Today’s question: What was an under-the-radar takeaway for you from the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding?
Curt Cavin: I’ve now watched the race twice, and I’m even more impressed with what Juncos Hollinger Racing accomplished in its first event as an entrant of two full-time cars. Callum Ilott continues to be a driver on the rise – remember, he’s only 24 years old with just 20 starts in this series – and rookie Agustin Canapino was very impressive for never having competed in a formula car of this magnitude. The pair started together on the 11th row and combined to gain 26 positions on the field. Yes, there were a couple of big accidents that took out a lot of cars, but the JHR drivers never put a wheel wrong over 100 laps. Ilott scored the first top-five finish for the organization owned by Ricardo Juncos and Brad Hollinger, and I won’t be surprised if he betters that this season. Canapino? When do we start thinking of the 33-year-old Argentine touring car champion as a Rookie of the Year contender? After all, he finished one position behind F2 race winner Marcus Armstrong, who won’t compete in the five oval races, and ahead of fellow full-timers Sting Ray Robb and Benjamin Pedersen, drivers who have considerable INDY NXT by Firestone experience. Regardless of where this JHR season goes from here, it was an impressive start. And by the way, the team’s new logo, color scheme and car liveries are cool!
Joey Barnes: There were quite a few items that are at the top of my takeaway list, including Alexander Rossi scoring a quiet but strong fourth-place finish last Sunday in his maiden race with Arrow McLaren. However, the one that really stands out is the performance dished out by Marcus Ericsson. Obviously, it wasn’t as if he ran rampant over the field and led all 100 laps en route to a 50-second margin of victory (he led four laps and won by 2.4113 seconds), but the script was similar to his wins at Detroit (Race 1, 2021) and the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge (2022): Be around the front, limit mistakes, capitalize on everyone else’s mistakes. Even the Swede’s victory at Nashville (2021) was like that, to a degree, even though he was part of an early melee that saw him go airborne but able to somehow battle back and keep racing. By now, this isn’t coincidence: It’s his style and a crucial part of his racecraft. There are still a few items to clean up, such as the qualifying pace that he admitted needs improving, but Ericsson is, at times, out-Dixon-ing Chip Ganassi Racing teammate and six-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Scott Dixon, a.k.a. “The Iceman.” Ericsson’s average finish was a respectable 8.1 last year, with two DNFs (did not finish). Meanwhile, Dixon had no DNFs and a 6.7 average finish, which would have been higher if not for the late pit road penalty in the Indianapolis 500, where Ericsson capitalized on Dixon’s mistake. This past Sunday, when Pato O’Ward’s No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet had its brief issue, Ericsson was running second, directly ahead of Dixon, and took full advantage. Now, I damn sure won’t be the guy to say that Dixon has lost anything. Quite the contrary, I think he’s as good as he’s ever been. But much like Alex Palou did Dixon-like things in 2021 to claim the title, I’m curious if the ever-growing performances by Ericsson lead to similar success this year. As the saying goes, Chip likes winners, and he’s got a strong lineup of them prepared for an all-out race for the title.
Paul Kelly: Oh, man, my pick of Pato O’Ward to win last Sunday was so close … But on to the topic at hand. My biggest under-the-radar takeaway from St. Petersburg was that it was a very good weekend for Dallara. Sure, the amount of carnage on the St. Pete street course will ensure Dallara’s sales of replacement parts will be quite robust for the next three weeks, which is good for the company’s bottom line. But that’s not my point. The multicar, violent crashes in the race last Sunday proved one of the reasons why Dallara has been the exclusive chassis manufacturer of the INDYCAR SERIES since 2007 – the company builds a very safe race car. And the safety features that protected drivers like Devlin DeFrancesco, Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, Kyle Kirkwood, Jack Harvey and others are constantly evolving, in collaboration with INDYCAR engineers and feedback from teams and drivers. Sure, the model number may be the same, but this is NOT the same chassis as 2012 or even five years ago. Evolution continues to breed a more competitive – but more importantly, a safer – race car. Dallara should be commended for that. Also, another quick cap tip to the aeroscreen, which did its job very well to protect rookie Benjamin Pedersen, proven by this video from INDYCAR President Jay Frye.