Hanley encouraged after St Pete debut – Racer

Hanley encouraged after St Pete debut - Racer
Rosenqvist pleases boss in NTT IndyCar Series debut The Chip Ganassi Racing rookie led 31 laps
Ben Hanley believes that he and the DragonSpeed team have plenty to build upon after an encouraging NTT Data IndyCar Series debut at St Petersburg last weekend.

The race was the first in IndyCar for team and driver alike, who are regulars in WEC prototypes, as well as being Hanleys first open-wheel race in nine years. Preparations were complicated by team only taking delivery of its car three weeks ago, and the challenge clicked up further when mechanical problems brought an early end to all three of the teams practice sessions.

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However Hanley rebounded to qualify a surprise 12th after squeezing in a lap on reds right before the first of two red flags during qualifying, and ran as high as eighth during the race before eventually settling for 18th.

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It’s been a really positive weekend, said the Briton. We knew we were jumping in at the deep end, so simply finishing is an achievement in itself. Our longest run before the race was just eight laps, so we learned a lot more about the car, and tried out some aspects of IndyCar racing that are totally new to us, like the push-to-pass. I have to thank Elton for turning this dream into a reality, the crews fantastic race prep and pit stops, and the engineers who made the car more competitive each time out.

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Julian echoed Hanleys enthusiasm, and said that the experience in St Petersburg has given the team a clear direction for the remainder of its IndyCar campaign.

Running the full distance let us get a feel for how an IndyCar race unfolds, and even experiment a bit with strategies and settings, he said. Despite the car only running for the first time last Monday and our problems in practice, we not only finished, but hauled ourselves to within a second of the midfield pace over the course of the weekend. Im super-proud of Ben and the team, and grateful to the IndyCar paddock for the welcome and support theyve given us – were honored to be part of this great show.

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DragonSpeed has only committed to a partial schedule in IndyCar this year, with plans to return for Barber, the Indy 500, Road America and Mid-Ohio while seeking the funding to run full-time in 2020. In the meantime, it still has its sports car program to keep it occupied, and will be back on track at this weekends 1000 Miles of Sebring WEC event.

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ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – Rule No. 1 regarding job security: If the boss is happy, you’re happy.

“I’d say that’s a pretty good day,” team owner Chip Ganassi said in the pits Sunday afternoon after his latest hire finished fourth in his first NTT IndyCar Series race. “A good, solid day for both the (No.) 9 car and the (No.) 10 car. It’s something we can build on. Second and fourth? I’ll take that.”

Ganassi’s “other” driver, five-time champion Scott Dixon, finished second behind Josef Newgarden, who won the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Strong finishes are expected from Dixon, but Rosenqvist was the team’s unknown coming into the 2019 season opener.

Dixon and Power finished second and third in the race behind Josef Newgarden, and said the IndyCar race control triumvirate of race director Kyle Novak and ex-drivers Max Papis and Arie Luyendyk had made exactly the right calls.

Rosenqvist answered the questions loudly. He started by qualifying third fastest Saturday and following it with a clean run through Sunday’s 110-lap race. Considering he had little experience with live pit stops and rolling starts before the race, the 27-year-old rookie impressed

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“It’s a lot to take in,” Rosenqvist said. “I’m worn out. These cars are tough to drive. I’ve never driven anything like it, but it’s a dream come true just to be here.”

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Rosenqvist, a native of Varnamo, Sweden, won three Indy Lights races in 2016, including one at St. Petersburg. The transition to the top level has taken some adjusting and time, and Rosenqvist admits he still has room for improvement.

“We have a lot to work on,” Rosenqvist said. “I think I underestimated how much the track grips up. Still a lot of things to learn, but P4 is a great way to start.”

“It makes for an interesting race maybe, but as Will said, its not completely fair, and the teams that are really fast and qualify up front, are the ones that get hurt. The leaders always get hurt.

After he stepped out of the car, Rosenqvist complained of pain in his right arm, saying it bothered him during the late laps of the 110-lap race. Considering the heat and humidity – and the fact that only two cautions slowed the race – it was a solid rookie effort.

Rosenqvist wowed the St. Pete crowd and those watching on NBCSN when he completed a dive-bomb move on pole sitter Will Power heading into Turn 1 to take the race lead on Lap 24 following a restart. He impressively led 31 laps, second only to Newgarden’s 60 on the day.

“I think I could have done better,” he said. “I have to work on the driving, especially at the end of the race. My right arm was fading at the end of the race. I don’t know why. My seat was pinching into my shoulder. I just really tried to hang on there. The last 20 laps are where I think we could have finished a little bit closer to (third-place finisher) Power.”

But race control elected to stay green because Bourdais was able to get far enough down an escape road, and the banner debris was adjudged far enough off-line to not require a yellow flag.

In the end, he finished less than two seconds behind Power and 14.5858 seconds off Newgarden’s winning pace. The boss is happy. And if the boss is happy, everyone is happy.

“We kind of had our eye on him for a couple of years,” Ganassi said. “Glad to finally get him in the car.”

Rosenqvist and the rest of the NTT IndyCar Series drivers are back in action March 22-24 in the INDYCAR Classic, the first Indy car race at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. Practices will stream live on INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold. Qualifying airs live at 3 p.m. Saturday, March 23 on NBCSN and INDYCAR Pass. The race from the 3.41-mile permanent road course airs live at 1 p.m. Sunday, March 24 on NBCSN.

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