12:30 PM – Just landing back in the media center quickly after having spent IndyCar practice on pit lane. It was nice to be back out there!
The most notable news from practice was the carry-over of the mix of Hondas and Chevrolets from pit lane, most notably those of Andretti Autosport. It’s still early in the weekend, but it seems likely that concerns Honda might not be up to speed right away were unfounded.
That sentiment was echoed by Mark Crawford, the principal engineer at Honda Performance Development, who met with the media after practice to discuss the new Honda powerplant. The overriding message from that press conference was “so far, so good.” There were a few concerns that were raised at Spring Training that were addressed and appear to be resolved without any resultant surprises, which Crawford was pleased with.
He also noted how strenuous the new IndyCar durability regulations are, noting, “We really have to think about how we go IndyCar racing” because “2,500 miles is a long time to collect surprises.” HPD’s endurance racing background in sports cars was called upon to shore up the IndyCar program.
IndyCar hasn’t yet released the practice timesheet, but we’ll get it posted once we do. There has also been some media availability with James Hinchcliffe and Dario Franchitti, but I skipped those for the Honda event because I was pretty confident those would be pretty well covered. I’ll take a look at the transcripts later on and dig out some notable quotes.
In the meantime, here’s something interesting: how long do you suspect Sebastien Bourdais’s commute is to the track from his home here in St. Petersburg? Answer: it’s 10 minutes. By bicycle. Not bad.
Off to the support series paddocks for a bit!
9:42 AM – Yesterday, Firestone and IndyCar announced the introduction of the Firestone Pit Stop Performance Award. In each race, Firestone will award $10,000 to the entrant of the car that spends the least amount of accumulated time in pit lane. To be eligible, cars must complete at least 95 percent of the scheduled laps. The winner will be recognized during pre-race ceremonies of the next race.
This is an excellent and much-needed way to recognize the hard work and performance of the teams. It’s also heartening to see Firestone continue to up the ante in its role as a major Verizon IndyCar Series partner. MFW published an article earlier this week on this very subject. If you haven’t seen it, you can find it here: From one challenge to the next, Firestone steadfastly rolls on.
One more quick note before I head out for practice: we’ve barely got this weekend under way, and the dates for next weekend’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg have already been confirmed. This race will run next year from March 27 to 29 — which means no change, which means all stakeholders are happy. Good stuff.
Time to head trackside as the IndyCars get their first practice under way at 10 AM!
9:14 AM ET – Good morning from beautiful St. Petersburg, Florida, where the Verizon IndyCar Series and Mazda Road to Indy seasons are finally about to get under way!
We’ve already had USF2000 and Pro Mazda cars out on track this morning, and then we get a short break for Pirelli World Challenge practice before the IndyCars hit the track for the first time this year at 10:00 ET. A full weekend schedule can be found at our Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Event Summary.
A few quick updates before I properly get to work. Dale Coyne Racing confirmed yesterday that the elusive TBA won’t be making an appearance this weekend after all — instead it will be Carlos Huertas in the #18 car, the 22-year-old rookie who tested with Panther during the off-season.
And I normally spend Friday walking around the track checking out the vantage points, but it looks like I can save myself some time this weekend — the track and grandstand configurations are the exact same now that they were when I was last at this event in 2010. The vast majority of the grandstands are along the pit straight, plus there’s one at turn 1 and another at turn 10. For my money I’d take the grandstand in turn 1 for the best view of the racing action, but it is quite far from the concessions and such (i.e., where the party’s at), so I know plenty of people who choose turn 10 for that reason alone. It’s more about what you want out of your visit most than anything else. There’s still plenty of general admission viewing space in the area around the baseball stadium, though you won’t find any video boards down that way and following along might therefore be difficult.
Pro Mazda practice finished under red and checkered due to a very hard hit into the wall for Jason Bedasse with M1 Racing. Bedasse climbed out of the car on his own, but the car was completely destroyed. They’ll need to go to a backup if they’re to continue. More as that story develops.
Keep checking in as I’ll be updating constantly throughout the day and all weekend long!