Jordan King made headlines on his IndyCar debut, breaking the track record in qualifying and leading the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg before a puncture ruined his chances of a positive result in Florida.
King headed to the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit feeling positive he could impress and quickly made his mark in qualifying, briefly holding the lap record after setting a time of 60.0467sec (107.914mph) in round one and eventually qualifying in fourth place.
It meant the Harbury driver started the race from the outside of the second row and there was early drama at turn two as Will Power lost control of his Chevrolet and spun from second place.
King’s pace out of the gates allowed the 24-year-old to take the fight to Matheus Leist and by the end of the second lap, the Indycar rookie had passed the Brazilian to move up into second.
The race slowed by the first full-course caution on Lap 3 for two laps and on the Lap 5 restart, King executed a textbook restart and gained momentum on Robert Wickens heading down into turn one.
As Wickens took to the inside, King went wide and passed around the outside of the pole-sitter to take the lead of his first Verizon IndyCar Series race.
On the next lap, Graham Rahal dove to the inside of Jordan’s ECR teammate, Spencer Pigot, going into turn one and the two made contact. Pigot was spun and stalled, bringing out the second full-course caution.
King led the field to the green flag on the Lap 10 restart. However, Wickens was able to regain the lead when King went slightly wide at turn one. He then lost a further place to Alexander Rossi but regrouped to maintain his third position, building a 3.8-second gap to fourth.
Another full course caution came on Lap 28 while the stopped car of Leist was removed from the track.
Ahead of the restart, King was running eighth but appeared to have a puncture and before the team were able to determine if it was a leak or if a tyre pressure sensor had failed, the tyre immediately went down and the car got away from him, brushing the wall with the outside rear and bending a piece of the suspension.
The crew completed the necessary repairs and King rejoined the race three laps behind the leaders, eventually coming home in 21st place.
He said: “On the positive, I led my first Indy car race. It is nice to be able to say that. I am reserved, so I didn’t actually do it, but I did have a little bit of a mental fist pump in my mind when we took the lead.
“The speed was really good during the race, we genuinely had the pace to challenge for the race win. After the first stop, we picked up a puncture and slid against the wall and had some damage. It was frustrating more than anything to be hindered by that.”
King now hands the No. 20 car over to team owner Ed Carpenter for the first oval round of the season at ISM Raceway on April 7, returning to the hotseat on April 15 for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.