Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg: Saturday Notebook

By: Spencer Neff
October 24, 2020

With tomorrow being the last race of the season, today was one of the most pivotal days on the NTT IndyCar Series calendar.

Although much of the focus was geared toward on-track activity in practice and qualifying, there was a spotlight drawn on news for the future of the series. Here are the big news items for Saturday at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Power earns second consecutive pole

Despite a rough start to the season that has left him out of championship contention, Team Penske’s Will Power has made up for it as the 2020 season draws to a close.

Qualifying Results

Continuing his dominance of qualifying at St. Petersburg, the 2014 Series Champion clocked a lap of 1m01.0369 in the Fast Six, earning his eighth career pole in 12 starts.

This is his 61st career pole, six behind Mario Andretti for the all-time lead. In 2020, Power has earned five pole positions, most of any driver in the field.

Joining Power on the front row tomorrow will Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi, who earned his first start on the front row since Pocono in August of last year.

Power celebrates after winning the pole for Sunday’s race (Chris Jones/INDYCAR)

During the last session, Rossi was 0.1369 of a second back of Power’s mark. Rounding out the Top Six were Colton Herta, James Hinchcliffe, Jack Harvey and Pato O’Ward.

After missing out on the Fast Six, championship contenders Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon start eighth and 11th respectively. Tomorrow, Dixon must finish ninth or better to guarantee his sixth title.

Needing only to start tomorrow’s race in order to secure Rookie of The Year, Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay will roll off ninth. During the second group of drivers partaking in the opening round of qualifying,

VeeKay was one of four drivers penalized. He and fellow Rookie Oliver Askew were the only drivers who advanced despite penalties for not heeding the local yellow and reducing their speed.

During the session, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist was docked his best two laps for impeding the progress of anther driver, knocking him from the Fast 12.

Although he finished his first practice in second, Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin will start 21st in his first IndyCar race. Yesterday, the three-time Supercars Champion was announced as the fourth full-time driver for his team’s 2021 lineup.

Herta leads lone practice

Imsgr By Chris Jones/INDYCAR

Practice 1 Results | Qualifying Groups 

In the only practice session before qualifying, Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport’s Colton Herta led the way. By posting a best lap of 1m01.1306 around the street circuit, the sophomore driver topped the 24-car field.

Late in the session, Rookies Scott McLaughlin and Oliver Askew went off track near Turn 14, prompting a red flag and curtailing the session. Dixon and Newgarden, the two championship contenders, ended the 90-minute practice eighth and 16th respectively.

Ganassi announces Caravana sponsorship for Jimmie Johnson

One of the biggest headlines in auto racing this year has been Jimmie Johnson’s planned switch to IndyCar once he finishes up his full-time NASCAR effort at the end of this season.

Saturday afternoon, Johnson’s IndyCar team for 2021, announced that online automotive retailer Caravana will sponsor his effort.

“Jimmie Johnson has already made his mark as one of the best NASCAR drivers in history, yet he’s continuing to push himself with a new challenge,” said Carvana Chief Brand Officer Ryan Keeton in today’s press release announcing their partnership.

“He’s not resting, but raising the bar, and that’s a mindset we can very much relate to. We’re looking forward to that shared challenger mindset, teamed up with Chip Ganassi Racing, for what is sure to be a fun, exciting racing season.” 

Image By Chip Ganassi Racing

Next year, Johnson will run his familiar No. 48 on the road and street courses. Although he has no current plans to do so, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion has not ruled out running on ovals at some point. Last month, Johnson signed a two-year deal with Ganassi.

“Carvana is a young, tech-forward, smart and aggressive company and is the perfect partner for this next challenge in my career,” said Johnson.

“I’ve dreamed of racing in INDYCAR since I was a little kid. Going from one championship organization to another with CGR, you know the resources, including great people, are going to be there. To have friends like Scott (Dixon), Dario (Franchitti) and Doug (Duchardt) there to lean on and learn from just makes this transition so much better. 2021 is going to be a lot of fun!”

After spending the last 20 seasons competing against Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports team, Car Owner Chip Ganassi will now have the opportunity to join forces with the legendary racer.

“I think this is a perfect fit for our organization – Carvana is a very exciting technology company that is always continuing to challenge themselves to be the best they can be,” said Ganassi.

“Like us, they value innovation – and when you add it all up, we seem to have a lot in common, which is why I think this relationship can really grow and be successful. You all know Jimmie and his accomplishments. Jimmie is a champion and a winner and will bring tremendous value to our organization. I think we’re going to learn as much from him and his approach as he is going to learn about INDYCAR racing. It will only move the team in a positive direction.” 

Sato, RLLR announce 2021 extension

This morning, the “silly season” news for 2021 continued with an announcement from the winners of the 2020 Indianapolis 500.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing announced that driver Takuma Sato will return to the team for the upcoming season.

“I am very excited to continue with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for the 2021 season,” Sato said. 

“The 2020 season was an unforgettable one for many reasons. Needless to say, it was an extremely challenging situation worldwide but the team continued to work very hard to be competitive under the difficult circumstances and Bobby, Mike, and the entire team deserve huge credit for this. Our Indy 500 win was a truly special moment and I want to thank everyone at the team again. We are already focused on the future and I am really looking forward to 2021.”

(from left to right) Mike Lanigan, Takuma Sato, David Letterman and Bobby Rahal celebrate their Indianapolis 500 win on August 23 (Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR)

Sato first joined RLLR in 2012, nearly winning the Indianapolis 500 with the team. In 2017, he won the Indianapolis 500 in his only season with Andretti Autosport. After spending five years between A.J. Foyt Racing and Andretti, the Tokyo native rejoined the organization in 2018.

Before this year’s victory, RLLR’s only win at the race has been with Buddy Rice in 2004.

“I am very pleased that we were able to come to terms with Takuma to continue with us in 2021,” said Bobby Rahal, co-owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. “Clearly it has been a successful partnership over the last several years, culminating in this year’s Indy 500 victory and I look forward to further success with Takuma throughout 2021.”

In the 47 races since, Sato has won four times, including this year’s Indianapolis 500, the second of his career. as well as four pole positions. To date, Sato has earned six victories and 10 pole positions in 181 starts. With one race left, he runs seventh in the points standings. If Sato holds that spot or improves, he will eclipse his previous best finish of 8th back in 2017.

“It has been a pleasure working with Takuma for many years and sharing with him all of the successes he has had,” said Co-Owner Mike Lanigan,

“Winning the Indy 500 together exceeded my own dreams and we at RLL look forward to more success in the new season. Having Takuma back with our team in 2021 provides continuity and will allow us to build upon the competitiveness we have shown this season.”

Up Next

Tomorrow morning, the 24-car field will have a 30-minute warmup session in preparation for Sunday afternoon’s race. At 10:40 am Eastern, the session will be broadcast on NBC Sports Gold.

At 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time, NBC will begin the live broadcast of the 100-lap event, with an expected green flag time of 2:31 p.m.

Live Timing and scoring will be available at Racecontrol.indycar.com and the IndyCar app. Radio coverage from the Pennzoil IndyCar Radio Network will begin at 2 p.m on indycarradio.com, Sirius 211, XM 205 and the aforementioned sites for live timing and scoring.

Tire Strategies for qualifying and the race are available here. Clinching scenarios for Driver/Entrant Champion, as well as Rookie of the Year and the Manufacturer’s Championship can be found here.

Header Image By Chris Jones/INDYCAR

Published by Spencer Neff

I am a lifelong auto racing fan. Through IndyCar1909, I look forward to sharing my passion for the series and its illustrious history with you.

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