Pruett's slowdown lap: St Petersburg edition

Owens/IndyCar

Pruett's slowdown lap: St Petersburg edition

Insights & Analysis

Pruett's slowdown lap: St Petersburg edition

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MISC

* This might save us time for the rest of the year: Rookie IndyCar driver Jimmie Johnson looked like a rookie on his first visit to [insert name of event]. He made a few mistakes at [name of circuit] on his way to finishing [insert position]. Despite the enormity of the task facing the road racing neophyte, a [adjective] amount of people took delight in his struggles.

* Hello, Takuma Sato! He was mostly invisible at Barber, but wow, there was no question as to how much fire remains in the belly of the 44-year-old. It was not exactly a clean run to sixth (an affirming observation from J. Hinchcliffe of Canada: “On the restart, Takuma ran out of patience and talent, hit us, and flattened our tire. That was pretty much the story of our day”), but since I’m not the one being hit, it’s easy to say I’d rather see Charging Sato than Invisible Sato, who we saw – or rather, didn’t see, I guess – at about half the races in 2020.

* Two rounds in, and Conor Daly’s season has become a bizarre thing to witness. He was just clear of the Turn 1 melee at Barber that ensnared his teammate Rinus VeeKay, and had none of the hits and lockups VeeKay experienced at St. Pete, but their results have been diametrically opposed. Daly leaves St. Pete holding 17th in the championship with a growing list of obstacles that have prevented quality results. A slow pit stop at Barber cost him a number of positions; he emerged in 18th and improved to 16th at the checkered flag. The No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing team went to an alternate strategy early at St. Pete in an effort to improve Daly’s P19 starting position, but it backfired, and with complaints of high cockpit temperatures late in the race, he was left with another unfulfilling event. Consistency is a good thing, but not when it’s a double dose of 16th.

* Just as Colton Herta’s first win with his dad Bryan as part of the team was celebrated, it’s also worth noting it was Herta’s first win without George Steinbrenner and Mike Harding as co-entrants. For 2021, Steinbrenner is attached to Hinchcliffe’s car and Devlin DeFrancesco’s Indy Lights entry. Harding is no longer involved on the ownership side.

* Who had ‘Sebastien Bourdais will be seventh in the championship after the first two races while driving for a small and rebuilding team’ in their pre-season predictions?

* Things can only get better for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan’s Ed Jones after a rocky start to his second IndyCar stint. With everything to learn, rookie teammate Romain Grosjean has a 10th and 13th, and holds 14th in the standings. Jones, meanwhile, is sitting 19th in the championship with finishes of 15th and 20th. The DCRwVS team rolled the dice on pitting Jones when a yellow flag was expected and didn’t fly – same call made by ECR with Daly – and things went downhill from there. His team wants to be inside the top 10 everywhere it goes, and with Texas on the horizon, Jones has a perfect opportunity to put his exemplary oval skills to good use and get back in the game.

Grosjean is settling in fast. Abbott/Motorsport Images

* Fair to say any concerns about Andretti Autosport starting off the year with another slump have been put to rest?

* Welcome to Episode 943 of Scott Dixon Doing Scott Dixon Things. He hasn’t had the speed to trouble the leaders across the two opening races, but he’s driven forward from fifth to third at Barber and eighth to fifth (after falling as low as 10th) at St. Pete to ensure he’s in a strong position as the month of May arrives. The most consistent driver of the early season has been putting in work just outside the spotlight, which he and the No. 9 CGR Honda team won’t mind.

* As IndyCar fan Ryan Terpstra observed on social media after qualifying, there was only one driver—Pato O’Ward – who carried over from the Firestone Fast Six at Barber to the Fast Six at St. Pete. That’s remarkable.

* Happy birthday to one of IndyCar’s greatest assets, communications coordinator Arni Sribhen, who looks like he’s 12 and celebrated another lap around the sun on Saturday.

* Count me among those who privately cheered for Zach Veach to succeed on behalf of Gainbridge/Group1001 during his three-ish seasons representing the company he brought to IndyCar. While it was sad to see Veach’s IndyCar career end without delivering a win, full credit is due to the company for sticking with the series and receiving the first of what will likely be many wins with Herta at the controls.

* IndyCar’s first proper street race crowd in more than a year was a welcome sight. Here’s to hoping the post-race COVID data is favorable among attendees.

Fans! Levitt/Motorsport Images

* In the engine manufacturer wars, that’s 2-0 for Honda to open the season. Don’t count Chevy out, however, as the performance margins are razor thin. It could easily become 2-2 after Texas.

* Oddest thing I learned on Sunday: While Herta was winning in St. Pete, Kyle Kaiser, fellow Californian and Fernando Alonso’s worst friend, was winning at Laguna Seca. In a Spec Miata during an SCCA race, of all things! Word on the street is the 2017 Indy Lights champion hopes to make a return later this year if the funding can be raised.

* For those who are regular watchers of the Rolex 24 At Daytona and know the name ‘Rooftop Ray,’ as in Ray Wetzel, the amazing camera operator atop the grandstands who is often the only cameraperson bringing us images during the long overnight stretch, say thanks for the amazing overhead shots of Colton Herta’s donuts. Like his perch at Daytona, Ray’s become a fixture at Turn 1 giving us the crane shots at St. Pete.

* Oh, Max. Mr. Chilton’s year has opened with two kicks to the crotch. Gearbox failure ended his run at St. Pete after 18 laps. Starting 20th at Barber, the opening lap crash ruined his day; he’d finish P20. Starting 22nd on Sunday, he was first out: 24th. And where is he in the standings? 24th. As the old saying goes, you can’t fall off the floor, so if you’re a fan of The Little IndyCar Team That Could, the proposition of Conor Daly taking over the No. 59 Chevy for two races at Texas has the makings of a turnaround waiting to happen.

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