ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas County’s Colton Herta dominated Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, leading all but three laps to win the headlining race and reestablish himself as an IndyCar Series championship contender.
The 21-year-old — who moved from California to Belleair last year — won the pole Saturday and had one of the fastest cars in every practice session this weekend. He led going into the first turn and never looked back; the only laps he did not lead were ones surrounding pit stops, before his No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda cycled back out front.
Herta held off two-time defending Grand Prix winner Josef Newgarden on two late restarts to become the third local driver to win at this 14-turn street course. The late St. Petersburg resident Dan Wheldon won in 2005, and St. Petersburg’s Sebastien Bourdais won in 2017-18. Newgarden finished second, ahead of Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud.
Herta’s fourth career victory was his first with his father, Bryan, as his race strategist. His dad won the pole here in 2005.
NASCAR legend Jimmie Johnson continued his bumpy transition to IndyCar’s road and street courses. In his Grand Prix debut, the seven-time Cup Series champion locked up his No. 48 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda on lap 16 and ran into the tires off Turn 13 for the day’s first caution.
Johnson brought out the second yellow, too, when he spun out in Turn 3 with 27 laps to go. That incident led to one of Herta’s only challenges — a restart. He fended off Newgarden to stay out front, then did so again on lap 83 after Ed Jones wrecked for another caution.
The Grand Prix was the second stop on the IndyCar calendar this year after last weekend’s race at Alabama’s Barber Motorsports Park. The Grand Prix was pushed back a month to allow more fans to attend as coronavirus vaccinations increase. The race sold out its reduced capacity of 20,000 fans but did add an extra layer of heat and humidity (82 percent just before the green flag, according to the National Weather Service).
The Grand Prix is set to return to its traditional March date next year; the event is scheduled to run from March 11-13.
This story will be updated.