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Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg preview

Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg preview”

The past two seasons have been exhilarating for the 33-year-old driver.

That is, until 2017 when Tennessee native Josef Newgarden, in his first season with Team Penske, earned a series-high four wins en route to capturing the championship.

Pagenaud finished all 17 of his races a year ago. Next race: Phoenix Grand Prix, April 7, ISM Raceway, Phoenix.

The design of this year's new vehicle and its more vibrant aero package that has reduced downforce places more control back in drivers' hands, while they pilot one of the sexiest and bold-looking open-wheel cars in at least the last two decades.

"Mentally I think I have a better understanding of how to win it", Pagenaud said. "But still, I had to perform, and it being my first time, I was obviously putting more pressure on myself than anybody else". I feel like I've had the time to rest. "Any driver that gets an opportunity, like the one I got with Team Penske, will tell you they expect to win right away". I know better what it takes to be a champion again. Dixon needs just one more victory to reach 42, which would tie him with Michael Andretti for third on the all-time win list.

"If we do a good job of telling the story of the championship; telling the story of the trials and tribulations the teams and drivers are going through as that happens you can keep people interested".

Much has changed since last season. Castroneves has joined former IndyCar driver Juan Pablo Montoya as the leaders of the new Penske IMSA sports auto effort. The new design resembles a Coke bottle, making the vehicle body slimmer with smaller front and rear wings.

With the new vehicle and a defending USA driver as champion, that upswing is likely to continue this season, starting on this weekend's traditional temporary street course along St. Pete's bayfront. "Short ovals I would say will probably be right behind that". That's a desire to help bring a bit of slide on the racetrack and bring the skids back to the driver.

"I think street courses will be the biggest change", Newgarden said. It requires more finesse and being more precise with the racecar.

Even without Castroneves, IndyCar goes into the year with seven former champions and 13 former race winners - enough to put on a good show all year.

First and foremost is a brand new race vehicle, one that has been dramatically improved with significantly lower downforce. He enjoys talking with his engineers daily to collaborate on ways to make the auto faster while incorporating his own style of driving. "He does that as well as anyone. He immediately has that confidence in the calls his people are going to make".

Some familiar names were at the top of the field in Saturday morning's IndyCar practice - the final one before qualifying later today for the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. "The team just did an wonderful job, and very happy for the performance throughout the whole weekend already, and looking forward to the race". St. Petersburg won't be just the first race of the year; it'll be the first race for everyone to figure out how everything works, and where each team is going.

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