Dixon Tops Final Practice with Hinchcliffe on his Heels

While James’ Hinchcliffe’s former dance partner, Sharna Burgess from Dancing with the Stars, would frown upon James leading with his heels, the rest of us are fine with him being on the figurative heels of the driver in front of him in order to make track action more interesting. In this case, it was Practice 3 of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg that he made interesting. Trailing Scott Dixon (No. 9, Ganassi Racing) by only .0004 of a second. Don’t lie, you can’t even comprehend how small a moment in time that is. I know I can’t. What I do know though, is that it makes for a hell of a race.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though, qualifying must come first!

Neither Dixon nor Hinchcliffe (No. 5, SPM) has ever earned a pole position at this street circuit, but Dixon has started P2 to Hinch’s best start of P4. Hinch outranks Dixon in St. Pete wins though, with one in 2013. That was the same year he qualified in the P4 position, and the victory was also Hinchcliffe’s first career win. He followed it up with wins on the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil and on the short oval of Iowa Speedway that year. His next win didn’t come until 2015, at a very rainy NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale, LA.

Dixon has slightly more wins with a total of 40. His most recent victory was at the series return to Watkins Glen. Dixon has finished as the runner-up in St. Pete three times – 2006, 2007, and 2012. Oddly, all three of those years he was beat out for the ultimate spot by Team Penske & Team Chevy driver, Helio Castroneves.

Given that the fastest Chevy in today’s practice was Josef Newgarden (No. 2, Team Penske), perhaps this is Scott’s chance to finally grab a win. It’s worth noting that those runner-up spots were all achieved with a Honda under Dixon’s No. 9 hood.

Just to compound things, I wonder if this could actually be Dixon’s year for a pole and a win in St. Pete? Helio Castroneves (No. 3, Penske) and Will Power (No. 12, Penske) are the only two drivers in the current field that have claim to that bragging right. Both Team Penske drivers have won multiple times on the streets that hug the shores of the Gulf, as well – Castroneves in 2006, 2007, and 2012 as I commented earler and Power in 2010 & 2014. Needless to say, I wouldn’t count them out quite yet. The only Team Penske team member I haven’t mentioned is reigning series Champion, Simon Pagenaud. I have to bring him up though because out of the 7 poles he earned last year, 6 were on road & street.  

The other driver you should really keep an eye on this afternoon is the aforementioned James Hinchcliffe. He has a pattern of winning races every other year, so that would make him due in 2017 and in order to clinche, he needs a solid qualifying run and advancement into the Firestone Fast 6. Starting position at this event in particular, is crucial. Graham Rahal and Dan Wheldon each won from P9 but all of the other winners had a starting position between P1 and P5.

Even though the cars did not change this year because of the aero kit development freeze, this is anything but a predictable season and I love how it’s blatantly obvious right off the bat. I for one, could not be happier about that fact! 

Feature photo credit: Joe Skibinski / IndyCar

Verizon IndyCar Series track times for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg:

Friday, March 10th:
Practice #1 – 11:15 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. ET
Practice #2 – 3:00 p.m. – 3:45 p.m. ET

Saturday, March 11th:
Practice #3 – 10.50 a.m. – 11:35 a.m. ET
Qualifying: – 2:55 p.m. – 4:10:p.m. ET

Sunday, March 12th:
Warm Up – 9:00 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. ET
Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – 12:00 – 3:00 p.m. ET (Live on ABC w Green Flag at 12:30 p.m. ET)

All non-race sessions are livestreamed.
All links to livestream and IndyCar radio coverage is available here.

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