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Race Report: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.—“Tough day.”

So summed up Tony Kanaan as he sat on the pit wall after finishing 15th in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the season opener for the NTT IndyCar Series.

For teammate Matheus Leist and his No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet, it was a case of wrong place, wrong time. His race ended after just 25 laps when he clipped the right rear of Ed Jones’s car which was stuffed into the outside wall at Turn 9, a result of Jones nicking the inside wall which shot him hard into the outside wall.

Although a couple cars made it through because they were in the inside groove, Leist was not as fortunate. He almost made it past but his left rear tire made contact with Jones’ right rear, pitching Leist into the concrete barrier further down the track. Fortunately neither Leist nor Jones were hurt.

“Unfortunately not the ideal race that we wanted,” Leist said. “I ended up hitting the 20 car on the restart, so another bad race here in St. Pete but it is what it is. Sometimes it’s just not your day and you’ve got to keep working hard for the next one, so I’m looking forward to the next one in COTA (Circuit of the Americas) now.”

The race did not turn into the street fight that was witnessed in the past as only two caution periods (one of which was for the Jones and Leist accidents) before the halfway mark slowed the race for a total of 11 laps.

Starting 21st in the No. 14 ABC Supply Chevrolet because he didn’t get a chance to post a time yesterday in qualifying, the goal for Kanaan was to finish the race. After seeing the two disabled cars during the caution, Kanaan radioed to his race strategist Scott Harner, “Remember the goal.”

A caution occurred at the time Kanaan was called to pit, and it proved costly as the entire field tightened up by the time the pits were opened allowing Kanaan to pit. He lost quite a bit of track position and never really recovered it. He would move into the top 10 during the pit stop rounds but he would fall back to mid-pack after the pit stops cycled through. Aside from a front wing change on the first stop (to compensate switching from the red alternate tires to the harder compound of the black primary tires), there were few changes to the car. A tire pressure adjustment for the final fuel stint was the only other change.

“Tough race for us,” Kanaan said. “We didn’t have the pace today. I mean we tried. We had a pretty good start and then we caught a yellow that we didn’t need. It was one of those days nothing goes right. Once we got going we definitely didn’t have the pace to fight with those guys so we just settled in. We needed a finish. Tough day.”

Josef Newgarden won his first race at St. Petersburg and gave team owner Roger Penske his ninth victory at the 1.8-mile street course. Defending series champion Scott Dixon finished second followed by Will Power, Dixon’s teammate and IndyCar rookie Felix Rosenqvist, and Alexander Rossi.

The next race will be the IndyCar Series debut at the picturesque Circuit of the Americas, the 3.41 mile permanent road course in Austin, Texas that hosts the international Formula 1 series. The race will be broadcast on Sunday, March 24th on NBC Sports Network starting at 1 p.m. ET.

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