Archive for March 11, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (March 11, 2020) – The 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season opens this weekend with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden won last year’s race on the 14-turn, 1.8-mile temporary street circuit, but he will have a host of strong competition for this year’s honors among the 26-car field. This marks the 10th consecutive year that the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will serve as the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season opener, dating to 2011 in a race won by Dario Franchitti.

Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be the first of 17 races this season, with five held on temporary street circuits, seven on permanent road courses and five on oval tracks, the latter including the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. The season concludes Sept. 20 with the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at the historic WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif.

The 100-lap Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be broadcast live on the NBC Sports Network on Sunday. The pre-race show begins at 2:30 p.m. ET with the green flag scheduled for 3:30 p.m. The Pennzoil INDYCAR Radio Network also will have live coverage on its more than 300 network affiliates, Sirius 211, XM 205, indycar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile App powered by NTT DATA.

Friday practices are set for 10:45 a.m. and 3 p.m., with coverage on NBC Sports Gold. NTT P1 Award qualifying begins at 2:40 p.m. Saturday on NBC Sports Gold. (tape delay on NBCSN, 10 p.m.)

Here are “5 Things To Look For” heading into the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg:

Newgarden wins in St. Pete

Department Of Defense”

Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden (No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet) returns to defend not only his victory in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, but also the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship, his second in three years.

Last year, Newgarden became the first driver since 2014 to use a victory in St. Petersburg as a springboard to the season title. He is looking to become the first series champion to repeat since Dario Franchitti won three in a row from 2009-11.

To wear both crowns again, the 29-year-old Nashville, Tenn., driver must fend off strong challenges from as many as five former series champions, led by Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Honda), a five-time series champion. Other past champions include four-time champion Sebastien Bourdais (No. 14 AJ Foyt Chevrolet), 2012 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 28 DHL Honda) of Andretti Autosport, 2014 champion Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet) and 2016 champion Simon Pagenaud (No. 22 Menards Chevrolet).

“We have the same goals,” Newgarden said. “We need to try to win the Indianapolis 500 as a team, same thing with the driver’s championship. It will go in that order.”

Also, 12 drivers entered this weekend have won NTT INDYCAR SERIES races, six of whom have more than 10 career victories. Last year, seven drivers representing five teams won races, with 18 drivers posting a top-five finish in a given race.

Oliver Askew on pit road

“Ranking Rookies”

The NTT INDYCAR SERIES had quite the battle last year among its rookies, with Felix Rosenqvist (No. 10 NTT DATA Honda) and Colton Herta (No. 88 Capstone Honda), finishing sixth and seventh in the championship standings, respectively.

Herta won a pair of races (Circuit of The Americas, WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca) and Rosenqvist posted a pair of runner-up finishes (Mid-Ohio, Portland International Raceway) en route to earning Rookie of the Year. They also combined to win four poles.

Santino Ferrucci (No. 18 SealMaster Honda) also was impressive in his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, nearly completing every lap during the 17-race season while finishing seventh in the Indianapolis 500 to earn Rookie of the Year and finishing fourth in three other oval-track races. Will this rookie class be just as successful? It very well could be among those running full-season schedules with Oliver Askew (No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet) (shown here) and Rinus VeeKay (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet) having finished 1-2, respectively, last season in Indy Lights.

Also, keep an eye on Alex Palou (No. 55 Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh Honda). Last year’s Super Formula Rookie of the Year is the driver Newgarden tabbed as the most likely to win the Rookie of the Year award. “He’s probably got the most experience of everybody,” Newgarden said.

Scott Dixon

New Leader In The Clubhouse”

With Tony Kanaan (No. 14 AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) set to run a five-race oval schedule in his final season as a primary driver, his all-time INDYCAR record for consecutive starts will officially end at 317 with no start in Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The streak began at Portland in 2001 and concludes with the 45-year-old Brazilian’s start in last season’s season’s season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

The new active leader for consecutive starts would become Scott Dixon (shown here), who has made 258 in a row heading into Sunday’s race. That current streak by the five-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion also ranks as the second longest in the sport’s history behind Kanaan. Marco Andretti (No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda) has made 234 consecutive starts, which ranks third all time and will become the second-longest active streak behind Dixon.

“Man I haven’t really thought about that. I thought TK was real old, but what does that really say about me now?,” the 39-year-old Dixon said. “Seriously though, I think we all still love seeing TK compete and know what he’s meant to the sport over his long and successful career. It will be weird not having him on the grid this weekend. I’m not sure I’ll ever reach the mark he set … that’s a ways away for sure. TK has been a great ambassador and champion for INDYCAR over the years and I hope to carry on the streak for years to come and maybe that will be with the PNC Bank car in victory lane Sunday.”

Aeroscreen new for 2020

“Getting A Handle On It”

One of the first orders of business this weekend will be to decode the different handling characteristics associated with the installation of INDYCAR’s revolutionary Aeroscreen. While the Aeroscreen will improve cockpit protection, it alters the aerodynamics of the cars with about 70 additional pounds in road course configuration.

With that comes the feeling of the weight moved forward and a higher center of gravity.

“It’s definitely different,” Alexander Rossi (No. 27 Auto Nation/NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda) said. “But the extent of that won’t become clear to us until probably (following two 45-minute practices) in St. Pete.”

Newgarden said he expects everyone to approach the new style different.

“I think you’re going to see people power sliding the car a lot more, being aggressive on the throttle, maybe slide the car a bit more friendly and get away with it,” he said. “That could be quite exciting, especially on a street course.”

The Aeroscreen will make its competition debut in Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Fans at the 2019 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

“Park It Here”

The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, one of four street events for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, could be called a weeklong downtown festival, and it begins with the “Party in the Park” on Thursday from 6-8 p.m. in North Straub Park, positioned between Bayshore Dr. NE and Beach Dr. NE along the waterfront.

The unique fan experience is free and will bring drivers on stage, with giveaways every 15 minutes, a deejay, food trucks and fireworks.

This is the 16th time for the series to race in St. Petersburg, the 10th consecutive year it’s been the season opener.

Dixon said there are few events like the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

“I think it just has the combination of everything, and it’s the first one (of the year),” he said. “The city really embraces the race, too, which I think is really special. It’s the general size of the event, the viewing areas, the downtown atmosphere … an all-around top race to go to.”

ABOUT INDYCAR:

INDYCAR is the Indianapolis-based governing body for North America’s premier open-wheel auto racing series known as the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. The series features an international field of the world’s most versatile drivers – including five-time series champion Scott Dixon, reigning series champion Josef Newgarden and defending Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud – who compete on superspeedways, short ovals, street circuits and permanent road courses. The season, which runs from March to September, currently consists of 17 races in the United States and Canada and is highlighted by the historic Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge held annually in May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The NTT INDYCAR SERIES, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IMS Productions are owned by Penske Corporation, a global transportation, automotive and motorsports leader. For more information on INDYCAR and the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, please visit www.indycar.com.

INDIANAPOLIS (March 11, 2020) – This is the final entry in a 12-part series of comprehensive team previews as the NTT INDYCAR SERIES prepares for the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg set for Friday through Sunday on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

The preview series features each of the full-time teams as well as teams running a partial schedule that includes the season-opening race. Today’s featured organization: Team Penske.

The season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be broadcast live on the NBC Sports Network on Sunday. The pre-race show begins at 2:30 p.m. ET with the green flag scheduled for 3:30 p.m.

Starting Lineup …

Josef Newgarden (No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet), Simon Pagenaud (No. 22 Menards/DXC Technology Chevrolet), Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet), Helio Castroneves (No. 3 Pennzoil Chevrolet for the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge), Scott McLaughlin (No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet for the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway).

2019 Recap …

It’s always a strong season when a team wins the Indianapolis 500 (as Pagenaud did) and the series championship (as Newgarden did). The team won nine of the 17 races with Newgarden leading the way with four, Pagenaud with three and Power with two. The trio also won eight poles and finished first, second and fifth, respectively, in the standings. Castroneves joined for the two Indianapolis races, finishing 21st on the road course and 12th on the oval. McLaughlin raced in Australia, winning his second consecutive Virgin Australia Supercars Championship along with the prestigious Bathurst 1000.

What’s New for 2020 …

The presence of McLaughlin is the most high-profile addition. Newgarden’s car will carry No. 1 as the reigning series champion. Due to his purchase of the series, owner Roger Penske will step off the timing stand for Power’s No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet as Ron Ruzewski takes on the role as strategist for the team.

Keep An Eye On This …

Power is coming off two wins in the final four races of 2019 and will be motivated after finishing outside the top three in points for only the second time in the last six years.

Season Outlook …

Team Penske should be squarely in the hunt for its third consecutive Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge and third NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship in the past four years. The question is, which driver will have the best chance? Newgarden has won seven races over the past two years and will be seeking his third series title in four years. Pagenaud has admitted to being personally relieved to have his first 500 victory, but he is driven to win more races and series championships. (Interestingly, Newgarden and Pagenaud each have 14 career wins in the series.) Power, with 37 victories, can tie Al Unser for fifth place on the sport’s all-time wins list with two more.

“A Different Breed” Notable …

Power will go down as the fastest INDYCAR qualifier of his generation. He has 57 career poles, averaging 4.9 per season since becoming a full-time Team Penske driver in 2010. That ranks him second on the sport’s all-time list behind Mario Andretti’s 67. Among drivers participating in this week’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Sebastien Bourdais has 34 career poles, Scott Dixon 26 and Pagenaud 13.

Team President’s Take …

“When you look across all the series in which we compete, 2019 was one of the most successful in Team Penske’s history. Winning the Indianapolis 500 and the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship with two different drivers, while placing all three entries in the top five, demonstrates the depth of our team. That said, 2020 is shaping up to be one of the most competitive in NTT INDYCAR SERIES history. We’re excited to have three series champions returning to our team along with the opportunity to win the Indianapolis 500 with Helio (Castroneves) for the fourth time. In addition, it will be fun to watch Scott McLaughlin get acclimated to driving an Indy car. He has proven that he is a special talent and I think he is capable of big things in the future.” – Tim Cindric

ABOUT INDYCAR …

INDYCAR is the Indianapolis-based governing body for North America’s premier open-wheel auto racing series known as the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. The series features an international field of the world’s most versatile drivers – including five-time series champion Scott Dixon, reigning series champion Josef Newgarden and defending Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud – who compete on superspeedways, short ovals, street circuits and permanent road courses. The season, which runs from March to September, currently consists of 17 races in the United States and Canada and is highlighted by the historic Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge held annually in May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The NTT INDYCAR SERIES, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IMS Productions are owned by Penske Corporation, a global transportation, automotive and motorsports leader. For more information on INDYCAR and the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, please visit www.indycar.com.