INDIANAPOLIS — Rising Star Racing (RSR) officially started the 2018 Mazda Road to Indy (MRTI) and Verizon IndyCar Series season this past weekend, as all four RSR drivers competed in St. Petersburg, FL.

Ahead of the weekend’s competition, on Thursday, RSR hosted Jack Blake and Marcel Schäfer of the Tampa Bay Rowdies, a professional soccer team whose stadium is located within the racetrack in St. Pete. Both Blake and Schäfer had the opportunity to take a ride in the “fastest seat in sports” – a Verizon IndyCar two-seater. Blake and Schäfer met with all four of RSR’s drivers. Game recognized game and the Tampa Bay Rowdies presented RSR’s drivers with personalized jerseys.

RSR’s founder and CEO, Art Wilmes was pleased with each of his drivers’ performances.

“It’s always enjoyable to kick-off the season in St. Petersburg at the Firestone GP. The RSR drivers as a whole seemed to be a bit off the pace during each of their races, in comparison to their performances at this race last year,” Wilmes said. “But I am confident that they will come back strong for the next event.”

Oliver Askew, Pro-Mazda

Friday, Oliver Askew (Cape Motorsports) had a strong practice session ahead of qualifying for race one Friday afternoon. Askew and his team earned the pole-position for the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Ahead of race one on Saturday, Askew and his team qualified for race two. Askew qualified and earned the third-position for race two on Sunday. As for race one’s results, Askew lost the lead and battled from the field, ultimately finishing in fifth position.

Sunday, Askew and his team finished in sixth position.

“It was exciting to kick the season off here in St. Petersburg. These obviously are not the results we were looking for, but from behind the scenes standpoint, it will make us stronger in the long run,” Askew said. “It was important to salvage the points we could as we attack into the season. Big thanks Cape Motorsports for all they do, onwards and upwards from here.”

Neil Alberico, Indy Lights

Friday, Neil Alberico (Team Pelfrey) had a trying practice session ahead of qualifying for race one Friday afternoon. Alberico announced this last Monday that he would be an entrant for both races this weekend.

With a new team and car for competition this weekend, Alberico and his team worked through adversity and fought through qualifying to earn an eighth position start for the first race of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Ahead of race one on Saturday, Alberico and his team qualified for race two. Alberico improved his qualifying position and qualified in fifth position for race two on Sunday, an improvement from race one’s qualifying session. In race one, Alberico fought from the field and finished in seventh position.

Sunday, Alberico rivaled the field and managed to contend a race victory; however, in the final lap of the race, Alberico’s tires were cut, moving him from third position to sixth position.

“Big thanks to all the Team Pelfrey guys for fighting adversity all weekend long. Qualifying fifth for the second race was a good achievement for us after just one day of running. I’m so proud of my team to have come in on such late notice and put together a strategy that put us capable of running at the front,” Alberico said. “Our ‘Gap Guard and RSR’ car was robbed of a podium today, but hopefully we can return for redemption in Barber.”

Josef Newgarden, IndyCar

Friday, Josef Newgarden (Team Penske) had two successful practice sessions ahead of qualifying on Saturday for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

On Saturday, Newgarden and his team qualified in the first group and did not move on to the next round of qualifying, securing a 13th place start.

Sunday, Newgarden and his team had strong competition on the track and offered a serious chance of placing; however, due to a cut tire in the latter half of the race, Newgarden was only able to secure a seventh place finish.

“It was a messy P7 but for us it was a good top 10. It’s a decent start to the year. We had a great Chevy package – it’s just sad we couldn’t take better advantage of it. I felt we had really good power from Chevrolet,” Newgarden said. “The No. 1 Hitachi Chevy, overall, was pretty strong. We were just fighting all day to catch back up and we were on the wrong end on the fuel mileage and getting run into and cutting the tire didn’t help us. But I think if a couple of things would’ve gone differently, I really think a podium finish was in the cards for today.”

Spencer Pigot, IndyCar

Friday, Spencer Pigot (Ed Carpenter Racing) had two solid practice sessions ahead of qualifying for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Saturday.

In his first official debut of being a full-time Verizon IndyCar Series driver, Pigot and his team came out of group two qualifying and secured a 16th place start not moving on to the next round of qualifying.

Sunday, Pigot and his team made serious contention for placing; however, they suffered a few setbacks that put them deep into the field. Pigot ran as high as second place; but, ultimately finished in 15th place.

“It was a pretty wild race out there. It was very tricky at the beginning going into Turn 1, trying to pass people on the paint. Early on, we were hit from behind and stalled. From there, we just had to try and battle back. We had a really good restart in the middle of the race and passed a lot of cars, then unfortunately we had another issue in the pits and couldn’t get any fuel into the car,” Pigot said. “We had to make a few unscheduled pit stops to make up for that and went a lap down, putting an end to our competitiveness. We had good pace and a good chance of finishing up towards the front. It was great to have the support of Autogeek this weekend and I appreciate the all of the hard work put in by my guys.”