ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – With five American drivers finishing in the top six during Friday’s second practice session for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the NTT IndyCar Series is enjoying some patriotic flare.
Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport, the most successful driver from the United States currently active in the series, finished Friday’s second practice with a time of 1:00.8969 around the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street course aboard his Honda. Young American Spencer Pigot was second fastest in a Chevrolet at 1:00.9812.
Two more American drivers were third and fourth, including Marco Andretti’s 1:01.0351 in a Honda and 18-year-old Colton Herta’s 1:01.0776 in another Honda.
Chevrolet’s Max Chilton of England was fifth at 1:01.1171 followed by California’s Alexander Rossi’s Honda at 1:01.1388.
“We have a very strong pool of American drivers in the IndyCar Series,” Hunter-Reay said. “It’s great to see because when I was growing up, that’s what I wanted to see. I wanted to see my guys, the Americans, defeat the rest of the drivers from around the world.”
Hunter-Reay and Pigot are both proud Americans, and also proud Floridians. Hunter-Reay is from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Pigot hails from Orlando.
“If you ask anybody, they absolutely love it here,” Hunter-Reay said. “It’s a fantastic event. Fantastic venue. It’s my home race, Spencer’s as well. It’s important to do well here and it’s the start of the season. It’s important to roll out with a successful start all the way to the Indy.
“It’s a great event.”
Pigot also believes the St. Petersburg street course is his hometown race because of its proximity to Orlando, just up the road on Interstate 4.
“I think everyone in the paddock is excited to be at the racetrack again, and for me it’s a special event,” Pigot said. “I grew up in Orlando, so always nice to start the season not far from home. Lots of friends and family out here this weekend supporting me, so it’s a great way to kick it all off, and hard to pick a better place to start the season than here in St. Pete along the water, great views, great weather, and yeah, so far it’s been a pretty good day for us at ECR.
“We had a really strong second session there. It’s obviously extremely tight still, so we still have work to do, try to find if we can go quicker and if we can try up and stay up at the pointy end of the grid.
“I enjoy it. It’s such a long off-season that just being back at the racetrack is a lot of fun, and I don’t think friends or family add any pressure. They just kind of make it a more fun weekend for me to see them again. A lot of them I only see a few times a year, so it’s nice to all come back together and celebrate not only seeing each other but the start of the IndyCar season, and yeah, we always have a good time in St. Pete.”
Hunter-Reay said Saturday’s practice will see more changes for the street course before the teams get ready for Saturday afternoon’s knockout qualifying culminating with the Firestone Fast Six.
“Teams have had more chance to learn the adjustments of the current aero kit and everybody is learning their way,” Hunter-Reay said. “Honda was really on top of street circuits with low grip and drivability last year. But, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Team Penske Chevys or the Ed Carpenter Chevys up there on Saturday in qualifications.”
Pigot said the Chevrolet teams have learned to make adjustments.
“P2 shows we are capable to getting to the front,” Pigot said. “We feel confident what we have on every type of circuit.”