IZOD IndyCar Preview : Honda Grand Prix Of St. Petersburg

While much of the U.S. shivers and shovels during what we call “spring”, the IZOD Indy Car circus is heading for Florida to open the 2013 season at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, March 24.

St. Petersburg kicks off a nineteen-race IICS schedule, to be contested at sixteen venues in three countries; with three of the weekends (Houston, Toronto and Detroit) featuring double-header events run over two days.

The 1.8 mile circuit features fourteen turns that wind through city streets and over runways of the Albert Whitted Airport near the shores of Tampa Bay.

Indy Car/IRL has visited this circuit eight times since 2005 with Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves capturing three of those races. CART ran a 2003 event on a different waterfront circuit there with Paul Tracy winning.

Team Penske has been dominate in the eight season-opening St. Pete events with Castroneves, Power and Ryan Briscoe accounting for five wins and Power grabbing the last three poles.

Other race stats of note include “Swiss Miss”Simona de Silvestro’s fourth place finish here in 2011, Graham Rahal (2008) and the late Dan Wheldon (2005) charging to wins from ninth starting spots, and Tony Kanaan’s six top-five finishes. Rahal’s win was his first and only series’ victory.

The winner of the St. Pete race has gone on to win the championship twice in the eight races, and in the seventeen IRL/Indy Car seasons, seven drivers have won the season-opening race and then won that year’s championship.

Much of the IICS driver/team line-up remains the same for 2013. Power and Castroneves occupy familiar seats at Team Penske-Chevrolet, with AJ Allmendinger joining the Captain for events at Barber Motorsports Park and the Indianapolis 500 (with a hint of more later if sponsorship and AJ’s NASCAR schedule work out). Gone is Ryan Briscoe who will likely put in a season of sports car racing with a possible one-off ride at the 500.

Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, Hunter-Reay and E. J. Viso will pilot Honda’s for Andretti Autosport while Scott Dixon and 2012 Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti will again be with Target Chip Ganassi-Charlie Kimball will join them under the Novo Nordisk Ganassi banner; all in Honda-powered machines.

Other interesting pairings include ‘almost” 2012 Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato (A.J. Foyt Enterprises), Simona de Silvestro and Tony Kanaan (KV Racing Technology), Graham Rahal, Mike Conway and James Jakes (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) and Frenchmen Tristan Vautier and Simon Pagenaud (Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports).

MY DARING PICK: Takuma Sato to win at St. Pete. If Kimi Raikkonen’s F1/Lotus-Renault can upset Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes and Red Bull in Australia, Foyt-Sato can do it here.

• Dale Coyne will have Justin Wilson and Ana Beatriz in his St. Pete entries. Beatriz tested with the team at Barber MP last week.
• Former F1 veteran Rubens Barrichello has left the series after one season and will drive stock cars in his native Brazil.
• Dan Wheldon’s widow Susie will take part in pre-race ceremonies at St. Petersburg and will also wave the green flag to start the race. Wheldon and his family made the area their home and Susie and the children still reside there.
• Indy Car has announced standardized “push-to pass” parameters for their ten 2013 road/street course events.
• Sixteen of the 28 car/driver combinations that tested at Barber MP were separated by one second.
• Twenty-five car/driver combinations are entered for the race.
• The Honda Grand Prix, scheduled for 110 laps, will be televised at 12:00 pm (Eastern) on the NBC Sports Network and broadcast on SiriusXM Channel 211.

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