indy Lights – Race 2 (9:50 am to 10:50 am – Peacock)
  • NTT IndyCar Series Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (Noon – 100 laps, 181 miles – NBC)

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. Over the years, Luis has focused on writing, video and photography ranging from Idaho athletics to auto racing with ambitions of having his work recognized.