How did the rookies cope with their debut in St. Pete

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IndyCar saw the debut of four rookies in St. Pete, how did they do and what are the expectations for them?

Photo: Penske Entertainment | Chris Jones

The 2023 NTT IndyCar Series has seen four rookies make their debut in the category – Benjamin Pedersen, Sting Ray Robb, Agustin Canapino and Marcus Armstrong – at the Firestone Grand Prix of St Pete, all of them with different backgrounds in racing. But how did they do in the GP and what we can expect of them for the rest of the season?

Two of the rookies were involved in the big airborne crash at the start of the race. Indy Lights graduates Benjamin Pedersen, driving the no. 55 AJ Foyt Racing, and Sting Ray Robb, in the no. 51 Dale Coyne.

Pedersen, fifth in last year’s Indy Lights championship, started the weekend with a minor crash at turn 4 in free practice.

With some other excursions through the escape zones, the Dane qualified last and saw the chaos unveiling in front, with no chance to avoid. He made contact to the side of Devlin Defrancesco and sent the Canadian driver airborne.

Sting Ray Robb also crashed in free practice, at the exit of turn 3. He qualified in 23rd place and, because of that, couldn’t escape Simon Pagenaud. He damaged the car but could continue in the race, four laps behind the leaders.

He ultimately finished 16th and scored six points.

The oldest rookie on the grid, at the age of 33, Agustin Canapino is the most experienced of the four, being fifteen times champion on the really competitive Argentinian touring cars scene.

Taking to the wheel of the no. 78 Juncos, a new entry to the series, Canapino only had two races of experience in single-seaters, in the now-extinct South American Formula 3. He had only a few spins throughout the weekend and managed to qualify in 21st place.

While most of the field was getting involved in accidents, Canapino dodged all the confusion. He had an on-track fight with teammate Callum Ilott for 14th place in the early stages of the race and could secure a 12th-place finish.

Photo: Penske Entertainment | James Black

His exploits were recognised by other drivers in the field.

In an interview, Arrow McLaren driver Pato O’Ward said: “I feel he is doing an excellent job. He never drove a car with downforce and he arrived at a racing series that is one of the most difficult to win in the world, if not the hardest. And he didn’t come to only drive some laps and survive, no. He arrived, he is competing, he is being fast and he keeps improving, on tracks that he doesn’t know.

“It’s not easy what he is been doing and is so admirable what he showed that he is willing to do. He comes from somewhere that is completely different and is so admirable.”

The highest finisher rookie was former Formula 2 and ex-Ferrari development driver, Marcus Armstrong, in the Chip Ganassi Racing no. 11. He had a solid weekend, without any crashes or big moments.

The New Zealander almost advanced to the second segment, but the team miscalculated the time to refuel and change tyres on the red flag caused by Simon Pagenaud and couldn’t do a final lap and was eliminated by the drivers that could.

He started the race in 13th place and was ahead of the airborne crash. But, on the restart, Malukas misjudged a move on Armstrong and made contact with his rear right tyre, causing a puncture.

After exiting the pits, the Kiwi was in no man’s land. But his pace was promising, as he said on his podcast with fellow IndyCar driver and friend Callum Ilott, Screaming Meals:

“I must say my favourite part of the weekend was, it sounds weird, but when I was actually on my own on track, in the middle stint, just cruising. I had no one around me and our car was mega, we had so much pace.

“I had no one around me for like 20 laps and I was just banging out high 61s for the whole stint.”

Armstrong had some fights with drivers on other strategies and finished in 11th place. But, he showed great pace, and in a race with fewer incidents, he could be a surprise. The Kiwi is the only rookie that will not take part on ovals, being substituted by two-time Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato.

The battle for rookie of the year is only starting, but all of them showed that will be able to put up a fight to be the best and that they’re going to stay on the grid for many seasons to come.