IndyCar: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Preview

The opening lap of the 2021 Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg. [Chris Owens Photo]

The opening lap of the 2021 Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg. [Chris Owens Photo]

by Paul Gohde

NASCAR’s Daytona 500 may have gotten a one week jump on IndyCar’s 2022 opener, but just up the Atlantic coast from Daytona another event promises to begin the open-wheel racing season with a bang that’s just as exciting. Since 2003, Indy car teams have roared along the shoreline of St. Petersburg, often opening the season in warm, sunny weather as drivers fought to establish their teams for a run at the season’s championship. Alex Palou, Scott Dixon, Colton Herta and 23 others will once again gather Sunday on the challenging downtown streets for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Race Facts: The 19th Indy car event at St Petersburg (CART, IRL and IndyCar), will run for 100 laps (181 miles) around the 1.8-mile, 14-turn, flat course near the waters of Tampa Bay…The race is traditionally the opener for IndyCar, but switched places with Barber in 2021 due to Covid 19 restrictions…Helio Castroneves has won here three times while Team Penske drivers have visited the Winners Circle 10 times out of the 18 previous races…

Recent St. Pete Races: Colton Herta’s Andretti Autosport Honda dominated last year’s event, leading 97 of the 100 laps. He survived two late-race caution flags and held off hard charging Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud at a record 96.552 mph, (1:51:51) … Wins here seem to come in consecutive pairs for some including Josef Newgarden (2019-2020), Sebastien Bourdais (2017-2018), Juan Pablo Montoya (2015-2016) and Helio Castroneves (2006-2007). Perhaps Herta may be the next for number two come Sunday.

IndyCar Statistics: Spaniard Alex Palou captured the series’ crown in 2021, his first full IndyCar season. But with the series having one of its strongest fields in years, his run for a second championship may not be an easy road, as many former series’ champions and St. Petersburg race winners are in the field…If Scott Dixon wins the 2022 season’s championship, he will tie AJ Foyt with a career record seven wins each…

Race Entries: Twenty-six cars are entered, the largest full-time season entry in a decade. Rookies entered include Tatiana Calderone, David Malukas, Kyle Kirkwood, and Devlin DeFrancesco.

Notes: TV: Race, Sunday, Noon ET, NBC NetworkColton Herta’s dominant win at St. Pete last season was his fourth, tying him with his father Bryan …One rule change for 2022, aimed at crew safety, prohibits pit crews from pushing or assisting their team’s car as it exits the pit box…The Indy Lights entry list shows 15cars, the largest in several seasons. Their race will be a 60-minute affair starting at 9:30 am ET… The current St. Pete circuit is its third configuration since racing began there in 1985 (Indy car began racing there in 2003). The course runs primarily on the area streets but also goes down Whitted Airport’s main runway…This will be the final season for the current IndyCar engine configuration as Honda and Chevrolet will roll out a 2.4-liter, twin turbocharged V6 powerplant with hybrid technology for 2023. Some expect the new engine to develop around 900 horsepower…Current IC drivers who have previously won here in the Indy Lights series include: Herta, Newgarden, Pato O’Ward, Felix Rosenqvist, Rinus VeeKay and rookies Kyle Kirkwood and David Malukas.

Our Take: The Covid 19 restraints on most sporting events seem to have lessened, with crowds moving toward 100% of capacity and scheduled events free from cancelation. Racing was hit hard by those cancelations and postponements; a problem that hopefully will disappear as the Pandemic begins to weaken. With the return of racing to Toronto and Iowa, coupled with a strong inaugural run at Nashville last season, the outlook looks bright. We would like to see the series return to some of its historic venues that in the past have laid the foundation for today’s schedule. You’ve heard it often said that Milwaukee, Michigan, Cleveland and others should be on the schedule with their unique tracks and long histories, bringing the schedule up to at least 20 events. What’s needed next to accomplish that, however, are enthusiastic promoters to take the next step. Anybody know of someone?

“They Said It”: IndyCar President Jay Frye: “Last season was an amazing year with historic storylines throughout 2021. With the effort by everyone in the offseason and the continued growth of the paddock, we expect 2022 to be even better. We cannot wait to see it play out.”

Next Race:  XPEL 375Texas Motor SpeedwayMarch 20




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