NTT IndyCar Series had the second stop of their 2021 season on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.
The race should actually have been the opening round like it’s used to be, but the city decided to push back the date for a month and a half, so the COVID-19 situation in Florida would stabilize a bit more, so they could let a few more spectators through the gates – a number that turned out to be 20.000.
Colton Herta had grabbed Pole Position for Andretti Autosport, ahead of Jack Harvey with Meyer Shank Racing. They were followed by the pair of Team Penske drivers Josef and Simon Pagenaud, while Sebastien Bourdais got the A. J. Foyt Enterprises car into P5 in his hometown. Pato O’Ward qualified 6th for Arrow McLaren SP.
Championship leader Alex Palou had to do with a starting spot, matching his car number – 10.
Miraculously, all 24 cars made it around the first lap without any issues, even though there was a bit of rubbin’ amongst Pagenaud and Bourdais.
On lap 16, we had Jimmie Johnson parked in the run-off in the final corner. Johnson had outbraked himself, and had issues engaging reverse, so we ended up with a Full Course Yellow. Some drivers managed to sneak into the pits, before the FCY period started, so they potentially could have an advantage later on.
It didn’t take long for Johnson to be towed back on the tarmac, so the race could go green again.
James Hinchcliffe and Takuma Sato hit each other at Turn 1, resulting in a puncture for the Canadian.
Will Power and Romain Grosjean had a bit of wheel banging too, further down the field, and the Frenchman gently brushed the wall – but not hard enough to damage the car. Ed Jones took full advantage of the battle ahead and passed both drivers.
Newgarden finally found a way past Harvey, so he could start hunting down Herta out front.
There were troubles between Alexander Rossi and Graham Rahal on Lap 37. The pair hit each other in Turn 4, which resulted in a puncture for Rossi. If that was the sole reason, or if there was a bit of revenge too is hard to tell, but Rahal was led all the way to the tire barrier, which Rossi stopped right in front of. Rahal was a bit faster to find reverse than Rossi, plus the latter had to pit for a new set of tires anyway.
Pagenaud had made his way past Harvey too, while Dixon was sneaking up from behind, trying to grab P4.
Herta had managed to build such a big gap, that he could pit, and get the car going again, even before Newgarden had even reached his pit box.
Dalton Kellett came to a halt in Turn 1 but managed to get the car so far off the racing line, that no interruptions were needed.
The Safety Car was deployed with 27 laps to go, when Jimmie Johnson spun around in Turn 3 and brushed the concrete wall with both the front and rear end of the car. He was able to drive away from there, but since it was one of the fastest places on the track, there was no other option than to call for a Safety Car.
Newgarden put Herta under a lot of pressure at the restart. The double Indycar Champion had the advantage of running the softer tires, so he got heat into the tires a bit faster. Pagenaud stayed close to the pair of them, while the rest of the field quickly fell further and further back.
It didn’t last long, until the next Safety Car, when Ed Jones was parked in the middle of Turn 4. Jones had tried to overtake James Hinchcliffe, and hit the Canadian. At the same time, Jones got nudged from behind by Pato O’Ward, which stalled Jones’s car.
When the race went green once again, Will Power and Scott McLaughlin switched positions, so Power made his way into the top-10. Shortly after, Power made a move on Rinus VeeKay too, grabbing another spot.
After having been under pressure for some laps, Colton Herta finally managed to bridge a gap of almost 3 seconds, when he crossed the finishing line as the winner. Josef Newgarden finished second, Simon Pagenaud in third, ahead of Jack Harvey, Scott Dixon, Takuma Sato, Marcus Ericsson, Will Power, Rinus VeeKay, and Sebastien Bourdais in P10.
Alex Palou stays Championship leader, despite him finishing all the way back in P17. The lead is just on two points to Will Power who is tied in second with Scott Dixon, while Colton Herta is a further three points behind.
Next up for the NTT IndyCar Series is the Texas oval, where they will do a double round this coming weekend.