On The Road: St. Pete

Max Chilton in the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg. © [Al Arena / Spacesuit Media]

Max Chilton in the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg. © [Al Arena / Spacesuit Media]

By Eddie LePine

Covering the St. Petersburg Indy Car race is an annual event that I look forward to, just like I look forward to going to Long Beach every year. There is something special about the Florida event, held through the streets of St. Petersburg and the runway of the Albert Whitted Airport. The 1.8-mile, 14 turn circuit has something for everyone – from tight turns to high-speed straights. Unlike most street circuits, this one offers plenty of opportunity for passing, and the action at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg never disappoints. The atmosphere is top notch as well – I like to think of it as Florida’s Monaco Grand Prix.

Josef Newgarden has won the race for Penske Racing and Chevrolet the last two years, taking the win in both 2019 and 2020, but if the race at St. Pete is anything like the opening round last week at Barber Motorsports Park, it will be extremely difficult for him to win for a third time this weekend. The competition is tough – very tough, and the talent runs deep into the field.

At Barber, Pato O’Ward started from pole in his Arrow McLaren and would have likely had a very good shot at winning had the team elected to pit two times instead of the three stops he made in his Chevy powered car. As it was, Alex Palou, driving for the always competitive Chip Ganassi, took the win for Honda, with Will Power second in the Penske Chevrolet, with the always top-notch Scott Dixon taking the final podium spot, also for Chip Ganassi.

The same field of 24 will be lining up for next Sunday’s race at St. Pete, and it promises to be just as exciting as Barber was.

Rookies Jimmie Johnson and Roman Grosjean debuted in IndyCar at Barber, with both finishing the race (Grosjean in 10th, Johnson 19th). They gained good IndyCar experience and both look forward to moving further up the finishing order at St. Pete. In Grosjean’s case in particular, it must feel pretty good to have a car that is capable of running with the leaders, after suffering disappointing races in Formula One in the Haas machine.

On a personal note, I am very pleased to see that Ruoff Mortgage has stepped up to sponsor the Two-seater IndyCar ride, again with Mario Andretti at the wheel. Mario will make his 2021 season debut at St. Pete and I couldn’t be any happier. The NTT IndyCar series would just not be the same without seeing Mario behind the wheel. The living legend from all forms of motorsport is forever young and as fast as ever. Bravo Mario!

I can’t wait to get to the track. See you there.

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