Thursday, April 2, 2009

Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Preview

And their on it...
The IndyCar season is finally upon us after a tortuously long winter break.  The opening race of the season, the 2009 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, takes place this weekend in St. Petersburg, FL.  A couple of new technical specifications have been implemented for this season.  The cars have a new muffler system, making them a little easier on the ears, and on the road and street courses, teams must use two different compounds of tires at least once each.  The new muffler has proponents and detractors, but the majority of trackside reports during preseason testing have stated that the cars have the same tonal quality, but are less intense allowing for team members to hear conversations in the pits.  The inclusion of the CCWS-style alternate tire rule will certainly add a new level of strategy on the road and street courses.  Each car must use at least one sticker set of both the standard compound tires, and a softer "alternate" compound set during the race.  The softer compound will allow teams to turn a couple of very fast flying laps, but tire degradation will also occur faster.  Look for many teams to use the softer tires at the beginning of the race when track temperatures are lower and grip is at a premium, or at the end of the race in attempt to out pace their competitors during the last few laps.

The Indy Racing League has only been racing in St. Petersburg since 2005, with Dan Wheldon winning that inaugural event during his championship winning season with Andretti Green Racing. The most successful IndyCar driver at in the short history of the event has been Helio Castroneves, having won both in 2006 and 2007.  Last year, after the unification of the two major open-wheel series, the IRL and CCWS, Graham Rahal became the youngest winning driver in the history of major American open-wheel racing in the very first race he entered in the IndyCar Series.  

Although the IndyCar Series has only been to St. Pete since 2005, the city has a very long history of hosting motorsports events dating all the way back to 1985 when the SCCA Trans-Am series raced along the same waterfront, although on a slightly different course layout, as the modern IndyCar series race. The first winner at St. Pete during the Trans-Am era was none other than Willy T. Ribbs, first African-American to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.  Ribbs went on to win Rookie of the Year honors that year in the Trans-Am series.  Racing didn't return to the waterfront until 2003 when the CCWS modified the old Trans-Am course into its current configuration.  Paul Tracy one that one and only CCWS race.  Andretti Green Promotions took over the event, and secured a deal with the Indy Racing League to have the IndyCar Series run its first ever non-oval event.  Since 2005, the event has been a great success and Andretti Green Promotions have negotiated a contract extension with the City of St. Petersburg ensuring the event's presence on the IndyCar schedule through 2013.

Last year's race, and a preview of what to expect during practice and qualifying.

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