By Dylan Reynolds, The Open Wheel
The INDYCAR season kicks off this weekend with the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and the Indy Lights 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 Parker Hall/The Open Wheel
Indy Lights Preview: Mazda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Cooper Tires (Entry List), Race 1 – Saturday, March 10, 2018 1:05PM (ET) & Race 2 – Sunday, March 11, 2018 10:45AM (ET) – Each of the winners in Race 1 and Race 2 at St. Pete last year are still in the series this year in Aaron Telitz and Colton Herta. Each of those two are expected to be title challengers this season, but Pato O’Ward will be one to watch this weekend as well. O’Ward finished in the Top 5 in each race last year with Team Pelfrey and is with a strong Andretti Autosport team this season. Telitz’s Belardi Auto Racing teammate Santi Urrutia qualified in the Top 6 in each race last year and finished second in Race 2. He’ll no doubt be a threat this weekend. Pro Mazda champ Victor Franzoni finished second in each race in at St. Pete last year in Pro Mazda with Juncos Racing and figures to be a factor with the same team this weekend in his Lights debut. My picks to win: Pato O’Ward & Colton Herta
Verizon IndyCar Series Preview: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Sunday, March 11, 2018 12:30PM (ET) ABC – Previous driver experience shows 4 former St. Pete winners in the field in Will Power (2), Sebastien Bourdais (1), James Hinchcliffe (1), and Graham Rahal (1). The active Top 5 in laps led at St. Pete are Power (247), Bourdais (99), Scott Dixon (94), Simon Pagenaud (63), and Hinchcliffe (47). Looking at the box scores 2017 and 2016, Pagenaud and Hunter-Reay have finished in the Top 5 in each of the last two years. If that’s expanded to the Top 10, those two are joined by Takuma Sato (Top 6) and Dixon (Top 7). How much will that history mean this weekend is a big question with the new universal aero kit making its debut. There are new or newish teams and drivers all over the grid this weekend and that may be the most fun thing to watch. Carlin and Harding Racing make their full-time debuts as Juncos Racing and Michael Shank Racing expand their part-time efforts. Rookies include Matheus Leist, Robert Wickens, Zachary Claman De Melo, Jordan King, Zach Veach, Rene Binder, and Jack Harvey. My pick to win: Will Power – Power has 7 career poles at St. Pete including each of the last two years. He should excel with a car that’s a little more “on edge” this season and he’s a lock to be at or near the top of each session this weekend. You’d like to see more wins from his 7 career poles, but 7 Top 10 finishes in 9 starts is very good. He’s my pick to start the season strong.
My fantasy.indycar.com picks: Will Power, Simon Pagenaud, Ryan Hunter-Reay, & Marco Andretti – You know my thoughts on Power. Team Penske is always fast at St. Pete and Pagenaud has placed well there in each of the last two years making him a solid choice at $28. Hunter-Reay is a steal at just $21. He’s has 5 Top 5’s in 11 starts at St. Pete, including each of the last two years, and is expected to be a title contender with the universal aero kit this season. This is a great chance for him to establish himself early. Andretti is expected to be one of the drivers to benefit from the different aero package with less downforce and he’s had solid moments at St. Pete in recent years. He’ll be fast this weekend but can he put it together on race day?