By Dylan Reynolds, The Open Wheel
This INDYCAR season kicks off this weekend on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Florida for the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and the Mazda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Cooper Tires. The Open Wheel will be on-site covering the action all weekend so stay tuned to this site and our Twitter page @openwh33l for all of the latest news.
Photo by John Cote/INDYCAR
Indy Lights Preview: Mazda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Cooper Tires (Entry List), Race 1 – Saturday, March 11, 2017 5:10PM (ET) & Race 2 – Sunday, March 12, 2017 9:45AM (ET) – The Indy Lights races at St. Pete last year were won by Felix Serralles and Felix Rosenqvist who have both moved on from the series this year. Kyle Kaiser had the best results in Lights at St. Pete of the drivers returning this year with back-to-back podiums and has to be considered a favorite this weekend. Santiago Urrutia nearly won the series championship in his rookie year last year and finished P4 in the first race last season. Rookies Aaron Telitz and Pato O’Ward each won races at St. Pete in Pro Mazda last season. Rookies Colton Herta, Matheus Leist, and Nico Jamin have each impressed in testing this season and should be a part of the conversation at some point this weekend. Listen to our Indy Lights season preview here. My picks to win: Kyle Kaiser & Santi Urrutia
Verizon IndyCar Series Preview: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Sunday, March 12 12:00PM (ET) ABC – Two-time defending race winner at St. Pete Juan Pablo Montoya is out of the series in a full-time capacity this year but that doesn’t mean Team Penske won’t be the favorites. Penske cars have won 8 of the 13 races at St. Pete including 6 of the last 8. Previous driver experience at St. Pete shows there are four former winners in the field this season in Helio Castroneves (3), Will Power (2), James Hinchcliffe (1), and Graham Rahal (1). Looking at box scores from 2016 and 2015 Simon Pagenaud and Castroneves are the only returning drivers in the series with Top 5 finishes at St. Pete in each of the last two years but if you extend that to the Top 10 you can add Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tony Kanaan to the list of solid finishers in the Florida sunshine. My pick to win: Will Power – Will Power would almost certainly have been on that above list had he been healthy enough to race at St. Pete last year. Power won the pole last season under the duress of various medical ailments and was poised for a breakout start to his 2017 season. Instead, he had to be replaced on race day by Oriol Servia for the season opener and missed out on a start from pole. Power has won the pole 6 times at St. Pete, has 4 Top 5’s, and has finished in the Top 10 in 7 of his 8 starts at the circuit. He’s going to win this weekend.
My fantasy.indycar.com picks: Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Mikhail Aleshin – You know my thoughts on Will Power. You can’t go wrong with anyone else from Team Penske this week but I’m going with Josef Newgarden as a “budget” pick and steal at only $25. Honda appears to have closed the gap on Chevy in testing so I feel comfortable going with Ryan Hunter-Reay and Mikhail Aleshin to finish out my lineup. Hunter-Reay was on the podium last year and has 4 career Top 5’s at St. Pete. Aleshin was strong last year in St. Pete in his full-time return to the Verizon IndyCar Series and has been fast in testing.