Drive Like It’s Stolen (2021 St. Pete Review)

Two years in a row now, St. Petersburg has not disappointed. Admittedly the best way to kick off any NTT INDYCAR Series is in sunny Florida, but even servicing as the second race on the series calendar: it keeps the excitement level high. Similar to last year, it also left us with some head scratchers. Starting off the weekend, Practice 1 on Friday was delayed because timing and scoring wasn’t working properly. I know sending out a message to all people interested in INDYCAR is hard to do, but it would have said me many moments of panic as I tried to get any type of timing information pulled up on my phone. That was, ultimately, ironed out and practice resumed. Though for the longest time it was just Dalton Kellett, Romain Grosjean, and Jimmie Johnson out there. 

If you’ve been an avid reader of my blog, or listener of the podcast (which if you’re not you can subscribe HERE), you know that really I don’t put a lot of stock into practice sessions. Especially with the larger teams. It’s a time for teams and drivers to find out which combinations are going to give them the most speed for qualifying and for race time. In qualifying you want to have the fastest car out there with no care given towards cutting through the field. In a race you want a car that is equal parts fast, and well handling to deal with traffic. Ultimately in practice sessions you’re going to be trying two widely different set ups. While some may be at the top of the charts, it doesn’t mean they’re going to win the race. Though, after the two practice sessions held in St. Petersburg, it did let me know we’d potentially have a race with a lot off kerfuffles, mostly of the single car type. Practice also led teams to believe that the red tires were going to be the compound that would give them the best combination fo speed and handling for qualifications. Turns out for one team that wouldn’t be the case. 

Before I get into the continued woes of the 27 Team…we have to talk about Will Power’s unfortunate qualifications. He was most certainly on a flyer, but right before he got to the timing line: he spun the car and complete ruined his qualification attempt. I guess it’s a good thing he resigned his contract with Team Penske prior to qualifications…and that it was signed in ink and not pencil. But back to the Series of Unfortunate Event with Alexander Rossi: his red tires did NOT come in at all. So much so that both Rossi and his strategist were just trying to figure out what happened after qualifications. There was some rumbling within the paddock that not all tires distributed were equal, but Firestone is adamantly denying that statement. I don’t know. Does seem weird. However, the pole belonged to Colton Herta with Jack Harvey earning his best qualifying position in second place. 

Sunday started warm and humid. During the 9 a.m. warm up, the commentators were all ready talking about humid, airflow, and dehydration. Some teams opted to attach a “scoop” to the top of the aeroscreen which would direct air into the cockpit to the driver, but mess up the downforce. I have no way to describe this scoop except that it looked like the blower on one of those industrial dryers people use to dry out houses after a flood. I also have no idea if it worked. However I am sure that it was another reason for people who all ready hate the aeroscreen to continue to hate the aeroscreen. The sky is blue, the grass is green, and people hate the aeroscreen. 

Enough negativity: guys everyone got through Lap 1 Turn 1 clean-ish. Not just on the start of the race, but all of the restarts! They were even four-wide at one part of the start of the race. Now sure, it appears that Sebastian Bourdais, Simon Pagenaud, and Josef Newgarden had some love-taps between them, but nothing to really upset the apple cart of cause any major incident. It was quite impressive really. Of course, even with everyone getting through, there was still a lot of movement, and both Alexander Rossi and Graham Rahal found themselves up several positions by the end of Lap 1.  (I don’t want to, but yes if you saw the race you know what happens later between these two). Also a positive note was watching Rinus VeeKay holding off Graham Rahal on Turn 1 during the race, he really kept a great racing line. 

Back to negativity. . . after watching this multiple times, it appears that Rossi and Rahal decided to get into the mix with each other. Except that Rossi had the outer line of a turn and Rahal decided to go from the inner line to the outer line and went right into Rossi. It did not get better from there. The two continued to trade bumps and both ended up in a tire barrier. Rahal could reverse out, Rossi needed some help. Also, to no one’s surprise, Dalton Kellett got into some trouble and his car ended up stalling just after Turn 1 in the area of the course between Pit Out and Turn 2. Not exactly in the main race course, but not in a safe area. AMR never got the car. A yellow flag was never flown. Ultimately Kellett got out of the car himself and walked over to pit out and then exited the track. You all should know I have nothing but love in my heart for AMY, and nothing but hate for Race Control. That was extremely unsafe and just lazy on the part of Race Control. Kellett’s car was in line with a break in the track and it would have taken one lap to get it moved. What is even more frustrating is that there was a later full course yellow, and the car was not moved.

Before kudos are given, we all must ask ourselves: what does Jimmie Johnson bring the to the table? He was five laps down at the end of this race, after being multiple laps down at Barber. He caused two full course yellows, both for incidents that involved only himself. To quote the INDYCAR fan behind us, “how does one cause a spin in a single car incident”? That is a great question. Sure he may bring some eyes on the sport, but what they’re seeing is a driver who is clearly scared. A scared driver is a slow driver, and a slow driver is a traffic hazard. Johnson needs to find speed or get out. 

Ultimately, the weekend belong to Young Colton Herta. He scored the pole on a perfect qualification run. Executed textbook starts and restarts, and managed to keep himself in clean air and leading the field for the majority of the race. He even suffered a few wall brushes and still won. He deserved every single victory donut he took. He’s a great racer on track, and honestly just a fun guy to see off track. Congratulations Colton!