Monday Musings – 2018 Firestone GP of St. Petersburg

By Dylan Reynolds, The Open Wheel

My post-race feature for The Open Wheel continues with a collection of random thoughts following the first INDYCAR weekend of 2018 on the Streets of St. Petersburg.

  • Bourdais Repeats at St. Pete in Incredible Fashion – What an incredible story it is that Sebastien Bourdais and Dale Coyne Racing won the Verizon IndyCar Series opener for the second straight year. It’s an amazing storyline for so many reasons. Obviously, it’s incredible that Bourdais can be racing at such a highly competitive level so soon after his horrific crash in qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race last year. But we know Bourdais is a special talent capable of moments of magic. However, what he and his small Dale Coyne Racing team have done lately is beyond incredible. This win may have taken some good fortune, but they’ve shown legitimate speed for over a full season now and know how to take advantage of it. And how excited must Jimmy Vasser and James Sullivan be about all of this? They get a win in their first race back in INDYCAR thanks to their partnership with Dale Coyne Racing for the Bourdais car. If this team can carry the momentum and speed they showed with Bourdais in the first half of last season, they can certainly remain in the hunt for the championship.
  • Wickens’ Incredible Weekend Tarnished by “Racing Incident” – Robert Wickens must have thought he had the debut of his dreams solidified before a late caution put Alexander Rossi and the rest of the field back within his grasp for what turned out to be two late restarts. Wickens backed up his shock pole with a dominant performance in the race and he looked to be well on his way to victory before Rene Binder’s late incident. You can’t blame either Rossi or Wickens for what happened on the restart with two laps ago, this was the definition of a “racing incident”. Rossi saw a gap for the win and Wickens kept it tight to prevent Rossi from easily pulling the move off. It’s just one of those things. You have to feel for the Canadian rookie after his spectacular debut. His performance announced his presence to the INDYCAR community, but he has little to show for it now.
  • Team Penske Shockingly Behind at St. Pete – Team Penske had won 8 of the prevoius 11 races on the Streets of St. Petersburg before last year’s race and they were considered favorites again heading into this weekend. However, they didn’t show their usual speed at any point throughout the weekend. None of their cars topped a practice session. Defending series champion Josef Newgarden failed to make it out of Round 1 Group 1 qualifying in conditions that were as close to optimal as we saw in qualifying. Only Will Power made the Firestone Fast Six, but he was beat out for the pole by a rookie, and then spun while trying to pass Wickens in the opening turns of the race. He never recovered and had to settle for P10. Newgarden finished the race respectably in P7, but never looked to be a factor. Simon Pagenaud had as quiet of a weekend as you’ll ever see from him in qualifying P11 and finishing P13. While it’s far too early to make a judgement on the team, it was shocking to see Team Penske look off the pace in the opening weekend.
  • Urrutia Shows Championship Mettle in Lights Opening Weekend – Belardi Auto Racing veteran Santi Urrutia was one of the championship favorites coming into the opening weekend of the Indy Lights season and put himself in great position with a win and a second place finish. But much like Bourdais’ victory at St. Pete, the story of Urrutia’s weekend wasn’t just about pure speed, but running at the front and making it to the finish. Urrutia earned those results after poor qualifying relative to his lofty standards (P4 and P6), but thanks to pole sitter Telitz missing Race 1 and incidents by Herta and O’Ward in Race 2, Urrutia’s race craft delivered a strong weekend and an early championship lead. The Uruguayan should arguably be in the Verizon IndyCar Series already, especially compared to others making the jump this year, but he needs the financial support of the Lights title and Mazda scholarship to lock that in and he couldn’t have asked for a bigger weekend.