ST. PETERSBURG, Fla – The new era of the Verizon IndyCar Series is officially underway. For the second straight year, Sebastien Bourdais won Sunday’s 2018 season opener on the streets of St. Pete. It was the first race of the new 2018 car as well.
Now that the first race of the season is in the rear view mirror, he are my main takeaways from this weekend.
Rookies Will Be Fast, But They’re Still Rookies
Most of the veterans said it best, regarding this new IndyCar, you can’t unlearn what you already know. They said the early season speed out of the rookies this weekend didn’t surprise them because the rookies don’t have any old habits to break.
The veteran drivers, well they need to change their entire driving style. What they knew and learned prior to this season, well throw it out the window. Braking zones, turning, everything is different.
For most of the rookies, they had no prior INDYCAR experience. Three of the top four in the starting lineup had never driven in a race before.
They didn’t know what to expect and didn’t have any sightlines and braking zone to try to make their brain relearn.
But, at the end of the day, they’re still rookies.
The bottom four of the finishing order were all rookies. Matheus Leist was quick all weekend but had early race problems. While running fourth on Lap 15, his car got stuck in third gear. He’d love five laps on pit road as a result. Then, to make matters worse, he was later penalized for leaving pit road with pit equipment. On lap later on Lap 28, he found the Turn 3 wall. He’d finish last in 24th.
Later on in the race, fellow rookie Jack Harvey got off course and badly damaged his No. 60 Honda. He’d finish 23rd.
Late in the race Rene Binder brought out a caution for getting into the tire barriers. He’d finish 22nd.
The 21st place finisher was rookie Jordan King. He started on Row 2 with Leist and even led parts of this race. But, he had a flat tire and lost three laps. He’d never rebound.
Wickens, was a star leading a race-high 69 of the 110 laps, but he finished 18th.
Other than Robert Wickens, the top of the field were all veterans. While Alexander Rossi is in his third season, you classify him as a young veteran. This is his third time through on these tracks. 12 of the top 13 finishers had at least three years of INDYCAR experience.
No Penske or Ganassi Drivers Up Front
With a new car, most said the start of the 2018 season would see a ton of parity. Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing combined to win all but all but one of the championships from the DW12 and aerokit eras. They also won 55 races during that time frame.
But, this weekend showed that they’re not necessarily the front runners for 2018.
Just one of the combined five cars made the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying. Only Will Power and Scott Dixon would start in the top 10.
In the race, all had problems.
Power, spun on the opening lap. Dixon, had a pit road speeding penalty and an incident with Takuma Sato in Turn 1 on Lap 34. He’d briefly get airborne too.
Josef Newgarden had to pit at one point of the race with a flat tire. Simon Pagenaud had a problem on his first pit stop.
Ed Jones was quiet all day too.
None would finish in the top five and they’d combine to lead zero laps.
The word on the street was that Honda teams were going to have the early advantage with this new car. After Sunday’s race, I’d say they do. The entire top six of the finishing order were all Honda’s, including at least one driver from each of Honda’s five organizations.
They also led 105 of the 110 laps on Sunday.
This Will Be a Wild Season
If the rest of 2018 goes like what we saw this weekend, the year is wide open. Six different teams made the Firestone Fast Six on Saturday and six different teams came away with a top seven result in the race.
Penske and Ganassi look pedestrian, meaning the season is wide open.
Tons Of Mistakes
It was a weird race to say the least. Other than Robert Wickens, no one showed they wanted to win. It was problem after problem to start the race. On the drop of the green flag, Ryan Hunter-Reay hit pit road for an electrical problem. They’d change his ECU and never lose a lap. While he was on pit road, Will Power spun on the track. Then, Zach Veach got into Tony Kanaan causing Kanaan’s No. 14 Chevrolet to spin too. At the end of the lap, Charlie Kimball got off course in Turn 13 bringing out the caution.
Sebastien Bourdais would pit under the yellow for a flat tire.
One lap, six cars with issues.
By Lap 40 of the race, we’d see five caution periods for 18 laps. 15 of the 24 starters were involved in something during those early portions of the race. That’s 63-percent of the field.
ABC Broadcast Failures
With the TV package up for bid to take over the series for 2019 and beyond, ABC did its best effort to show fans that they have some work to do. It’s clear the network only wants the series because of the Indy 500.
Take today’s broadcast for example.
They showed six commercials by time we ever got to double digits in the lap category. The first two restarts, they were on commercial with the race on a split screen.
Then, at least four times they were advertising the next INDYCAR race as the INDYCAR Grand Prix in May. They kept talking about Indy, which is fine, but it was clear they weren’t looking out for the greater good of the series.
There’s three races between St. Pete and Indy in May, but ABC was only out to promote themselves not the other three races which air on NBCSN. If you’re a new fan, you would take it that the next race is in May, not on April 7.