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INDYCAR Racing In The Streets This Weekend At Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg



Photo: Chris Owens/INDYCAR

ST. PETERSBURG, FL (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – The NTT INDYCAR SERIES is racing in the streets this weekend for the 18th annual Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The 14-turn, 1.89-mile temporary street circuit that incorporates city streets and part of the Albert Whitted Airport to make up the picturesque course that is a fan (and media) favorite on the schedule.

Josef Newgarden is the defending race winner, taking home the victory when the Series finished their 2020 season on Florida’s Gulf Coast after rescheduling the race due to the global pandemic.

Chip Ganassi’s team enters the weekend with a ton of momentum following the season opening race at Barber Motorsports Park. Three of the four Ganassi entries finished in the top 10 and 2-out-of-3 finished on the podium

Alex Palou won the race in the No. 10 SegiTV Honda. The victory included a couple of firsts for Palou: His first INDYCAR Series win; His first win with CGR and he is the first Spaniard since Oriol Servia to win an INDYCAR car race since 2005.

“Tough to describe how it feels,” Palou said of that first victory. “You feel like all the work that you’ve done the past years, the past months, the past days, it feels amazing that you did a good job and the team did a good job.”

Scott Dixon finished third in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda after staring fifth. Dixon has never won at St. Pete but has four runner-up finishes, the most recent coming in 2019.

“It’s just one of those things that hasn’t worked out,” said Dixon about that elusive victory. “This place owes me nothing.  It’s hard. It’s a difficult track. I’ve definitely had races here where we probably should’ve converted to a win and either made a mistake or we missed it on strategy. We’ll work hard, that’s the only way you’re going get to possibly get a win here, and keep knocking on that door.”

Marcus Ericsson finished eighth in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda but the finish was hardly indicative of his performance. Ericsson was running as high as fourth late in the race when he had to go into fuel conservation mode to make it to the end.

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The No. 8 team employed the same two-stop strategy as the No. 9 and No. 10 but was the first to come to pit road for the final stop. If a caution would have come out they would have been in the proverbial cat bird seat.

The ‘rookie’ on the team, seven-time NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson, finished 19th in his first race in the series, 3-laps down after an early spin.

“This weekend again is going to be like starting all over,” Johnson told Pittsburgh Racing Now. “A tire I have not been on. A circuit I have not been on. Never been in a street race either, so there are so many new things. I really feel like I am starting all over again.”

What Johnson is trying to accomplish is nothing short of amazing, something that is not lost on his six-time Champion teammate.

“What Jimmie is trying to do, I couldn’t think of anything more difficult,” said Dixon. “With the limited track-time we get nowadays, you have one maybe two practice sessions and then into qualifying, it’s very difficult on rookies.“

Team Penske’s Will Power is also carrying momentum into St. Pete after finishing second to Palou at Barber. Power was thrilled to start the season with a strong finish.

“I was happy to have a good start to the year,” said Power. “Obviously a win is always great but compared to the way we started last year this is nice. It was a very calm day for me. I’m calm about the season. I’ve been around long enough to know how this ebbs and flows.”

One of the keys at St. Pete is keeping the car on the course. Another key is getting the car to work on multiple surfaces: pavement, concrete, runway, taxiway.

“Typically when you go back to a road course they stay pretty similar from year-to-year,” explained Dixon. “Here turn 9 and turn 10 has been resurfaced since last year, so there’s a different amount of grip and that could be for three or four or five turns through the circuit. Plus, how they build the walls. An apex one year could be in this place and now it’s in a different place. It definitely makes it interesting. The margin of error – you’re talking just inches before you’re slamming yourself into a wall.”

The race is Sunday at 12:30 p.m. with coverage starting a Noon on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

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Josef Newgarden tops first INDYCAR practice as Laguna Seca



Penske Entertainment: James Black

MONTEREY, CA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden is starting INDYCAR Championship weekend off on the right pedal by leading the first NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice session on Friday.

Newgarden’s No. 2 Hitachi Chevy turned a fast lap of 1 minute, 11.4103 seconds (112.824 mph) around the 11-turn, 2.238-mile road course circuit with Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta second-quickest at 1:11:8266 (112.170) in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda.

“Yeah, just a tricky session,” noted Newgarden. “There was a lot of people going off, there was a lot of dirt on the track, so it was quite difficult to put it together. So not a very straightforward session. But I think very productive in a lot of ways. It’s not a lot of running, and you’re trying to make the most use of just a couple runs, and I felt like we did that, so I was happy about that.”

Championship-leader Will Power was 7th quickest, 1:11:9858 (111.922) in the No. 12 Verizon Chevy.  Power leads Newgarden and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon by 20-points heading into Sunday’s season finale.

“Tough track, man,” said Power. “Very low grip. You get one lap on tires, and they’re gone. It’s hard to get a read because the car changes so much over a run.”

Three Rivers Karting

Championship contender Marcus Ericsson was tenth fastest in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda at 1:12:0803 (111.775) and trails Power by ??-points in the title fight.

“I’m hoping it’s going to be a high-deg (tire degradation) race, and it seems to be that way,” said Ericsson. “Usually our team and myself from my experience, we’re usually pretty good at that. Yeah, the tires seemed to degrade quite quickly here. It was the same in the test and the same today in practice.”

Last weekend’s winner Scott McLaughlin was next in line with a 1:12:0877 (111.764). McLaughlin has an outside shot at the title as he sits ??-points behind Power.

Dixon, the six-time series Champion, was 17th in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda at 1:12:3911 (111.295) despite a team test at the track a few weeks ago.

“It’s going to be a pretty high-deg  race, man,” said Dixon, who can tie INDYCAR Legend A.J. Foyt for all-time Championships with a seventh.

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Determined drive by Scott Dixon in Portland earns podium and shot at 7th Championship



Penske Entertainment: James Black

PORTLAND, OR (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon is in the fight for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES Championship after a third place finish in Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland.

Dixon entered the race in third-place in the Championship fight, 14-points behind Team Penske’s Will Power and 11-points behind Power’s teammate Josef Newgarden.  Dixon leaves Portland tied with Newgarden but Power finished ahead of both and now sits 20-points ahead going into the season finale on Sunday at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca.

“Yeah, you know, still in it,” said Dixon. “That’s all that we can hope for.”

Dixon started the race from the 16th position after failing to advance out of the first round of knockout-style qualifying on Saturday.  Qualifying has been a bit of an ‘Achilles heel’ for the No. 9 this season.

“We’ve got to work on qualifying and stop making it so difficult on us,” reflected Dixon, who gained more positions (+13) than anyone in the field from the start to finish of the race. “The car was fantastic in Q1 on the box. Didn’t expect too much of a change and thought we would have converted easy and didn’t even make it. We have to stop doing these most improved days, for sure. It’s not that much fun.”

Dixon opened the race on the less-grippy Firestone primary tires while the majority of those starting ahead of him started on the stickier Firestone alternate tires and quickly moved up a couple of spots before being one of the first to come to pit road for his first pit stop on Lap 13.

Dixon’s No. 9 ‘Wolfpack’ crew swapped out the primary tires for the alternate tires, topped the PNC Bank Honda off with fuel and sent the six-time series Champion back out into the fight where he put his foot down and continued to gain positions as various strategies started playing out.

Dixon’s second to last pit-stop saw his crew put on used alternate Firestones, setting him up for new alternate tires for his final pit stop.  Dixon was chasing Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi for fifth place when CGR Managing Director and Dixon’s strategist Mike Hull called him to pit road for the last time.

“We had to use a lot of overtake early on, so that definitely changed things up, I think, for the strategy towards the final five there,” said Dixon. “Had a tricky moment with the 10 car coming in front of us in the pit, which kind of screwed us a bit as well, and lost a position that we should have got on Rossi, which was frustrating.”

Three Rivers Karting

Dixon’s frustration was short-lived as the caution came out on Lap 84 when Rinus VeeKay misjudged a pass on Dixon’s teammate Jimmie Johnson, pinching the No. 48 Carvana Honda into the wall ending Johnson’s day.

The 4-lap caution period set-up a restart with Scott McLaughlin leading Power, Pato O’Ward, Newgarden, Rossi and Dixon as the green flag dropped.  McLaughlin got a great start and Power settled in behind his teammate when O’Ward made an ambitious move trying to pass Power in Turn 1. It didn’t work.

“Yeah, he sent it straight into me,” Power explained. “I left as much room as I could. Inside, inside, and I kept going further, and, bam, he hit me over the curve. I didn’t expect it from Pato, though. He is usually a pretty good racer, pretty smart racer. He was probably needing to win the race to have a shot at the championship, so he probably just went a little bit too far.”

Turn 1 usually produces some memorable highlights at Portland and this restart was no different as right behind the Power/O’Ward tussle, Newgarden and Rossi got together opening the door for Dixon, who didn’t hesitate to take advantage.

“I think when I saw Josef break I was, like, ‘Wow, I’m not sure if he is going to make the corner,'” said Dixon. “He did all that he could to make the corner, but put him at a weird angle, and that, obviously, offset him and Rossi because Rossi had a great run on him out of 12 into turn one. Then, got a great exit.”

Dixon turned hard left, avoided that calamity, and carried the momentum through the turn and set his sights on O’Ward, who was still gaining speed after hitting Power and made a reactionary move to Dixon’s passing attempt, which is a violation of INDYCAR rules.

“I got a run on Pato, and he put a pretty big block on, and a lap later IndyCar called that, and I was able to get past, which thankfully I think the front three, we pulled a ten-second gap on the next pack where we pulled away really quickly,” said Dixon. “It was a great restart. Something that definitely helped us on the points side, and we’ll take what we can.”

Dixon set his sights on Power and was able to get within a second of the No. 12 Chevy but wasn’t able to challenge for the second spot on the podium.

“We did as much as we could today,” said Dixon.  “All in all, I think the team did a great job today. Yeah, we’ll see. See what comes next week. I think it’s pretty cool that we don’t need any resets or any chase championships or anything like that. It always comes down to the wire in the INDYCAR Series.”

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Ganassi’s Alex Palou won’t repeat as INDYCAR Champion



Chip Ganassi Racing

PORTLAND, OR (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou’s hopes of repeating as NTT INDYCAR SERIES Champion is over after Palou was mathematically eliminated after his 12th-place finish in Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland.

Palou stated the race in the fourth position on Firestone alternate red sidewall tires and ran in the Top 5 through the first stint of the race.  Palou however radioed the No. 10 Ridgeline Lubricants crew during the second stint that something was wrong with the rear of the car.  Palou was on the less-grippy, black sidewall Firestone tires.

Three Rivers Karting

“Starting fourth, we were running okay in the beginning and then lost a bit of pace,” said Palou. “We’ll check on what went on today and recover next week in Laguna. We still have one race to go, and we will try to win it.”

Palou’s sits 66-points behind championship leader Will Power going into the season finale next Sunday at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

Palou’s teammates Scott Dixon and Marcus Ericsson remain in the title fight with Dixon tied for second place, 20-points behind Power and Ericsson 39-points out of the top spot.

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