The Lottery

Everyone has a chance to win Round 1!

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The Lottery
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Lottery is defined as a process or thing whose success or outcome is governed by chance.

One would rather believe that success is determined by intense preparation, obsessive attention to detail, a harmonious collective effort, and an unwavering determination to maximize your potential at any given time. When you're participating in an intense undertaking like auto racing, you want to leave as little to "chance" as possible, because chance doesn't take all of those things into consideration while it impartially smiles down upon you.

It doesn't care how many sponsors you have, how much experience your driver lineup possesses, or how successful you've been at a particular racetrack in the past. All that it cares about is rewarding the collective individuals who put themselves in the right position at the right time, which could fulfill expectations or help them capitalize on what may prove to be the most unlikely result imaginable. In hindsight, we may say to ourselves that we 'should have seen that coming,' but it's the unpredictability of life that continues to challenge and astound us.

Round one of the NTT IndyCar Series takes place at a picturesque street circuit that's offered up many surprise results over the years.

The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg doesn't have the glamour of the Monaco GP or historical significance of the Long Beach GP, but what it does have is a dichotomous blend of surface and corner challenges that rewards equal amounts of boldness and composure. We have seen drivers ask too much of their cars in qualifying and start at or near the back, and yet find themselves amidst the victorious celebrations at the end because they methodically made their way through the inevitable carnage ahead. Anything can happen in this race, making it all the more difficult to predict a winner.

My preliminary predictive drawing of car numbers represents the driver/team combinations that have the best chance of winning Round 1.

Car #18 of Sebastien Bourdais - Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan (Honda)

I will predictably start with the driver and team who have won the race for the past two years, in remarkable fashion. What's most remarkable is that Bourdais qualified dead last in 2017 and only 14th last year! The Frenchman knows how to bide his time, while still being quick, and be there at the end when it really matters. Although his FP1 and FP2 times weren't much to boast about, you have to believe that he and the team will have things figured out by Sunday afternoon.

Car #2 of Josef Newgarden - Team Penske (Chevrolet)

Newgarden looks really quick out of the gate and is determined to get the upper hand over his Penske teammates (and I'm not referring to a renewed signature battle with Simon Pagenaud). Will Power, who's always a threat for pole and a win on street circuits, has been more unlucky lately with mechanical gremlins. Even if that's all sorted out in 2019, I believe that Josef will still be a greater contender for the win on this traditionally Honda-dominated circuit. He was the best finishing Chevrolet driver last year, and now wants to be the best overall driver this year.

Car #28 of Ryan Hunter-Reay - Andretti Autosport (Honda)

The most impressive speed, after three free practice sessions, has been shown by the man who could literally walk home from the circuit. Ryan would love to win where he currently resides and is looking to repeat his dominant performance from the season finale in Sonoma. The team's street circuit setup appears to be as strong as ever, with Marco Andretti also hovering around the top ten. If your home race is worth about an extra two tenths a lap, then we could surely see a dominant display from Hunter-Reay on Sunday.

Car #10 of Felix Rosenqvist - Chip Ganassi Racing (Honda)

It's fair to say that Felix Rosenqvist is a street circuit specialist. It's not just because he's a two-time winner of the Macau GP in Formula 3 and has seven podium finishes (including three victories for Mahindra Racing) in two seasons of Formula E. It's because he's already won on the streets of St. Pete! In only his second race, for the 2016 Indy Lights season, Felix dominated the day with pole, victory, and the fastest lap for Belardi Auto Racing. He also handily won both races of that season's only other street course event in Toronto. Now, he's driving for the defending championship team at the top level. You can safely bet on seeing his number very near or at the top of the leaderboard.

Car #27 of Alexander Rossi - Andretti Autosport (Honda)

The champion in wait is flying stealthily under the radar, while Ryan Hunter-Reay grabs the early headlines. It's the big picture that matters most, which leads me to question whether we will see the 2018 championship runner-up take as many risks as he did last year. Although he came out on the better end of the late race collision with potential winner Robert Wickens, he still lost a position in the first corner contretemps. Think back to race two in Detroit, where a surprisingly cautious two-stop pit strategy resulted in a huge loss of crucial points. If Rossi wants to beat Scott Dixon and all others this year, for his first Astor Cup, he must tip-toe on the delicate edge of ruthless aggression and cautious consistency.

These are my five lottery picks for victory in the St. Petersburg GP. These are the numbers most likely to appear at the top of the final leaderboard on Sunday. However, as we've seen over the years in sunny Southwestern Florida, there's a very good chance that any one of the entered drivers and teams could pull off a shocking victory that none of us (least of all myself) saw coming.

The NTT IndyCar Series Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg starts tomorrow at 1:30 pm EST.

(Check your participating IndyCar Media international broadcasting networks for regional times)

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