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Five key storylines from IndyCar’s opening weekend

Written by Caitlyn Gordon, Edited by Archie O’Reilly

Credit: Joe Skibinski

After six months, IndyCar has wrapped up its off-season and kickstarted the 2024 season on the St. Petersburg street track. This season, the drivers will tackle five different ovals, six road courses and four street circuits spanning across 17 championship rounds in the United States. After heading to the streets of Florida, what are five storylines to come out of the opening race?

Newgarden: A man on a mission

On the back of finishing runner-up in 2023, Josef Newgarden is on the prowl to undo his mistakes from last season and win his third championship. Newgarden has had a fair bit of success in the past few months and entered the 2024 season as the man to beat.

A last lap overtake on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval saw Newgarden complete his quest of securing an Indianapolis 500 win after 11 previous failed attempts. Still on a high, Newgarden’s next challenge was to attempt the 24 Hours of Daytona, which unsurprisingly he won overall.

Heading into the 2024 season, the American unfollowed every person on his social media and stated that this season he is primarily focused on ‘family and work’

He translated this onto the track when he secured pole for the opening race, snatching it out of Felix Rosenqvist’s hands with a couple of minutes to spare. 

The race itself was an incredible display of race craft and dominance, with Newgarden leading 92 of the 100 laps around the St. Petersburg street circuit. A slight issue in the pit lane saw Newgarden slip down the board and lose his lead, but this turned out not to be a big issue for Newgarden, who easily cruised past the drivers in his way and regained his top position. To top this off, he crossed the line almost eight seconds clear of second place Pato O’Ward. 

In the previous season, the Penske driver struggled to win on any road or street circuits, claiming only one podium away from ovals. This turnover and the margin by which he won suggests he is going to be a difficult competitor to stand against. And the work he has put in over the off-season is already paying off.

Grosjean’s St. Petersburg curse

The St. Petersburg weekend will be one to forget for Romain Grosjean for the second year in a row. 

Last season, the Andretti pilot was having a strong opening race running in second behind Scott McLaughlin. The Kiwi came out of the pits on freshly changed, cold tyres, compared to Grosjean’s peak temperature rubber. 

This was a perfect opportunity for Grosjean to swipe the lead out of the Penske’s wheels. But, heading into Turn Four, Grosjean’s plan didn’t go well. McLaughlin, desperate to keep his lead, braked deep into the corner, causing his rears to lock, subsequently putting both himself and the Frenchman into the barriers and out of the race.

Anticipating a better start to his year than last, Grosjean got to start afresh with Juncos Hollinger Racing. He qualified in fifth, which was an excellent starting point and set a positive tone for the remainder of the weekend.

But, as the race went green, Grosjean dropped down a number of places into Turn One. He had to climb up the field but, in doing so, he hit the rear of Linus Lundqvist, spinning him into the Turn 10 tyres. 

The action was penalised with a drive through, but once again bad luck was persisting for Grosjean who had to retire early due to a gearbox issue. 

A redeeming weekend for Rossi

Alexander Rossi looked to begin his second campaign with Arrow McLaren with a stellar start. But qualifying put a damper on that thought with the McLaren starting in 15th compared to his teammate, O’Ward, who was starting on the second row. 

Despite Rossi having a lot of ground to make up for in the race, the American was a silent attacker, lurking behind and moving up the board. Fighting to make up for a difficult weekend, he finished in eighth overall, a great comeback after a difficult start to the season.

Rosenqvist’s strong Meyer Shank debut

A lacklustre 2023 season for Arrow McLaren, finishing 12th in the standings and being the driver with most non-finishes of the season, Felix Rosenqvist moved to Meyer Shank Racing to begin the next chapter in his career. 

He began the opening weekend looking strong, leading in practice with a 1:00.339-second best lap, topping the times by almost 0.5s. 

This continued in qualifying when the Swede set a track record time with a 59.2706s lap, marginally besting Will Power’s best time of 59.3466s set in 2022. 

Entering into the Fast Six, Rosenqvist put his car on the front row just behind pole-sitter Josef Newgarden. 

Sunday’s race was strong for the driver as well, maintaining his position up at the front, avoiding any bother and keeping the drivers behind at bay. 

But an unfortunate last pit stop saw Rosenqvist’s stop for three seconds longer than he should, ultimately hindering his final stint. The Meyer Shank driver finished in seventh, but the impressive performance he put on throughout the weekend could set a precedent for the coming 16 rounds.

Credit: Chris Owens

Further success for Team Penske

Team Penske is a name currently dominating in different disciplines, securing the Indianapolis 500, the 24 Hours of Daytona and the NASCAR Cup Series championship. 

Penske has been at the top of their performance. So far, 2024 has been no different, with Ryan Blaney currently leading the Nascar Cup series standings with 151 points. Porsche Penske also secured a season-opening win in the World Endurance Championship in Qatar. 

The team have been a force to be reckoned with and the IndyCar 2024 season opener was no different. 

Josef Newgarden was the notable name, claiming the win. Scott McLaughlin also secured a podium, and if given a couple more laps, the Kiwi could have landed himself in second-place after a close battle between himself and the Arrow McLaren of Pato O’Ward on the final laps. Will Power finished just behind in fourth. 

The start of the season has worked in the American team’s favour, taking control of all series they contend in, meaning it will be tough to overthrow the team. 

IndyCar will return 22-24 March for its highly anticipated Million Dollar Challenge at the Thermal Club. But this race will not contribute to the overall championship standings, with the next points-paying race not until 21 April on the streets of Long Beach. 


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