ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – Some championship order was restored this morning in practice at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, but a pair of upstarts threatened to upset the status quo in the last session before this afternoon’s Verizon P1 Award qualifying.
Scott Dixon, the four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion and winner of 41 career races, led the 45-minute practice on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit with a lap of 1 minute, 0.7571 seconds (106.654 mph) in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda that stands as the fastest overall of the weekend thus far.
FIRESTONE GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERSBURG: Practice 3 results // Combined practice results; Qualifying groups
Josef Newgarden, the reigning series champion, ran second in the session with a lap of 1:00.8654 (106.464 mph) in the No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske. Newgarden was a spot ahead of teammate and 2014 titlist Will Power, whose lap of 1:00.8718 (104.453 mph) in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was third.
Champions all, the top three – but that’s where the story diverged. Jordan King, making his Verizon IndyCar Series debut this weekend in the No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, logged a lap of 1:01.0321 (106.174 mph) that was tops midway through the session until fading to fourth by the end. The 23-year-old Brit was on another flyer late in the session when he locked the brakes and slid into the Turn 14 tire barrier to bring out the red and checkered flags ending the session.
King was uninjured and the car sustained light damage that should be repaired in time when knockout qualifying begins at 2:20 p.m. ET (streaming live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com). Before the incident, team owner Ed Carpenter said he was pleased with King’s progress.
“He’s been doing a good job,” Carpenter said. “Even in his first two tests with the team, he’s really showed us a lot of promise. He’s a talented guy. Still got a long ways to go this weekend, but at least it’s good to see that we feel like we have some pace in both of our cars. We hope we will be able to keep it going.”
Another rookie, AJ Foyt Racing’s Matheus “Matt” Leist, was fifth in the practice at 1:01.0327 (106.173 mph) in the No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet.
Qualifying to determine the first Verizon P1 Award winner of the 2018 season will follow the same procedure as in recent years. The field is split into two groups for Round 1 based on their times from this morning’s practice. The fastest six drivers from each 10-minute group advance to Round 2.
Round 2 is another 10-minute session, with the top six drivers moving on to the Firestone Fast Six, which consists of six minutes of guaranteed green-flag time to determine the pole winner and the order of the first three rows for Sunday’s race.
The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg opens the Verizon IndyCar Series season for the eighth straight year. Sebastien Bourdais of Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan is the defending race winner. Other past race winners are Graham Rahal (2008), James Hinchcliffe (2013) and Power (2010, 2014).
Sunday’s 110-lap race airs live starting at noon ET on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network and 12:30 on ABC.