Tough St. Pete circuit awaits IndyCar’s best

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The IZOD IndyCar Series returns to its usual season-opening stop this weekend for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, a 110-lap event on a 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit that features an airport runway for a front-stretch and a dog-leg backstretch along the Tampa Bay waterfront.

Those two areas set up the circuit’s main passing zones. The wide runway of Albert Whitted Airport leads into Turn 1, a right-hander that has provided plenty of mayhem over the years. It’s also where Helio Castroneves pulled off what would prove to be the winning pass last year at St. Petersburg on Scott Dixon.

As for the backstretch (Bayshore Boulevard), it leads into a sharp left-hander at Turn 10/Dan Wheldon Way that forces drivers to really hit their marks, especially when they’re in the middle of outbraking rivals. After barreling down Bayshore, the drivers’ maneuvering for position in this tricky corner makes for great action, both on television and for those sitting in the nearby grandstand.

Another interesting wrinkle for 2013 is the addition of 10 extra laps at St. Pete, which is one of four IndyCar tracks (the others being Long Beach, Milwaukee and Mid-Ohio) that had their race distances extended by the series in an attempt to cut down on fuel-mileage racing.

You can learn more details about the St. Pete street circuit in the “virtual lap” video above.

Al Unser Jr. back in IndyCar after a decade away: ‘Life is very good’

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There’s been somewhat of a hole in Al Unser Jr.’s heart ever since he retired from racing in 2007.

It was a void, something was missing.

But now, after a decade away from racing, Unser has found the right medicine to fill that hole in his heart: he’s back in the racing game again.

No, he’s not driving again (although he does participate occasionally in vintage races), but the two-time Indianapolis 500 (1992 and 1994) winner is definitely back in the IndyCar world.

And he couldn’t be happier.

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “Since I stepped out of the race car and retired from racing, there’s been something missing from my life, and it’s racing.”

Unser has hooked up with Harding Racing. The team competed in three races last season as a ramp-up for a full 17-race effort this season. While Unser’s official title with the team is “consultant,” he’s involved in so much more.

His main role is as a driving coach to 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves. But he’s also involved in so many other areas, including helping the team obtain sponsorships and much more.

He then added, “I’m involved in every sense of the word except actually driving the car. And I’m happy about that because I’m too old to drive the car.”

Unser, who won CART championships in 1990 and 1994, is now 55. He’s so involved with his new job that he even moved from his native New Mexico and has relocated to suburban Indianapolis.

Not only is it a new start for Unser, it also is for Chaves. After running all 16 races in 2015 for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, he competed in just seven races for Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 and only three races for Harding Racing last season.

But he definitely impressed the team, with a fifth- (Texas) and ninth-place (Indianapolis 500) finish in the first two races and 15th (Pocono) in the team’s final run of the season.

That’s why when Harding Racing decided to go fulltime in 2018, Chaves was their pick for behind the wheel. And Unser was their pick to help guide him to potential stardom in the series.

“(Team owner) Mike Harding is definitely a person that when he decides to do something, he does it right,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “The potential for this organization is through the sky. We’re all working really hard here and we see the potential.”

And as for Unser?

“Life is good, life is very good,” he told IndyCar.com. “We’re back full force, eager and better than ever.”

Click here for the full story about Unser from IndyCar.com.