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Andretti Autosport has a rough day at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Alexander Rossi dominated before wrecking, James Hinchcliffe crashed, too, and Belleair’s Colton Herta dropped out of the top 10.
Fans watch drivers speed by during the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday.
Fans watch drivers speed by during the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Oct. 25, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — As two of the IndyCar’s top teams (Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing) celebrated wins Sunday, the series' other power team had a different kind of eventful day.

Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi led 61 of the first 69 laps before his No. 27 Honda slipped on the marbles in Turn 3 and hit the wall.

“Just human error,” said Rossi, the 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion.

Rossi finished 21st in the 24-car field to complete his first victory-less IndyCar season.

Andretti’s James Hinchcliffe was in contention most of the day, too. But he spun out while in second place and hit Jack Harvey, damaging his car’s front wing. He finished 14th.

Teammate Colton Herta, a Belleair resident, had one of the day’s best cars before hitting a tire barrier on Lap 86. The 20-year-old settled for 11th Sunday but still finished third in points in his second IndyCar season.

“For St. Pete, obviously pretty upset with how it went," Herta said. “I think we had a pretty good shot at a win, and I just messed it up.”

Marco Andretti also wrecked, finishing 20th.

Only in 2020…

IndyCar Championship winner Scott Dixon races through the track in the No. 9 car.
IndyCar Championship winner Scott Dixon races through the track in the No. 9 car. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

It wouldn’t be a major event in 2020 without some weirdness.

The first one came in the second half of the race, when rain began to fall on one part of the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street course … as it was sunny elsewhere. The moisture didn’t last long or affect the results.

The second came on the day’s final caution, when the pace car had to exit the course … because it was apparently running out of gas.

There was also something unique about Scott Dixon slipping on a black mask that read “IndyCar Champions” moments after he climbed out of his No. 9 Honda.

Although attendance was limited to 20,000 fans, the atmosphere still had a race-day buzz.

Rough rookie runs

The No. 21 car of IndyCar rookie Rinus Veekay and the No. 3 car of Scott McLaughlin make contact on Turn 1, causing a full-course caution during the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
The No. 21 car of IndyCar rookie Rinus Veekay and the No. 3 car of Scott McLaughlin make contact on Turn 1, causing a full-course caution during the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Rinus VeeKay clinched IndyCar’s Rookie of the Year title by starting the race. Ed Carpenter Racing announced Sunday that VeeKay will continue driving the team’s No. 21 Chevrolet next season.

But his day ended early because of another rookie. Scott McLaughlin — the three-time V8 Supercars champion making his IndyCar debut — collided with Marco Andretti, then slammed into Veekay on a restart midway through the race.

McLaughlin, who will drive for Penske next season, still enjoyed his first race in the series.

“It was awesome,” McLaughlin said. “It was the best time of my life, behind my wedding.”

Big day for Bourdais

St. Petersburg resident Sebastien Bourdais had a strong run to finish fourth — his third top-four finish in his last four races at his hometown track. His result was especially impressive because he only raced two other times this year for A.J. Foyt Enterprises.

Nuts and bolts

IndyCar driver Ryan Hunter-Reay prays with a chaplain  in pit lane before the start of Sunday's main race.
IndyCar driver Ryan Hunter-Reay prays with a chaplain in pit lane before the start of Sunday's main race. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

The win was the 10th victory for Team Penske at the Grand Prix, which dates to 2003. ... Hunter McElrea won Sunday’s race in the Indy Pro 2000 feeder series. ... Christian Brooks earned his first victory in the USF2000 series.