Andretti Autosport’s fastest driver, Colton Herta, held off intense pressure from Penske Chevy’s Josef Newgarden on faster soft tires to win the Firestone GP of St.Petersburg by 2.5s.
Newgarden, going for three wins in a row, did everything he could to get by Herta but the 21-year-old speedster never put a wheel wrong and led almost the entire way (he led 97 of 100 laps) from pole in the #26 Gainbridge sponsored Honda.
It was Herta’s 4th career IndyCar win, tying him with his father Bryan for career wins.
Newgarden’s Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud came home third while outside polesitter Jack Harvey was 4th in the Meyer Shank Racing Honda.
“Well, we lost a little too much ground in that second stint, really; to capitalize with the reds,” said Newgarden.
“And then we had the caution, which almost gifted us another chance. And I just didn’t want to over-extend myself today. I felt like I was close to an opportunity, but Colton (Herta, race winner) was really good. He was doing a great job on the restarts. It was tough to get tire temps. So, I pushed really hard right there in those two initial restarts. I didn’t have quite the runs I needed, so I didn’t want to risk anything. But a good day. I’m really happy with Chevy’s performance and thankful for all their work; and to have Hitachi on and get a podium is really nice here to start our year off.
“So, congrats to Colton. It was a great rebound for both of us. I feel bad about what happened last week, so I’m really happy that he got back on it today and had a very deserved victory. I wish we could have fought him a little bit more. I think we were just lacking a little bit.”
“We really had a shot on restarts, but it was too slippery on the inside to go for it,” said Pagenaud on the restarts. “I noticed it when I tried to pass Jack (Harvey). But really when I lost the race was at the beginning of the first stint but overall, I think it was a great performance by the No. 22 Chevy Australian Gold team. That was a great performance. I think on street courses we could be very strong. I can’t wait for the oval, especially Indy and Texas.”
Scott Dixon rounded out the top-5 in his #9 Ganassi Honda.
Two of Herta’s teammate saw their race ruined by Team Rahal.
First Takuma Sato gave James Hinchcliffe when they bumped, and later Graham Rahal and Alexander Rossi were fighting over the same piece of asphalt with Rossi coming out the loser with a flat right front.
“What a great job by everybody,” Herta said. “Sorry, I can barely talk; I’m so winded. I’m so happy we did this, so happy to rebound from Barber and get the momentum going for the season that we need, which is a championship season.”
Front-row starter Jack Harvey ended up fourth in the No. 60 AutoNation/Sirius XM Honda. Six-time and defending series champion Scott Dixon finished fifth in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
The strong finishes for Herta and Newgarden erased memories of a rugged season opener for both last Sunday at Barber Motorsports Park. Herta finished 22nd and Newgarden 23rd in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst after Newgarden spun on the first lap and collected multiple cars, including Herta’s machine.
Barber race winner Alex Palou finished 17th today in the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda but kept the championship lead, 67-65, over the tied second-place duo of Dixon and Will Power. 2014 series champion Power rallied from a 20th starting spot to finish eighth in the No. 12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet.
Herta, who started the race on the Firestone “red” alternate tires, chose Firestone “black” primary tires on his final pit stop on Lap 67. Newgarden was forced to use the “reds” on his final stop on Lap 67 since he started on “blacks” and used another set of primary tires on his first stop.
It appeared tire strategy would be moot three laps after those final stops, as Herta was on cruise control and led Newgarden by 9.4390 seconds on Lap 70. But rookie Jimmie Johnson spun and clipped the inside wall in Turn 3 with his No. 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda on Lap 73, triggering the second full-course caution and evaporating Herta’s big lead.
On the ensuing restart on Lap 76, Newgarden and his grippier alternate tires made a run at Herta but couldn’t get close enough to pass. But then the No. 18 SealMaster Honda of Ed Jones and the No. 29 Genesys Honda of James Hinchcliffe made contact in Turn 4 on Lap 79, triggering the final full-course caution on Lap 80.
Two-time defending St. Petersburg race winner Newgarden got another chance to make a run at Herta on the restart on Lap 83, but Herta held him off. Newgarden stayed close to Herta in a gripping, all-American duel for the next 10 laps, but Herta kept his California cool and pulled away gradually for victory over Tennessee titan Newgarden.
“He’s so good around here,” Herta said of Newgarden. “I was nervous because he was on those new red tires. I thought they were going to be better. But they ended up being similar (to the primary tires), so I was able to hold him off.”
Said Newgarden: “We lost a little too much ground on that second stint to capitalize on the reds. Then we had the caution, which almost gifted us another chance. I just didn’t want to overextend myself today. I felt like I had close to an opportunity, but Colton was really good. He was doing a great job on the restarts.
“Congrats to Colton. It’s a great rebound for both of us. I felt bad about what happened last week, so really happy he got back on it today and had a very deserved victory. I wish we could have fought him a bit more. We were just lacking a little bit.”
It was the fourth career victory for Herta, 21, in his third season in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. He matched the INDYCAR SERIES win total of his father, Bryan Herta, who competed from 1994-2006 and now calls race strategy for his son for Andretti Autosport.
“That was awesome,” Herta said. “I love that he’s on my radio.”
|1||26||Colton Herta||100||0.000s||2||97||1||105.131||Honda||62||Andretti Autosport|
|2||2||Josef Newgarden||100||2.4933||2.4933||2||0||3||105.029||Chevy||47||Team Penske|
|3||22||Simon Pagenaud||100||6.1496||3.6563||2||1||4||105.108||Chevy||54||Team Penske|
|4||60||Jack Harvey||100||8.0833||1.9337||2||0||2||104.675||Honda||51||Meyer Shank Racing|
|5||9||Scott Dixon||100||8.9497||0.8664||2||0||8||104.669||Honda||65||Chip Ganassi Racing|
|6||30||Takuma Sato||100||11.6802||2.7305||2||0||15||104.682||Honda||45||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing|
|7||8||Marcus Ericsson||100||11.9393||0.2591||2||0||16||105.013||Honda||50||Chip Ganassi Racing|
|8||12||Will Power||100||13.2363||1.2970||3||0||20||104.749||Chevy||65||Team Penske|
|9||21||Rinus VeeKay||100||13.7194||0.4831||2||0||7||104.565||Chevy||51||Ed Carpenter Racing|
|10||14||Sebastien Bourdais||100||15.9951||2.2757||2||0||5||104.561||Chevy||51||AJ Foyt Enterprises|
|11||3||Scott McLaughlin||100||17.5926||1.5975||3||0||14||105.147||Chevy||35||Team Penske|
|12||7||Felix Rosenqvist||100||18.5638||0.9712||3||0||17||104.616||Chevy||27||Arrow McLaren SP|
|13||51||Romain Grosjean||100||22.7276||4.1638||3||0||18||104.158||Honda||37||Dale Coyne Racing w/Rick Ware Racing|
|14||28||Ryan Hunter-Reay||100||24.1275||1.3999||3||0||13||104.064||Honda||22||Andretti Autosport|
|15||15||Graham Rahal||100||24.7928||0.6653||3||0||9||104.462||Honda||41||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing|
|16||20||Conor Daly||100||48.1603||23.3675||5||0||19||104.896||Chevy||28||Ed Carpenter Racing|
|17||10||Alex Palou||99||In Pit||16.3220||3||2||10||105.440||Honda||67||Chip Ganassi Racing|
|18||29||James Hinchcliffe||99||1 LAPS||27.4160||3||0||12||104.253||Honda||25||Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport|
|19||5||Pato O’Ward||99||1 LAPS||4.0486||3||0||6||104.580||Chevy||45||Arrow McLaren SP|
|20||18||Ed Jones||99||1 LAPS||15.6796||5||0||21||104.008||Honda||25||Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan|
|21||27||Alexander Rossi||98||2 LAPS||45.0157||3||0||11||104.416||Honda||31||Andretti Autosport|
|22||48||Jimmie Johnson||95||5 LAPS||3 LAPS||3||0||23||103.317||Honda||19||Chip Ganassi Racing|
|23||4||Dalton Kellett||67||Off Course||9.3995||2||0||24||103.279||Chevy||19||AJ Foyt Enterprises|
|24||59||Max Chilton||18||Mechanical||3 LAPS||2||0||22||102.875||Chevy||16||Carlin|
Winner’s average speed: 96.552 mph
Time of Race: 1:51:51.4115
Margin of victory: 2.4933 seconds
Cautions: 3 for 9 laps
Lead changes: 3 among 3 drivers
NTT INDYCAR SERIES point standings: Palou 67, Power 65, Dixon 65, Herta 62, Pagenaud 54, Harvey 51, Bourdais 51, VeeKay 51, Ericsson 50, Newgarden 47.