Ryan Hunter-Reay on track at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Track Talk: 2019 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Preview

IndyCar racing is BACK! New teams, new drivers, and some familiar faces in new places. We preview the 2019 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on TrackTalk.

#DefendThe1: Josef Newgarden’s battle-call wasn’t enough to secure a second championship, as Scott Dixon raced his way to a fifth IndyCar title. Can he repeat? It’s surprisingly unlikely based on history. Racer.com’s Marshall Pruett noted that despite everything Dixon has accomplished, he’s never won back-to-back IndyCar titles.

And speaking of Newgarden: Don’t rule out the 2017 champion. A bit more luck and he could have defended his title. Fun fact: Dixon, Newgarden, Will Power, and Alexander Rossi all tied for the most wins in 2018 at three-a-piece.

Keep an eye on Ryan Hunter-Reay: Hunter-Reay is my underdog pick for the 2019 championship. Winless since 2015, 2018 saw a resurgence in the former series and Indy 500 champion. He racked up two wins, was competitive at virtually every race, and finished fourth in the standings. My two cents? I believe the universal aero kit suits his driving style. Keep an eye on the yellow # 28.

Meet the rookie class of 2018: Five rookies will start Sunday’s race. Their collective experience ranges from Formula 1 (Marcus Ericsson) to DTM/Formula E (Felix Rosenqvist) to Formula Two/GP2 (Santino Ferrucci & Ben Hanley) to Indy Lights (Colton Herta). And this doesn’t include reigning Indy Lights champion, Pat O’Ward. Originally signed as Herta’s teammate at Harding Steinbrenner Racing, financial issues forced him back onto the driver market late in the off-season. It was only recently announced that O’Ward will run 12 races for Carlin, splitting cockpit time with Charlie Kimbell.

Can Sebastien Bourdais repeat in St. Pete? Winner of the last two St. Petersburg races, Sebastien Bourdais raced his way from the back in 2017 and capitalized on late race contact between Robert Wickens and Rossi in 2018. Can the four-time champion claim a three-peat?

And speaking of Robert Wickens: The 2018 IndyCar and Indy 500 Rookie-of-the-Year continues to inspire all of us as he recovers from his Pocono injury. Wickens will be present in the paddock for the first time since his accident.

Will a first-time winner break through? It’s been 45 races since IndyCar has produced a first-time winner. You have to go all the way back to Alexander Rossi’s 2016 Indy 500 victory for that. Will a new driver breakthrough this year? If you’re a betting person, then put your money on Rosenqvist.

TrackTalk’s pick to win the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg: Ryan Hunter-Reay