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IndyCar St. Petersburg: Newgarden wins season opener

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden won the opening round of the IndyCar Series on the streets of St. Petersburg.

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevrolet celebrates winning the P1 Award

Photo by: Josh Tons / Motorsport Images

Newgarden led 92 laps, losing the lead after a slow first pitstop but battling back to quickly reaffirm his dominance.

He started from the pole, using the harder primary tyres versus the softer alternates of fellow front-row starter Felix Rosenqvist (Meyer Shank Racing), and led the field to the first green flag of the season.

Newgarden held his top spot through a frantic Turn 1 from Rosenqvist, as Colton Herta (Andretti Global, starting on alternates) grabbed third from Pato O’Ward (Arrow McLaren, on primaries) around the outside at Turn 1 and dived to his inside at Turn 2.

Andretti Global’s Marcus Ericsson grabbed fifth, ahead of a feisty Scott McLaughlin (Team Penske) and Rinus VeeKay (Ed Carpenter Racing), as a tentative Romain Grosjean (Juncos Hollinger Racing) slumped to eighth after getting shuffled out at Turn 1 as McLaughlin steamed from ninth to sixth, bumping past VeeKay down the inside of the opening corner.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s best-placed driver Christian Lundgaard sustained a right-rear puncture after a touch from behind at Turn 4 and was forced to pit at the end of the opening lap.

Newgarden led Rosenqvist by just under a second after 10 laps, with a train comprising Herta, O’Ward, Ericsson and McLaughlin a further 3s in arrears as the 100-lap race snoozed into full fuel-saving mode.

Newgarden was leading by 1.9s when 10th-placed Marcus Armstrong, the first of the Chip Ganassi Racing runners, crashed at Turn 10 on lap 26, breaking his front-right corner, bringing out the first full-course caution of the season. “A costly mistake,” he rued.

Marcus Armstrong, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

Marcus Armstrong, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

Photo by: Josh Tons / Motorsport Images

Almost the entire field descended on St Pete’s tight pitlane, with Herta leaving it in the lead ahead of Rosenqvist and Newgarden – who had a tricky exit from his pit box due to O’Ward and fell from the lead to third. But Herta was forced to give up the lead as replays confirmed that Rosenqvist’s front wing beat him to the timing line first.

The race restarted on lap 31 with Lundgaard, the only driver who didn’t stop, leading Rosenqvist, Herta, Newgarden, O’Ward and McLaughlin.

VeeKay picked up ninth from Dixon at Turn 1, while a fired-up Newgarden (on alternates) passed Herta (on primaries) for second at Turn 4. Herta then lost further spots to O’Ward and McLaughlin as he struggled to warm-up the harder rubber.

Flying on his alternates, Newgarden attacked the primary-shod Rosenqvist for the net lead at Turn 4 on lap 32, and made a move stick a lap later at Turn 1. O’Ward (also on alternates) passed Rosenqvist, who was struggling on the primaries like Herta.

Sting Ray Robb (AJ Foyt Racing) then caused the second full-course yellow when he went off at Turn 1 with a smoking front-right brake disc.

Lundgaard pitted under this yellow, recycling Newgarden to the lead, ahead of O’Ward, Rosenqvist, McLaughlin and Herta. At this point, Dale Coyne Racing’s rookie Colin Braun suffered a spectacular fuel fire during his stop, but he continued.

The race restarted on lap 39, with Newgarden pulling clear of O’Ward, while McLaughlin stalked Rosenqvist for third. Behind Herta, Ericsson ran sixth from VeeKay, Will Power (Penske), Scott Dixon (CGR) and Grosjean.

Romain Grosjean, Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet

Romain Grosjean, Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet

Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

At the halfway point, Newgarden’s lead was 1s over O’Ward, with Rosenqvist a further second back having seen off McLaughlin’s challenge.

Ericsson’s first run with Andretti ended when his car lost power on lap 52, and he dived for the pitlane, losing his top-six spot. “It came from nowhere, went to half power and we tried everything to fix it, but we can’t find the reason,” he reported.

Power passed VeeKay for sixth at Turn 10 on lap 60, and Dixon further demoted VeeKay a couple of laps later at Turn 1. VeeKay then banged wheels with Grosjean at Turn 4.

The final pitstop cycle was triggered by Grosjean and Arrow McLaren’s Alexander Rossi, the latter picking up a spot, stopped on lap 64. Newgarden pitted from the lead a lap later (opting to run primaries to the finish), followed in by O’Ward, Rosenqvist and McLaughlin (who switched on to alternates after two primary stints).

Herta went a lap longer, spending a tour in the lead, which meant he overcut Rosenqvist and McLaughlin.

McLaughlin passed Rosenqvist for fourth at Turn 10 with 32 laps remaining, just before Linus Lundqvist backed his CGR car into the tyrewall at Turn 10 after Grosjean punted him into a spin, causing the race’s third caution period. Grosjean would later retire with a gearbox issue following a drive-through penalty for causing the crash.

It restarted with 28 laps to go, with Herta suffering a big slide at Turn 3 but just managing to hold off McLaughlin there, but it only took a few more corners for the former Supercars star to send it past Herta into Turn 10. Power, on the same tyre strategy as McLaughlin, further demoted Herta at Turn 1 a lap later.

Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske Chevrolet

Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske Chevrolet

Photo by: Gavin Baker / Motorsport Images

McLaughlin charged up to O’Ward but couldn’t pass him, as the two-stop strategy still needed some fuel saving to make the finish.

Newgarden pulled out an 8s lead over O’Ward as he stormed to an impressive victory.

O’Ward had the Penske pair of McLaughlin and Power filling his mirrors in the closing stages: Power began to attack McLaughlin with five laps remaining, which encouraged him to reengage with O’Ward.

But the positions stayed the same to the checker, spelling a Chevrolet 1-2-3-4.

Behind Herta, the best of the Honda-powered drivers, reigning champion Alex Palou came alive in the closing stages, after an anonymous race to this point, running a long middle stint and passing Rosenqvist for sixth as he benefited from running alternates to the finish.

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