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Newgarden holds off Dixon to win IndyCar season opener

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Miami (AFP)

American Josef Newgarden held off New Zealand's Scott Dixon over the final laps Sunday to win the season-opening IndyCar Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

In a duel of the past two series season champions, 2017 winner Newgarden took his 11th career IndyCar victory over 110 laps on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary downtown street course in the waterside Florida resort paradise.

"It just worked out perfectly," Newgarden said. "It was a rocket ship.

"We made a statement. I'm really excited to see where we're going this year."

Defending series champion Dixon, seeking his sixth career crown, was second with Australian pole sitter Will Power third and Swedish rookie Felix Rosenqvist fourth in his IndyCar debut.

Power, the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion, started from pole position at St. Pete for the eighth time in 10 years. Rosenqvist jumped to second in the 24-car field off the start.

Frenchman Sebastian Bourdais saw his chance of a third consecutive St. Pete victory end with a mechanical failure on lap 13.

That prompted Power to make a quick refuel stop, the Aussie catching grass to turn into the pit lane after a late radio call, and Rosenqvist briefly led until pitting.

Ryan Hunter-Reay's engine expired on lap 20 and Rosenqvist passed Power on the course's sharp first right turn in the restart to reclaim the lead.

Power surged just ahead of Rosenqvist after the Swede's exit from his next pit stop, but Newgarden refueled faster than both and moved into the lead midway into the race with Dixon moving to second.

Newgarden, who led 60 laps in all, kept the lead after making his last pit stop with 30 laps to go and while Dixon shrank a 9-second deficit as low as 1.3 seconds, he could not overtake the American in the final laps.

"I knew I had the pace to keep in front of Scott," Newgarden said. "But I was worried about something going wrong."

Dixon had something go wrong with no access to his drink bottle.

"It was really a tough race with no fluids," Dixon said. "Down those last 10 laps, we just couldn't get it done. I thought we had a run once he started catching the traffic. It just wasn't enough."

Rosenqvist missed the podium but was happy with his first race.

"Some small things didn't go our way but really better than anyone could expect," Rosenqvist said. "I'm really worn out. These cars are tough to drive. I've never driven anything like it."

The second stop of the 17-race season will be the new IndyCar Classic on March 24 in Austin, Texas, at Circuit of the Americas.

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