BY MATT BAKER
TAMPA BAY TIMES/TNS
ST. PETERSBURG – Josef Newgarden figured he had the car to win the pole Saturday, March 9; he just failed to get the job done.
Newgarden made up for it Sunday when he dominated the field to win IndyCar’s season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Five-time series champion Scott Dixon took second, followed by Team Penske’s Will Power, rookie Felix Rosenqvist and Alexander Rossi.
Newgarden, the 2017 series champion, continued the run of Penske success at this 1.8-mile, 14-turn street course.
‘A rocket ship’
The Tennessee native became the team’s fifth different driver to win here (after Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe, Will Power and Juan Pablo Montoya) and gave Penske its ninth win at the downtown circuit.
“We really figured things out on Saturday,” Newgarden said. “It was a rocket ship.”
Newgarden was able to control a field that lost two of its best drivers early and lead 60 of the race’s 110 laps.
St. Petersburg resident Sebastien Bourdais’ hopes of a third consecutive Grand Prix victory ended when he drove off into the Turn 10 tires not long after a pit stop with an unspecified mechanical failure. He completed 11 laps and finished last in the 24-car field.
Another potential contender, Ryan Hunter-Reay, watched his No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda begin to smoke on lap 20 to bring out the race’s first caution.
“We just gradually lost power,” said Hunter-Reay, a former Indy 500 and series champion who has never won the Grand Prix. “It’s almost comical at this point in St. Pete.”
With those two out, most of the other expected contenders ran at the front of the pack. So did one more surprising driver: Chip Ganassi Racing’s Rosenqvist.
No stopping him
The talented Swede took the lead from Power, the pole sitter, on the first restart, and led 31 laps. But Rosenqvist surrendered the lead to Newgarden on a scheduled pit stop, and Newgarden couldn’t be stopped after that.
His No. 2 Chevrolet cruised the rest of the way for his 11th career victory. Newgarden, who qualified second, had never even led the Grand Prix before Sunday.
But now he’s a winner at one of the series’ top tracks.