Race Report: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. March 12, 2017—The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was a case of good news and bad news for AJ Foyt Racing. The good news was that the ABC Supply Chevrolets can be competitive in the Verizon IndyCar Series despite all of the new elements in the team. The bad news is that the results won’t show just how competitive they can be.
After some changes to the cars after qualifying last night which saw the team in the paddock until 11 p.m., it appeared that the hard work paid off as both cars were in the top-10 in the morning warmup. With Carlos Munoz starting 11th in No. 14 ABC Supply Chevy and Conor Daly starting 20th in the No. 4 ABC Supply Chevy, the team decided to split their pit strategy.
Unfortunately on the first lap, there was contact between Row 5 starters Charlie Kimball and Graham Rahal and Carlos Munoz had it missed until he got struck by Kimball. The collision damaged the right front suspension which took 10 laps to repair. Munoz’s race was essentially finished before it got started.
Meanwhile, Conor Daly wended his way through the accident scene unscathed to come from 20th to 12th! The race restarted on lap five. Eighteen laps later, he pitted for tires, fuel and a front wing adjustment. Leaving the pits, he felt his pit lane speed limiter wasn’t working which turned out to be true. The glitch in the software meant that meant Daly had to be cautious because if he sped on pit lane, he would incur a drive-through-the-pits penalty. The situation was tough on both Daly and his crew who gave him clean stops all day.
"As soon as we left the pits we had no pit speed limiter so we lost so much time in the pits cause I had to be careful not to exceed the limit,” Daly said afterwards. Daly was running in the top 10 until the next round of pit stops when he went from 10th to 16th. He climbed back up to 12th by the time of his next stop on lap 81. He came out in 16th again and did manage to gain a spot when the checkered flew after 110 laps.
“Overall, our guys did a great job and the car was so much fun to drive,” Daly said. “Every time we were out there we made up huge gaps on track. We got pretty racy so it was nice to be competitive. It's a shame we had the problem because we were on the same strategy as the winner. But we can look forward to Long Beach because our ABC Supply Chevy is competitive."
After getting his right front suspension repaired, Munoz rejoined the field on lap 12. The strategy now became one of survival and he was going to take advantage of any dropouts. Unfortunately, the car broke in the same area which led the team to believe the suspension was damaged worse than initially thought. He completed just 32 laps and placed 21st. "It's really a shame to start the season like this,” said a disappointed Munoz afterwards. “There was a big accident in Turn 3 and I figured I could avoid it without crashing but another car hit my right front. They fixed the car and it wasn't running too bad but in the end the car broke because of the accident earlier. We just have to focus on the next race."
“The final results definitely don’t show everything we gained this weekend,” Team President Larry Foyt said. “Tough break having the incident with Carlos on the first lap but Conor showed we had a very competitive car in the race. The electrical glitch really hurt him on pit road. Other than that, I think we would have had two very good cars on race day. The team operated really well, we know we have a bit of an uphill battle in these first few races while we learn all these new things but I’m pretty encouraged that it’s all going to come together. We showed we can have a little bit of speed and that’s good. It’s a tough way to start the year but I think there’s a lot of good things to look forward to for the ABC Supply team.”
The ABC Supply team will test at Barber Motorsports Park March 21st and at Indianapolis Motor Speedway April 1 before they leave for California to contest the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach the weekend of April 4-5-6.
Sebastien Bourdais, who crashed in practice and did not make a qualifying attempt, used strategy and smooth driving to come from his last starting position to win the race for team owner Dale Coyne. Second through fifth were Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Takuma Sato.
Team owner A.J. Foyt echoed his son’s thoughts and said, “I thought we were going to have a pretty good race after the morning warmup. The only thing on a track like this, almost every year they crash the first lap. It looked like Carlos made it through but then a guy ran into his right front wheel and it broke the suspension. All you can say is ‘That’s racing.’ Conor Daly drove a great race and came up through there pretty good and then the speed limiter wasn’t working. Every time he made a pit stop, the stop was good, but he’d lose three or four spots going out of the pits because he didn’t want to speed and get a drive-through. It turned out pretty bad but we know we can be competitive so that’s the biggest thing. We’re just looking forward to the next race