Rough day at St. Pete for IndyCar's rookies

Rough day at St. Pete for IndyCar's rookies


Rough day at St. Pete for IndyCar's rookies


Robert Wickens came within 25 turns of winning on his Verizon IndyCar Series debut, Jordan King led until the cartoon anvil kept finding his car, and the trio of Rene Binder, Matheus Leist and Jack Harvey met an assortment of walls, tire barriers, or stifling setbacks as the rookie class had a largely forgettable day in St. Petersburg.

Zach Veach went home with the best result – 16th place – but there was nothing to celebrate after also making more than his fair share of mistakes along the way.

The rookie tale could have been different if the clash between race leader Wickens and second-place Alexander Rossi ended without the Canadian in the wall, but the potential shown by IndyCar’s rookies in qualifying went unrealized at the checkered flag.

“This was a pretty good weekend till now,” Leist said of his A.J. Foyt Racing Chevy that briefly ran in the top three. “Pretty happy with the performance we had – we were fast in all of the sessions. Today it was unfortunate. We had a shifting problem when I was running fourth, so I couldn’t change gears up or down. I stayed in pit lane for like 10 laps trying to solve the problem.

“Then we had another problem and came back to the pits. The third time I went back on the track, I had a mega understeer going into Turn 3 and I missed the corner and hit the wall. Happy for the performance – we had a fast car. I think it was my fault when I hit the wall that time. The car was good. It happens, so we’ll go to the next one.”

King led five laps early in the race and dealt with a gradual decline in fortunes as the 110-lap event wore on.

“On the positive, I led my first IndyCar race,” he said of his Ed Carpenter Racing Chevy. “It is nice to be able to say that. I am reserved, so I didn’t actually do it, but I did have a little bit of a mental fist pump in my mind when we took the lead. The speed was really good during the race, we genuinely had the pace to challenge for the race win. After the first stop, we picked up a puncture and slid against the wall and had some damage.

“It was frustrating more than anything to be hindered by that. Overall, I am happy from the sense that the speed is there, but disappointed to throw away a result. I know not every weekend is going to be like this, but it was great to be fast and challenging for the race win. It just hurts a bit when you throw away a good result like that.”

A suspected tire puncture ended Harvey’s race with a hard hit exiting Turn 12.

“We aren’t exactly sure what happened just yet,” the Michael Shank Racing Honda driver said. “I was in the middle of Turns 11 and 12, and I just lost the car big time and it got away from me. I think overall we had a pretty good weekend, obviously not the best weekend that we were hoping for. It was right where we expected to be and we found areas where we need to do some more work.

“We didn’t achieve the objective this weekend because we didn’t see the checkered flag, which was frustrating. But the guys have done a really great job and we will just keep moving forward. The fact that we are here and giving it our best shot is where we all want to be. I have a great team of people behind me and we will come back strong at Long Beach.”

Thrown in at the deep end with a single day of testing prior to St. Pete, Juncos Racing’s Rene Binder had an adventure-filled weekend that can only lead to an improved experience for his next outing.

“It was my first Verizon IndyCar Series race and I found it quite tough, but I am pleased with the progress we have made,” he said of his Chevy-powered entry. “In the beginning of the race there were several safety cars and dust, which made it more difficult. Unfortunately, I did not finish the race, but came close. We are still analyzing our data to improve. Overall, I learned a lot.”