A brand new season of open-wheeled racing is on the horizon and it is anticipated to be its most-competitive yet.
The NTT IndyCar Series launches this weekend with Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The green flag drops on the 110-lap feature at 12:37 pm. Live coverage can be found on NBC Sports Net.
The Floridian street course is the first of seventeen IndyCar races set for 2019, which includes an August 24 appearance at Gateway Motorsports Park for the third annual “Bommarito Automotive Group 500.”
This weekend’s field of 24 drivers is paced by defending champion Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing). The Auckland, New Zealand-native staved off hard charges late last season to claim his fifth overall IndyCar title.
While he possesses 44 overall wins in the sport, he has yet to finish higher than third on St. Pete’s 1.8-mile, 14-turn layout that averages speeds over triple-digits.
“I can’t wait to get started,” Dixon said earlier this week. “There is just a ton of momentum around this championship right now. We’ll see if we can actually defend one of these titles for a change. We haven’t seemed to figure out how to repeat, so hopefully, it’s our year.”
Meanwhile, a mighty challenge is expected by Andretti Autosports’ Alexander Rossi, who finished runner-up in points last season and almost snared a come-from-behind victory in the standings.
“I’m thrilled that the season is finally upon us,” he said. ”We have had some strong tests leading into St. Pete this weekend, but it’s clear that the competition is also stronger than ever, so we will have to be sure to execute every session.”
Familiar faces are projected to make strong statements in the Sunshine State. Veteran Will Power (Team Penske) claimed three checkered flags last season and placed third in the hierarchy. He netted wins in St. Petersburg in 2010 and 2014.
“St. Pete is a really important race because if you do well, it can give you great momentum that can help lead to the championship race at Laguna Seca, so we’re really keeping that in mind,” said Power. “I’m a big fan of street-course racing because there’s nothing like the energy from the fans, and St. Pete is always a really fun place.”
All of the teams enter the weekend with newfound set-ups as a result of rigorous testing sessions at various tracks.
“We had a really productive off season,” said 2017 IndyCar champ Josef Newgarden (Team Penske). “The team and I spent a lot of time reviewing 2018 data, and we learned a lot from our tests at the Circuit of Americas and Sebring. We’ve developed a new plan of attack that we believe will serve us well. Now, we’re ready to get back on track and put forth a strong effort.”
The 2019 NTT IndyCar Series sports five rookie drivers. Brit Ben Hanley (Dragonspeed) will compete in five races this season while Swede Marcus Ericsson will race full-time with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
“I’m really looking forward to getting involved and having a solid weekend,” Hanley said. “We know it’s going to be tough, but at the same time, we’re not just here to tool around.”
“First IndyCar race of my career,” said Ericsson. “Super exciting, of course. It’s been a fun winter with preparations and testing. I’ve really been settling in well with the team. It’s a great bunch of people and they have really helped me get up to speed with everything.”
Last season, nine different drivers claimed checkered flags. Parity this season and the series complexion overall might lead to about a dozen drivers that might claim the St. Pete duke this Sunday.
“St. Pete is my home race and it is an honor to represent the city during race weekend,” said 2017 and 2018 race winner Sebastien Bourdais (Dale Coyne Racing With Vasser/Sullivan). “My first IndyCar race was here in 2003 and I took the pole, but until the last two years, I really didn’t have a lot of success here. It took 15 years, and now I am the two-time defending champion and that feels good. I don’t feel any additional pressure to do well…but it’s nice to be able to sleep in my own bed and have friends and family at the track.”
“It’s just one of my favorite venues and race weekends,” said Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing), who won the 2008 race and finished second last year at the street course. “I’m glad to be going back to a place we did well at last year, and I am hopeful we can do one spot better this time around. I certainly do not see why winning my second at St. Pete isn’t possible!”
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