NTT IndyCar Series Race Review: Grand Prix of St. Petersburg


    After setting fast times all week through practice and qualifying, it is a no brainier with hindsight the young twenty-one-year-old Colton Herta would set the world on fire this past weekend at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, as he led a IndyCar record 97 laps of the 100 lap marathon.

    Herta, who won the P1 award on Saturday afternoon, got off to a fast start as he took his Bainbridge Honda to an early two-second lead over the young an upcoming talent in the series Jack Harvey. Sixteen laps would quickly pass until we had our first caution of the day, as Jimmie Johnson locked up the brakes heading into Turn 13 and slid off the racing surface, in which time we went one lap down as Johnson could not safely rejoin the track, as the first caution would come out as Herta was in turn six working lap seventeen.  

    At the one-quarter mark of the race, your top five were Herta, Harvey, Newgarden, Pagenaud, and Bourdais.

    Working lap thirty-seven, Herta made his first stop of the day, which handed the lead to last weekends' winner Alex Palou, but he didn't stay there for long as he pitted at the end of lap thirty-seven. As this was happening, Graham Rahal and Alexander Rossi were battling for fourteenth position as Rahal moved to the inside of Rossi in the hard braking zone of turn 4. Both of them made contact on the corner exit, and as they were heading into turn 5, the contact made Rossi's right front tire go down. Making them both stop short as they were about to head straight on into the tire barrier. Rossi got moving again, but that incident effectively ended his day for a competitive finish.

    At halfway, Herta remains your leader to this point. Newgarden in second, 8.6 seconds behind.  

    Moving forward to lap 73, Herta and Newgarden are still first and second, as we come under caution again for the second time, as Johnson got loose and spun coming out of turn four. Johnson made slight contact with the inside retaining wall. The damage was severe enough that Johnson required a new front wing, but with that spin, Johnson's day went from bad to worse. He went on to finish 22nd, five laps down.

    Now up to point, Herta was easily dominating this race. Before the lap 73 caution, Herta extended his lead up to 10.4 seconds. During this time, the leaders all made pit stops. Herta decided to take black compound as Newgarden took reds. Which is within strategy, being under 30 laps to go. If Newgarden did pass Herta, he could extend his lead in a way that when his tires did start to reach the end of their life cycle, Herta would have his tires already coming up to temperature, but that wouldn't matter, as the laps would have been too few in order to make up that deficit.

    The race resumed on lap 76, but green flag conditions did not last long as on lap 79, as an on-track incident occurred, which involved James Hinchcliff, Pato O'Ward, and Ed Jones. The latter, Jones, got the worst of the deal that involved significant damage to his car. Jones went on to finish 20th, one-lap down.

    With 18 laps to go, the race restarted for the final time, as Newgarden did everything he could to stay in reaching distance of Herta. Staying within a second until 7 to go as Newgarden's tires started to fall off, and Herta used his push-to-pass to extend his lead to a margin of victory of 2.49 seconds over Newgarden.

    For Colton Herta, it was his fourth win of his career and second win with Andretti Autosport. Herta set an IndyCar record as most laps lead in a victory with 97 of the 100 scheduled laps lead. He is the first winner from pole position in IndyCar since 2011. He also ties his father, former IndyCar driver and current team strategist Bryan Herta, with four IndyCar Series wins.

    Opinion: You can chalk this race up to Colton Herta and the Andretti Autosport team really nailing the setup this past weekend in St. Petersburg. It seemed Joesf Newgarden was trying everything he possibly could do inside the car in order to catch up to Herta. There were issues that some teams and drivers said about the red compound tires that Firestone had brought for the weekend, as they were not getting up to temperature quick enough. Some drivers thought it was an actual disadvantage to switch to the soft compound because of that. Firestone assured drivers and teams the red tires were fine. But I do not believe it was the tires. I believe that it was the track surface itself. Over the weekend before the race, we had the Stadium Super Truck support races for the weekend in St. Petersburg, and the actual track seemed to have been damaged in turns five through nine as pieces of it were actually coming off the track as the IndyCar race progressed. Which could lead to tire degradation that would have hurt the lifespan of the tire, and thus not get the speed or better grip from the softer compound. Either way, you look at it, Colton Herta had one of the most dominating performances we have seen in a long time in a IndyCar Series race and heading into Texas we will get a good look at where every team stacks up on their oval program as we get closer to the Indianapolis 500.

    Heading into the first oval on the schedule this weekend, as the series has a doubleheader at Texas Motor Speedway. Alex Palou enjoys a two-point championship lead over Will Power. You can catch the Genesys 300 on Saturday at 7:00 P.M. Est and the Xpel 375 on Saturday at 5:00 P.M. Est. Both races will be on NBC Sports Network. 

    For more IndyCar news, results, and opinion. Stay tuned to throughout the week and season.