Being in St. Petersburg for the Firestone Grand Prix was the closure we all needed. It was mentioned multiple times over the weekend. This past weekend also put a bow on the 2020 INDYCAR season. It ended a season of canceled and rescheduled races, fans and no fans, and official iRacing events. It did all of this in the most 2020 way.
Was it that the series hadn’t had knock-out qualifying in a while and forgot the rules? Was it Florida? Whatever it was, qualifications turned into quite the kerfuffle. Following the first-round penalties came into play. Under the rules (which discussed back in an earlier blog HERE) if you impede another driver’s qualification you can lose up to your two fastest laps. You are not allowed to continue into the next session. This was the penalty handed down to Marco Andretti and Felix Rosenqvist in Round 1 Group 1. In Round 1 Group 2, Max Chilton caused a yellow and lost his best lap. Due to Chilton’s yellow Oliver Askew and Rinus VeeKay failed to reduce their speed and also lost their best lap. When lap times and math get involved, things get. At one point VeeKay was not fast enough to advance, so Conor was elevated to Round 2. Problem was that Conor didn’t have anything, so we had a delay as they got his car and helmet. And then they realized they did math wrong and Rinus was back in. In Round 2, Simon Pagenaud caused a red flag. Per the rule he lost his two fastest times and was not allowed to advance into the next group. Sitting in the Turn 1 stands, none of us knew what was happening. Would have been pretty cool for someone to have put something out, maybe came over the loudspeaker?
That would be the craziest part of qualifying, but the two fighting for the championship (Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden) didn’t advance out of Round 1. That hasn’t happened in forever!
There’s a three-way tie to which team had the weirdest luck this race. First, by virtue of starting position, is Team Penske. Will Power clenched the pole and is within a handful of beating Mario Andretti’s record. Then the race started, and for whatever reason they suffered from a bad set-up. Within the first ten laps he got passed by Alexander Rossi and Colton Herta. He also overshot Turn 10, foreshadowing of his next mistake. Power gave the race its first caution on Lap 35 when he overshot Turn 4. Ending his race. Team Penske’s bad luck continued to the end. Josef Newgarden put together a hell of a race and won, but ultimately Scott Dixon was able to stay within the margin to still win the championship.
Power’s Full Course Yellow on Lap 35 started the bad luck for Ed Carpenter Racing. On the restart, Rinus VeeKay was passed quickly by both Josef Newgarden and Jack Harvey. But within laps, another Full Course Yellow came out. Then, bizarrely while keeping heat in his tires, Conor Daly smacked the wall. The ended up having to change the tires, the front wing, and some work on the back as well. On the Lap 46 restart, Scott McLauglin got right into Rinus VeeKay. The cars were tangled up, but Rinus stayed in his car and was able to get back on the track after having a full front wing change. Not the ending to the race or season Ed Carpenter wanted, but it appears the team does get their Winner’s Circle money. Plus, Rinus is the Rookie of the Year (and well deserved!)
The final Bad Luck Team hurts. Andretti Autosport was just bit by the bad luck for this race. They had a fantastic showing in the opening laps. Alexander Rossi and Colton Herta quickly passed Will Power. Shortly after so did James Hinchcliffe giving the team the top three positions. Herta decided to play a came of spin and save, doing the move at least twice. The first time he only lost two positions. His spin at the end of the race dropped him approximately thirteen positions. He finished the race in eleventh. Marco Andretti was having a heck of a race; he gave us some great racing against Graham Rahal. Then on a restart he got spun by Sato who ran right into right front tire, ending his race. It was under that yellow where James Hinchcliffe spun (what’s up with the veterans spinning under yellows!) and ran right into Jack Harvey. Hinch’s race was over and Harvey ended up as the last running car in the race. Finally, and man this is quite 2020…Alexander Rossi. He had a fantastic start. He did lead the most laps in the race. However, he got into the marbles (rubber pieces flung from the tires) in Turn 3 and smacked right into Turn 4 on Lap 71. Surely, he’s ready to put the 2020 season behind him. I also am ready for that.
The race ended with Josef Newgarden as the winner, but Scott Dixon was the ultimate champion. It’s already ironic when the race winner of the Season Finale gets overshadowed. It must hurt a bit more if you were in the championship fight. The most peak 2020 moment? The pace car running out of fuel and a sudden threat of rain. Let’s end the 2020 season with this thought: we had a great race to end it.
Over the next week, or so, I’ll be recapping the full season. Now’s the time to make sure you’re following our social media so you don’t miss anything! Head over to our Social Media page for more.