Honda Grand Prix And Acura Sports Car Challenge Of St. Petersburg Preview

For the second week and race in a row, Florida is the place for the American Le Mans Series and the Indy Cars this weekend. The ALMS are ready to race through the streets of St. Pete for the Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg by XM Satellite Radio. The DHL Team Penske Porsche RS Spyder #7 will look to continue their momentum after their surprise win at Sebring. The Porsches will look to push the Audi?s like the Peugeots did at Sebring that left the door wide open for the #7 Porsche to take the win. Audi won the St. Pete event last year and will look to avenge their Sebring misfortune.

I spoke with Sascha Massen and Patrick Long over the weekend and they?re ready to put Sebring behind them and move on. That?s old news, they are ready and confident for St. Pete. From what I hear, Porsche has figured out the overheating problems that caused problems for the #6 Porsche and should be strong.

Look for the Dyson Team to continue their momentum after looking good at Sebring. Veteran Dyson driver, Butch Leitzinger said he is feeling really good about the season, the development of their year old Penske RS Spyder and they feel they?re getting a little closer to the ?08 Penskes.

Audi is ready to get back to get an overall win at St. Pete and with the addition of Lucas Luhr teaming up with Marco Werner they should be able to rebound. The street courses not suit the heavier LMP1?s but it will be interesting watching Lucas going after his old team (Penske-Porsche).

GT2 is looking to be very interesting with Corvette Racing’s debut race with cellulosic E85 ethanol fuel. Also there are a several new entries such as an Aston Martin DBRS9, Ford GT, Corvette C6, Dodge Viper Competition Coupe and even a new version of Porsche’s 911 GT3 RSR. Last year?s Ferrari of Risi Competizione is still looking to be the favorite, but Jamie Melo?s big mistake at Sebring opened the door for Jorg Bergmeister and the Flying Lizard Team. This will be Tafel Racing?s Dirk Mueller?s first time at St. Pete and is excited for the opportunity, “I have never been to St. Pete. It was one of the first races actually I was watching last year in Europe because I was doing mainly FIA GT last year. I saw that massive shunt from Tomas Enge, and later on I replaced him. So I’m pretty much looking forward.”

However, to Oliver Gavin, driver of the Corvette Racing Corvette C6.R (GT1) this is becoming on annual affair. “Street courses are fantastic fun. It’s going be great to go back there. It’s a classic sort of street circuit. The layout of it is a little bit unconventional. It has a big, long front straight, quite wide. But then you go into some narrower streets but none of it is nasty. It’s not really super bumpy; the grip level is quite high. It seems to gain grip through the weekend. I really liked it, and I think that a lot of the teams and the drivers like going there. It’s quite picturesque as well, you’re right along the harbor front. So I think it’s got a lot going for it, and I really enjoyed it last year.”

After DirecTV was announced as an associate sponsor on Ed Carpenter’s Vision Racing car, there were rumblings last week in Homestead that DirecTV will be announced as the series sponsor. Also was hearing that Miller Brewery is very close to signing a deal to make them the official beer of the IndyCar series and the official beer at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

By winning the season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Target Chip Ganassi Racing?s Scott Dixon may have put himself in the driver?s seat for the 2008 IndyCar Series championship. Drivers who have won the Homestead opener have gone on to win the series championship four times, including Dixon as a series rookie in 2003.

In addition to that long-term history, Dixon is proving to be the man to beat in the IndyCar Series based on his short-term history. In the last 18 races since the start of the 2007 season, the New Zealand native has finished first or second 11 times.

“Finishing second, with (’07 titlist) Dario (Franchitti) leaving, you’d sort of think that I’m a (title) contender,” said Dixon, who edged Andretti Green Racing’s Marco Andretti by 0.5828 of a second at Homestead-Miami. “I think every year there’s a crop of five, six or seven of us that have a great shot at it. And I think you saw all of us racing at the top.

“It’s going to be a tough championship. I think Homestead definitely helps. It puts you off to a great start. It’s a tough place to race; not a place I’ve done particularly well since it changed to the banked oval. I loved it when it was a flat circuit or a flat track.

“For our campaign for 2008, that was exactly what we wanted to do. We wanted to come out of the blocks fast and hard. I don’t think we had a car that was enjoyable to drive throughout the race. But we had to fight on. That’s how we got to win championships.”

Dixon moved to the point on a Lap 197 restart, following an incident that knocked race leader Tony Kanaan’s No. 11 team 7-Eleven car from contending at the end.

“As I keep saying, for a bad day we still come away with maximum points,” said Dixon, the PEAK Motor Oil Pole Award winner. “That’s what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to hit the start hard and gain as many points as possible, because I think last year that’s how we lost it.”

It will be Dixon’s final reference to last year’s title chase, which left him a half-mile short of being the reigning champion entering 2008.

St. Pete is a great track that is challenging and that’s why the drivers like it. With its wide, long straightaways which are great for passing. With the carnival atmosphere of St. Pete, it’s a great setting for a race.

The 2008 IndyCar Series season continues with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on April 6 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. The 2008 schedule, one of the most diverse in all of motorsports, features races on ovals, permanent road courses and temporary street circuits, all broadcast worldwide through a comprehensive, long-term agreement with ESPN. All races in 2008 will be telecast in High Definition. The 2008 Indy Pro Series season continues April 5-6 with a doubleheader weekend at St. Petersburg. The 16-race schedule, which features eight ovals and four road/street course doubleheader weekends, will be televised by ESPN2.

IndyCar Series and ALMS Media contributed to the report

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