Dre’s Race Review: 2024’s IndyCar GP of St Petersburg

After a rocky off-season, Josef Newgarden reminded IndyCar of his very best, all while the series owners squabble about its future. Dre on the strange vibe on the streets of St Pete.

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Dre Harrison Reviews



Read time: 6 mins

“Who needs a bus, bro?”

And for the final time this week, another Race Review and we’re heading to Florida for the IndyCar 2024 season opener on the Streets of St Petersburg! And in it, well, it all got a little bit dominant at the front, as a fan favourite returned to his devastating best. Let’s talk about Josef Newgarden. 

Now for those who didn’t read my IndyCar Season Preview (I don’t blame you, it had a read time of half an hour, I’m not judging), the off-season was… a lot for Josef Newgarden. On the track, face value success. A brilliant win in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona with Penske Porsche. 

But read between the lines and it was a struggle for Josef personally, he was slightly carried by his super team of Dane Cameron, Matt Campbell and especially Felipe Nasr’s final stint heroics. Josef was third from the bottom in terms of average speed in his time in the car amongst the GTP drivers. As a result, he won’t be in consideration for a seat at Le Mans in June.

There was minor drama off the track too, with Josef unfollowing everyone on his social media platforms, as well as quitting his infamous “Bus Bros” YouTube show with teammate Scott McLaughlin and breaking up with his old social manager. I was genuinely pleased when I saw the news. It said to me that Josef was frustrated at how his season went last year. A season where he won the sport’s biggest prize. He still wasn’t happy, and it’s easy to spot why. An average finish of 11th on Road/Street courses in 2023 crippled his Astor Cup campaign and he knew that wasn’t good enough. So what does he do? 

…Goes to St Pete, qualifies on pole, wins by nine seconds and leads 92 out of the 100 laps. BEATEMDOWN’. 

This was the best Josef Newgarden’s looked in IndyCar since his dominant Iowa oval spells. This was the 2022 Triple Crown Newgarden who could take a race by the scruff of the neck and beat the field over his knee. Even when he wasn’t leading, he showed that old-school killer instinct to quickly pass Colton Herta and Felix Rosenqvist and get back to the front. It was ruthless brilliance and exactly the sort of drive that proved Josef can still turn right as well as left. 

If he can put together a few more weekends like that, everyone in the field is going to have problems. Remember, no one in IndyCar has won more races in the series than Newgarden since the pandemic. 16 of them in 4 seasons and change. We know he can do it. He just needs to remind himself of that. 

Again, season preview references here but it’s kind of weird that IndyCar is once again having weird internal squabbles.

Going into the St Pete race, it was revealed by Michael Andretti that he had thrown some barbs at Roger Penske’s ownership of the series, actively encouraging him to sell if he couldn’t see the potential in it.

In that same Nathan Brown article in the Indianapolis Star, it was revealed that IndyCar had what I call an NBA-style “Players Only” meeting, with all the team owners that aren’t Penske affiliated. It turns out their second meeting had Penske involved and they left on good terms, but are now nervous because Michael couldn’t help himself. All this over Michael wanting Roger to drop $100m into the series so it can compete with NASCAR and F1. Lordy.

There were elements of Michael’s talks I definitely could get behind, such as using IMSA engines in an IndyCar frame to help mitigate their supplier problems, clearly seeing the success of their Sportscar model working. And I generally agree that the series has a bit of an identity crisis at the moment if it wants to compete with F1, a battle it will never win on a relative shoestring. 

This is all weird because if you watched St Pete – The turnout was great and there was a buzz in the air. Apparently thousands more than usual rolled up over the weekend. It was promoted to be more like a festival that just so happened to have a race in it and it worked, drawing people out in the local area to come down. A win for the series and a tactic I’ve seen other series adopt. I remember being at Silverstone last season for their MotoGP round and bringing in Chase & Status and Radiohead, promoting the event more like a festival got an extra 10,000 or so through the door. If you can convince even 5% of that new crowd that the sport is worth keeping tabs on, that’s permanent fans you’re likely to never lose. Why do you think the Indy 500 used to have a Snake Pit?

And yet, we have two of the biggest names of the sport at loggerheads about the direction of the series.

I’ve been accused by many of being an IndyCar hater. On the contrary, I love the series and I genuinely want it to do well, but it’s becoming pretty clear there’s dissension over what people think the series should be and where it goes from here. Does IndyCar want to be the national level home for top-flight US single-seaters? Or does it genuinely want to take the fight to NASCAR and F1? And with Honda set to quit supporting the series beyond 2026, key decisions need to be made quickly. No doubt though, it’s frustrating seeing the internal squabbles play out in a series that has so much potential.

This race was a strong narrative-inducing one. Shoutout to Felix Rosenqvist who set the fastest-ever lap of St Pete in Round 2 of qualifying, getting on the front row, and then finishing seventh in his first race for Meyer Shank. Really strong day and arguably their best since Helio’s 500 win. Also really great to see Will Power back up the front after a shaky 2023, and Rinus Veekay back in the Top 10 for Ed Carpenter and looking racy. Just what the Doctor ordered. 

Meanwhile, Romain Grosjean couldn’t help himself. After another really strong qualifying job in his Juncos debut, he goes and gets a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact, half-heartedly trying to pass Linus Lundqvist and spinning him into the Turn 10 tyre wall. He eventually parked it via a gearbox failure after going a lap down. Oh, Romain…

Quietly, nice work from Kyffin Simpson to finish 14th on debut. Kept his nose clean, and didn’t make mistakes. You can’t ask for much more there.

I’d crack a joke about Callum Illot filling in and finishing a solid 13th for McLaren on a week’s notice while Agustin Canapino slid off and finished 18th, but… *shot*

Andretti gives (Colton Herta is fast as heck and back in the Top 5), Andretti takes away. (A fast Marcus Ericsson having an engine failure after a really good qualifying effort)

Only one Chip Ganassi was in the Top 10 in Qualifying, and Alex Palou still finds a way to finish sixth. Typical Palou. 

Leigh Diffey on a live broadcast admitted that Jon Bon Jovi was his wife’s “Hall Pass”. Erm…

Speaking of which, I did notice that IndyCar’s coverage has leaned in way more on giving out more personable details about their drivers, like Santino Ferrucci’s recent marriage. It’s not for me, but absolutely a good move in trying to grow the game via the personalities in the series. For me, it’s one of their most marketable assets and in a world where Drive to Survive has an objective net win for F1 and generating new fans, it’s free real estate. Welcome girlies, you’re right at home here.

About the Author:

Dre Harrison

Somehow can now call himself a Production Coordinator at the Motorsport Network, coming off the back of being part of the awkward Johto Era at WTF1. All off a University Project that went massively out of hand. Weird huh?

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