Herta dominates in IndyCar St. Petersburg victory

Miami (AFP) –


Colton Herta shrugged off a disappointing IndyCar season opener and won the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in dominant style on Sunday.

The Andretti Autosport driver started from pole and led 97 of 100 laps on the 1.8 mile street circuit in St. Petersburg, Florida, beating two-time IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden by 2.4933sec.

France's Simon Pagenaud, the 2016 IndyCar champion and Newgarden's Penske teammate, was third.

For 21-year-old Herta and Newgarden, it was a swift turnaround from disappointing finishes in the season-opener last week at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, where Herta finished 22nd and Newgarden 23rd.

Herta held off Newgarden on two late restarts after full-course cautions, during which his lead that had swelled to as many as 10 seconds dwindled.

He hung on for his fourth IndyCar victory.

"What a great job by everybody," Herta said in a post-race TV interview.

"Sorry if I can barely talk, I'm so winded," he said after the race in hot, humid conditions. "I'm so happy to rebound from Barber and get the momentum going this season that we need, which is a championship season."

Herta said he was "nervous" about the late challenge from Newgarden, the winner of the past two St. Petersburg races who was racing on fresher, softer tires.

"I thought they were going to be better, but they ended up being similar," he said. "I was able to hold him off, and oh man, I can't even speak right now."

Britain's Jack Harvey, driving for Meyer Shank racing, was fourth and reigning IndyCar champion Scott Dixon of New Zealand was fifth for Chip Ganassi.

It was a tough day for Herta's Andretti Autosport teammates. Alexander Rossi finished several laps down after tangling with Graham Rahal on the 37th lap.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, making the jump to open-wheel racing this season, had two mishaps, hitting the tire barrier on lap 16 and after rejoining multiple laps down spinning.