The NTT IndyCar Series’ season-opening race on the temporary street circuit in St. Petersburg began with Felix Rosenqvist and Will Power out front but concluded with a dominant stretch to the first checkered flag of 2019 by Josef Newgarden.
Shortly after setting the fastest lap of the race just before the halfway mark, Newgarden began a 23-lap stint on new red-sidewalled Firestone alternate tires during which he grew a gap over reigning champion Scott Dixon despite running on presumably shorter-lasting rubber.
Pairing rapid pace with his front-row start in a race that emphasized track position, Newgarden comfortably held the lead during two of three pit stop cycles and held on to win the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg for his first time in eight appearances.
The 2017 series champion delivered Penske its 204th Indy car victory and ninth on the 1.8-mile Floridian street circuit by a margin of 2.8998 seconds over Dixon and the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda. Newgarden’s third win at this type of venue follows his championship-defining error at the most recent street race in Toronto.
Dixon’s title defense season opened with the 41st runner-up finish of his career, tying him for second all-time with Helio Castroneves. Only Mario Andretti has more second-place finishes at 56.
One of the event’s two full-course caution periods ended with a daring pass by Rosenqvist on pole sitter Power into Turn 1. From there on, Power and his Verizon-branded Chevrolet were mired to the back of the lead group before coming home in the final podium position.
Swedish newcomer Rosenqvist started third but quickly reached second on the first lap. Dixon’s new Chip Ganassi Racing stablemate led the first laps of his IndyCar career following the carefully executed pass on Power after an engine failure for Ryan Hunter-Reay paused the race from Laps 20–22. With Rosenqvist behind the wheel, the No. 10 NTT Data Honda finished the season’s first race 14.5858 seconds in arrears of the victorious Newgarden.
After taking himself and Robert Wickens out near the end of this race a year ago, 2018 championship contender Alexander Rossi started his 2019 campaign with a top-five result as the top Andretti Autosport pilot in fifth.
James Hinchcliffe managed poor aerodynamics after running over a detached banner at Turn 2 but led Simon Pagenaud, Colton Herta, Santino Ferrucci and Jack Harvey in completing the top 10. Honda held a 7-3 advantage over its American competition in the group, aided by strong races for Honda-powered rookies Rosenqvist, Herta and Ferrucci.
Spencer Pigot in 11th was the last driver on the lead lap with his finish one minute and two seconds back from Newgarden. In positions 19th, 20th, 23rd and 24th, four Hondas retired early with mechanical failures. Chevrolet drivers Ed Jones and Matheus Leist are scored in the two positions between those four Hondas after Jones smacked the Turn 9 wall on Lap 26 and was struck by AJ Foyt Racing’s young Brazilian, bringing their day to an early end.
Tied for the fewest yellows in Indy car racing’s decade-and-a-half of history in St. Pete, the 2019 season opener will be followed by IndyCar’s debut race at Circuit of The Americas near Austin on the weekend of March 22–24.