Jon Bon Jovi

Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Jon Bon Jovi kept the faith that four-time Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner and Meyer Shank Racing minority partner Helio Castroneves would keep the Fastest Seat in Sports two-seater between the walls when the tandem led the 27-car field during pace laps Sunday around the 14-turn, 1.8-mile St. Petersburg street circuit.

Among the starting field was MSR driver Felix Rosenqvist, who had a front row seat to the opportunity while donning a special Bon Jovi Radio livery on his No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM MSR Honda. Rosenqvist started second – on the front row – after a strong qualifying performance Saturday.

The high-speed thrill ride with Castroneves was an experience Bon Jovi will never forget.

“It was awesome,” Grammy Award winner Bon Jovi said. “If you’re lucky enough to ever get the chance, take it. I really wanted to stay in the car. That was a blast.”

Bon Jovi, a special guest of MSR and SiriusXM, arrived Sunday morning and was a key dignitary of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES’ season opener. He was enthralled by his first race day experience, describing it as “unbelievable.”

“It was crazy,” Bon Jovi said. “Truly just wish I could do it again. That’s how fun it was. This was a chance of a lifetime.”

When asked if he’d want to come back and race, he had a better idea.

“How about I buy a team, and we’ll start there,” he said.

Can’t Win Championship in Opener, but Can Lose It

Sunday’s season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is one of 17 points-paying races this season. However, as competitive as the NTT INDYCAR SERIES is, many drivers in the paddock agree with the theory you can’t win the championship in the first race of the season, but you certainly can lose it.

“I think you're allowed like two bad races a year at this point,” said eighth-place finisher Alexander Rossi in the No. 7 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet. “You don't want to use one of those right away. I agree with that. You’ve got to come out and have a good weekend. You don't have to win, but you need to be competitive. You need to know that you have the car and go out and execute and just get the ball rolling in the correct direction.”

Twenty-three of the last 24 seasons have seen the eventual season champion come away with a top-eight finish in the season-opening race. The champ was on the podium in four of the last five years.

Scott Dixon had 11 top-10 finishes, all inside of the top five, in 14 starts during his championship winning season in 2020.

Alex Palou had 12 top-10 finishes, 10 in the top five, in a championship effort for the 2021 season. He never finished worse than eighth in his championship season in 2023.

Will Power had 13 top-10 finishes, 12 in the top five, in his 17-race championship run in 2022.

The margin for error is minimal.

“It's just so competitive now, you just got to take every point,” said third-place finisher Scott McLaughlin in the No. 3 DEX Imaging Team Penske Chevrolet. “You got to win when you can. The two crew (Newgarden’s team) could win today. They started from pole and won the race. That's exactly what they needed to do.

“We started ninth; we finished third. I mean, that's a win for us today.”

Palou Finds Confidence on Race Day

One would think defending NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Palou would have the utmost confidence in his abilities and in his No. 10 DHL Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

Instead, Palou lacked confidence in his car and his speed to start the 2024 season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding.

The Spaniard was ninth and 20th, respectively, in the first two practice sessions of the weekend.

Between practice and NTT P1 Award qualifying Saturday, Palou found his swagger. While he failed to make it out of the opening round of the three-round knockout format, he said the car was quicker than the 13th-place qualifying effort showed.

He proved that in Sunday’s 100-lap race. Palou improved seven positions to finish sixth.

“It's not an amazing day at the office, but I'm happy,” said Palou who scored his 19th straight top-eight result. “It’s better than what we did last year (he finished eighth). We started struggling at the beginning of this weekend, so it was an amazing recovery.”

Penske’s Continuity Shows

Just one team among the 10 NTT INDYCAR SERIES organizations in the paddock brought the same driver lineup from the end of the 2023 season into 2024 – Team Penske.

That team ended Sunday’s race with three of the top-four finishers, with two-time season champion Newgarden leading 92 of 100 laps in the season-opening victory in the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet. McLaughlin powered to third in the No. 3 DEX Imaging Team Penske Chevrolet while two-time season champion Power was fourth in the No. 12 Verizon Business Team Penske Chevrolet.

“I guess you could say that for momentum and stuff,” McLaughlin said of being the only team with continuity. “A lot of the personnel is very much the same. I just call that job security.”

The experience of Penske’s lineup – in the cockpit and in the pits – pays off more than anything, Power said.

“We’ve got a pretty tight group,” Power said. “I'd have to say all the engineers work well together. I'd say the drivers work well. This is kind of a well-jelled crew for drivers.

“It's good stuff. I've been around a long time, and when you’re much younger, you’re much more intense with your teammates. These days, much less. I'm enjoying it.”

News And Notes

  • Iowa Hawkeyes women’s college basketball star Caitlin Clark recently signed an endorsement deal with Gainbridge, and a decal of her signature was visible on the inside aeroscreen frame on the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda driven by Colton Herta. Gainbridge is an Indiana company, and the Indiana Fever are expected to select Clark with the first overall pick in the WNBA Draft.
  • McLaughlin has hired Julia Piquet as his nutrition/fitness coach this season, according to a report on NBC. Piquet’s father is three-time Formula One World Champion Nelson Piquet, who also started the 1993 Indianapolis 500. She’s also NASCAR Cup Series driver Daniel Suarez's fiancée.