8:47 AM – Well, it pays to be here early! I just got back from a pace car ride in a sweet Camaro that was set up for me by Chevrolet. As we go into race day, it’s always good to be reminded of exactly what it feels like to have your internal organs plastered against the inside of your torso by G-forces. Our driver found the edge of the available grip more than once, most notably in turn 5, so we had a couple of fun drift-and-correct moments — and we were well below the speed that an IndyCar does around this place, which is amazing to contemplate. One thing that stood out to me is that the bumps were not actually as bad as I was expecting. St. Pete is certainly not the worst of the tracks the Verizon IndyCar Series races at in that regard. But again, we were doing a fraction of the speed the IndyCars do, and road surface issues tend to escalate exponentially with increases in speed. Fun times.
I was asked about how much bigger the Verizon presence is here this weekend than it has been in the past. It’s enormous. Verizon has interactive displays set up all over the place, including a device charging station and what I think was called the Verizon Technology Pit. It hasn’t yet been fully set up this weekend, but it looks like it’s a covered space full of TV screens and tablets for interacting with the IndyCar 14 mobile app set up right in the middle of pit lane. On top of that, there’s a setup in the Fan Village, as I mentioned, and there seem to be some representatives on hand in the media center as well.
The schedule is pretty packed here for the next couple of hours as we work our way up the Mazda Road to Indy ladder with races from USF2000, Pro Mazda, and Indy Lights. The second race of the weekend for USF2000 gets under way here in just a few minutes!
8:11 AM – Good morning from the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg! And guess what — it’s race day! The weather is beautiful so far — we actually get to see the sun rise today, and there’s a decently strong wind keeping the air moving. Let’s hope it stays that way.
I walked through the north end of the track to get to the media center this morning, and while I was up that way I walked past this year’s Fan Village setup. There’s a big wall of social media screens, a massive Honda display, a large Firestone display, and an interactive Verizon display. Unsurprisingly, the only sign of National Guard so far is a picture of Graham and the #15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan car on the back of the Firestone booth. I suppose that doesn’t violate the terms of the law suit.
I also noticed something I hadn’t seen last time I was here, and it’s the spot where my buddy Mike from Edmonton would spend the day here: a pop-up bar for general admission patrons on the inside of turn 4. It’s a great alternative to a grandstand ticket if such things don’t interest you.