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What We Learned from Grand Prix of St. Petersburg 2018

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The Big Picture:  For the tenth consecutive year, the resort city of St. Petersburg, Florida,  hosted the opening race for the Verizon IndyCar Series. Street races take many years to become permanent fixtures on any schedule, but St. Pete has arrived in so many ways.

Event:  It’s three days of street racing featuring IndyCar and the complete Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires.  About 200,000 spectators show up to watch the action and the people. Please note that the promoters do not actually release attendance figures, so our number is an estimate.

Qualifying: It was a wild and crazy session culminating with rookie Canadian driver Robert Wickens grabbing the top spot decisively away from veteran Will Power. He became the first driver to take the pole in his ICS debut since Sebastien Bourdais in 2003. But wait, there’s more. Will Power’s single lap record was obliterated by newcomer Jordan King, starting fourth alongside yet another first-timer, Matheus Leist. Rookies Rule?

Race:  It was a wild and crazy contest, but it didn’t start out that way. Robbie Wickens maintained control of the 24 car field for the majority of the event. He appeared poised to win in his series debut when some late cautions derailed his efforts. In the final restart, he was punted by Alexander Rossi into the Turn One wall, and there went his race. In the melee, 2017 race winner Sebastien Bourdais inherited the lead, with 2008 victor Graham Rahal right behind him. And Rossi managed to claim the final spot on the podium.

Biggest Surprise: That Wickens didn’t win was a huge surprise. It looked appeared that Alexander Rossi caused the collision with Wicky, but it was ruled a racing incident.

Biggest Disappointment:   In many ways, the new drivers eclipsed the veterans. Scott Dixon, for example, earned two of the six penalties charged during the competition. The three Penskes were lukewarm at best. Hopefully, this will improve the next race.

Quote of the Weekend:  “I hope history is going to repeat itself until Indy, to be honest, but yeah, it’s kind of interesting. We ended up qualifying poorly. We didn’t get a good lap. I didn’t get a good lap yesterday with one or another circumstance. With the one lap after the red flag we were comfortably in, in Group 2 prior to the red flag, and it felt like we just missed a good opportunity to start at the front. It definitely seems like this race is disjointed enough that it doesn’t really seem to matter where you start, you’re still going to have opportunities to make it happen, and we sure did today.” Race winner Sebastien Bourdais.

Runner-Up Quote of the Week: “I need to see it before I think I comment on anything, but I didn’t really want to defend too hard because there was so many marbles off line, so I figured if Alex (Rossi) wants to go there, go for it. I gave him space around the outside. I broke late. I made the corner and then we had some contact, and obviously it put me into a spin into the wall. I ended my day with one lap left in the race. Not the way I imagined the day going for the No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda. It was all a little bit confusing because I was told on the radio we were going green, but they didn’t turn the lights off the pace car, so I didn’t get the best restart I could have done. Probably the worst one of the whole day. I want to kind of speak to the officials to see why they didn’t turn the lights off the pace car before we went green but I don’t know. I just need to see everything before I comment.” Almost race winner Robert Wickens.

What We Learned:  St. Petersburg is notable for its repeat winners. Bourdais 2018/2017. Juan Montoya 2016/2015. Will Power 2014 & 2010. Helio Castroneves 2012 & 2007/2006. Then, there is the variety that comes from having 24 cars starting the race and having 21 of them finish, which is phenomenal for this series. 2018 looks to be a watershed year. Now, all we need is a good television contract.

Schedule: Four weeks from now, IndyCar returns to Phoenix for its first oval race of the year April 6 – 7.

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularOpenWheel.com, its owners, management, or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Lisa Davidson

Lisa Davidson is a graduate of the University of Arizona and spent her corporate career as a Controller. She is a lifelong writer who has been covering open wheel racing since 2000 and is the author of historical articles and co-author of one book She and her husband, photographer Jeff Davidson, have two daughters and make their home in Murrieta, CA.

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