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The star of St. Pete: Josef Newgarden wins season opener

Updated: Mar 19

Written by Katie Gregory

Credit:Joe Skibinski

Josef Newgarden started the NTT IndyCar Series season in style by securing pole position on Saturday, but all 27 drivers had the same 100 laps to become the driver of the weekend. The streets of St. Petersburg saw alternating tyre strategies, bold moves, and a race filled with fuel saving.

Despite strong performances throughout the pack, Newgarden would storm to victory in a dominant display that almost made it look easy.

Teams and drivers alike gambled on tyre strategy, with limited data available on which would ultimately be the tyre of the race. Newgarden and most of the field began on the black primary, with only a few outliers. Felix Rosenqvist was one of these anomalies, and would start right alongside Newgarden in second place. Each driver had to be confident of their strategy, but their race engineers would be sure to keep a close eye on their opponent's tyres.

Newgarden got an excellent start to the race, leaving Rosenqvist no option but to file in behind him. Colton Herta was aided tremendously by the green tyre, passing Pato O'Ward with ease and taking third position. The front-runners all made it through turn one safely, but the back of the pack wouldn't be as lucky. Turn one saw Alex Palou clip Christian Lundgaard's left year, causing the Dane to limp to the pitlane for a new rear wing.


Scott McLaughlin and Grosjean began to battle, but it ceased uncharacteristically early for the pair, with both not looking to repeat their crash here from last year. Newgarden extended his lead as Rosenqvist began to focus on fuel saving. The rest of the pack would soon do the same and minimise their use of push-to-pass in a bid to save more fuel. The focus was also on maximising the length of the first stint, which became more noticeable to the viewer as drivers began to lift and coast.

With Newgarden leading comfortably and Rosenqvist fuel saving, you would be forgiven for thinking the top two seemed rather uncompetitive. This could not be further from the truth, however, with lap thirteen radio messages reminding fans of the strategy battle at play. Rosenqvist was told by his team that Newgarden was struggling with his tyres, and inferred now would be just the time to capitalise on that. The struggling driver in question seemed to be doing just fine, however, as Newgarden reassured his team the tyres were actually in great health.

Lap 28 was the first caution of the season-opener, as a stranded Marcus Armstrong was shown parked at turn ten. The Chip Ganassi driver had been too hot on the brakes and lost the front left, ending his race prematurely and prompting the pack to pitlane. Rosenqvist and Herta both ditched the primary tyres, with the rest of the grid switching to the alternates.

Refilled with fuel and everything to lose, Herta and Rosneqvist raced out of the pit road, with Rosenqvist ultimately coming out on top. Lap 30 saw Luundgaard lead the pack from green, having stayed out after his earlier contact with Palou put him a lap down.

A fuel problem in the pits for Josef Newgarden meant he was in fourth place, but he quickly reminded the new front-runners of his presence by passing Herta. Struggling to heat up his black primaries, Colton Herta was a sitting duck for those on new alternates and was quickly passed by Scott McLaughlin as well.

Still on the attack, Newgarden had his eyes all over a struggling Felix Rosenqvist. After a lap of sneaking up behind him, Newgarden made light work of Rosenqvist and passed him at the beginning of lap 33. Pato O'Ward decided to join in on the fun, also passing his ex-McLaren teammate with ease.

On lap 34, Sting Ray Robb retired due to issues with his AJ Foyt machine, resulting in the second caution of the race. With race-leader Luundgaard diving for the pits, Josef Newgarden resumed the position he earned on Saturday - eventually leading the field from green on lap 39. Although they were driving flat-out, the pack stayed firmly nose to tail, with no one willing to gamble yet.

Lap 42 saw Graham Rahal attempt to get past Tom Blomqvist, with the IndyCar rookie sticking his elbows out and setting the tone for his first season. A battle between teammates came a little later on, with Colton Herta expressing his annoyance that Ericsson was constantly attacking him while Herta was in a desperate fuel-saving attempt.

Ericsson would not be a problem for long, however, as he dived into the pits on lap 53. Engine problems are certainly not what Ericsson would have hoped for his Andretti debut and despite a strong performance, his race was over.

Another driver debuting for his new team was Romain Grosjean, who had stayed out of trouble for the majority of the race. Grosjean did not take this as a positive, however, and felt he had been far too easy on his opponents. This all changed on lap 69, as Grosjean spun Linus Lundqvist into turn 10 - effectively ending both their races and bringing out the third caution of the race.

Scott McLaughlin had found exactly what Grosjean had been searching for the entire race - a happy medium of attacking cleanly without contact. He had picked off his rivals one by one and was in second place by lap 75. McLaughlin began to work on O'Ward in second place, leaving Newgarden to extend his lead and leave the battling pair behind. The next 25 laps would sail by for Josef Newgarden, with O'Ward coming in second and McLaughlin joining them on the podium.

Throughout the weekend at St. Pete, Newgarden was painted as being extremely fired up. While this should be attributed to his passion and drive, it should not be confused with being hot-headed. Newgarden had only himself to beat today, and any moment of recklessness could have jeopardised his victory. He will always be known as a master of the ovals, but Newgarden's clinical drive today has shown that, on every track, he is a force to be reckoned with.


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