ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – Rookies may have surprised in Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg qualifying on Saturday, but veteran savvy returned to the fore in this morning’s final warmup practice before today’s Verizon IndyCar Series season opener.
FIRESTONE GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERSBURG: Warmup results; Combined practice results; Race tire designation
Alexander Rossi was fastest in the 30-minute session, guiding the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda for Andretti Autosport around the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street course in 1 minute, 1.6182 seconds (105.164 mph). The third-year driver was followed on the timesheet by Tony Kanaan, the long-in-tooth driver of the No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet set to begin his 21st Indy car season. Kanaan was clocked at 1:01.6550 (105.084 mph).
“Warmup was good,” said Rossi, who will start 12th in the race after being penalized for qualifying interference on Saturday. “Obviously, you always want to try and be on top regardless of the session. I think this is the most irrelevant session to be on top, but the car was good this morning. I think we made a lot of progress in terms what we want for the stint of a run.”
Three rookies advanced to the final round of qualifying, the Firestone Fast Six, on Saturday. Robert Wickens stunned most by winning the pole in the No. 6 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. The Canadian became the first driver to win the pole in his Indy car debut since Sebastien Bourdais in 2003, also coming at St. Pete.
Wickens ranked 21st of the 24 drivers in today’s warmup (1:02.9568, 102.928 mph). Zach Veach, in the No. 26 Group One Thousand One Honda for Andretti Autosport, was the top rookie in practice, in 12th place (1:02.6113, 103.396 mph).
Reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden was fifth in the warmup in the No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet (1:02.0438, 104.442 mph). Defending St. Pete race winner Sebastien Bourdais was seventh in the No. 18 SealMaster Honda for Dale Coyne Racing (1:02.1511, 104.262 mph).
Two-time St. Pete winner Will Power, who’ll start next to Wickens on the front row, was ninth in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet (1:02.3917, 103.860 mph).
Rossi said the race, which will feature use of the new 2018 car with the universal aero kit for the first time in competition, remains an unknown for everyone involved.
“It’s going to be eye-opening this afternoon,” said the 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner. “I don’t really think anyone knows what to expect. It’s a little bit of an extended test session. For sure, when we come back to another street course we’ll have a much better understanding of what we need. We’re all kind of going into this blindfolded a bit. We’ll just make the best decisions that we can with the information we have.”
Today’s race marks the eighth straight year that the Verizon IndyCar Series will open its season in St. Petersburg. Live coverage is available on ABC (12:30 p.m. ET) and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network (noon).