Friday, April 3, 2009

Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Preview Part Two

The Track:
The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is run on the streets along the waterfront district around a course slightly modified from the old Trans-Am circuit.  The modern course was extended to make use of the airport runway as the front stretch and pit lane.  Since its a street circuit, the racing surface is more uneven than on a permenent road course or a speedway.  This means that the ride heights must be higher than normal, reducing the ability for the car to provide downforce.  Without as much aerodynamic grip, mechanical grip and good car setup are keys to being quick.  Unlike many street courses, the St. Petersburg circuit offers longer straights and better passing zones than most, with the prime opportunity for overtaking being Turn 1 at the end of the long front stretch.  Look for drivers to take different lines through the final turn on the circuit in order to gain advantage down the stretch and into the first turn.

In the very short history of the relationship between Versus and the Indy Racing League, Versus has shown itself to be a fantastic partner.  Not only has Versus offered some fantastic pre-season programming, but it has also reached out to the fan community by offering free race tickets through sites like this one!  One other fantastic feature that Versus has added to enhance our racing enjoyment is The Virtual Lap.  Sit back and relax as you take a lap at speed around the St. Petersburg street circuit!

(if player doesn't appear, go directly to the Versus Virtual Lap site)

Last Year:
The 2008 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was the first time that the seasoned IndyCar teams and the newly arrived ChampCar World Series teams competed on a race track with which both sides were familiar.  The first race of the season was at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where very few of the new teams had any experience with ovals.  At St. Pete, however, there was abundant skill and experience across the grid and it showed.  To equalize the playing field even more, it was a very wet weekend, including race day. The field ended up being so equally matched that the top ten spots were split evenly between the incumbent ICS teams and the former CCWS teams, with AGR driver Tony Kannan and KVRT driver Will Power sharing the front row.  

With 25 total cars on track, Marty Roth having failed to start the race and being classified 26th with a DNS, and drivers unfamiliar with many of their competitors, the event was littered with incidents, miscues, and heated tempers.  Within minutes of the race start, the skies let loose with a deluge causing teams to scramble to remove the slick tires and get wets installed on their racing machines, and the race to be started under yellow-flag condtions for the first nine laps until the track was deemed suitible for racing.  Quickly after the race went green, Ryan Hunter-Reay spins coming onto the front stretch, and a few laps later Mario Moraes stuffs his car into the tires in Turn 9a.  This won't be the only time during the season he sees tires on top of instead of under his car, nor was it his only incident of the race. Later in the event, Moraes punted Danica Patrick into a run-off area.  That would be her second off for the race.  RHR wasn't the only spin doctor during the event, Ed Carpenter spun in the same exact spot, but like RHR, he was able to keep the engine going, get the car pointed forward, and only lost a few positions.  Even young Mr. Rahal got into the spin action when he touched wheels with Will Power, also on the corner leading to the front stretch.  Perhaps the most surprising incident of the race was Briscoe going wide in Turn 9 and ending his day along the outside wall.  Its not surprizing that Briscoe hit the wall, he had a long history of doing such things, but it is surprizing whom he was battling for position at the time:  Jay Howard of Roth Racing.  Jay was in 5th position at the time, the highest position at the time or since for a Roth Racing entry.  The most violent incident of the race occurred when Franck Perera got into Vitor Meira in Turn 10.  Immediately after the spin, Townsend Bell clipped the front of Vitor's machine ending the race for both cars.  Needless to say, Vitor was not amused by the situation and had an animated one-way discussion with Mr. Perera regarding the matter.  

The race featured a lot of action, especially up at the front of the pack.  By end of the race there had been eight different leaders:  Tony Kanaan, Justin Wilson, Ryan Briscoe, Enrique Bernoldi, EJ "don't call me Ernesto" Viso, Vitor Meira, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Graham Rahal.  The only lap one leads that counts, though, is the last one, and that was done by the very young Graham Rahal.  The last lap was a total spin-fest with Ed Carpenter (that was his third for the day), Jay Howard, and Dan Wheldon all turning their cars backwards.  Fortunately none of the cars involved were in the racing line, so only local yellows were deployed.  Some may say that Graham won the race only through fuel strategy, and whereas it is true that strategy put in at the front at the end of the race, it didn't help him fend off one of the best road and street racers in the IndyCar Series, not to mention the race winner for the previous two years, Helio Castroneves.  With his win, Rahal became the youngest driver ever to win an IndyCar event, replacing Marco for that distinction.

Don't miss live practice and qualifying streaming video from and the Qualifying recap show on Versus at 5:00pm EDT.

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