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Helio Castroneves named grand marshal for IndyCar season opener in St. Petersburg

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Helio Castroneves is preparing to get a completely different perspective on the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Castroneves was named Thursday as grand marshal for the IndyCar season-opening weekend, March 9-11 at St. Petersburg, Florida.

Castroneves is no stranger to the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg: he’s won it a record three times in the event’s 13-year history.

But with his transition from IndyCar to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship series this season, he won’t be behind the wheel for this year’s race.

Ergo, that’s where he’ll get the different perspective from on the grid rather than in a car on the grid.

“The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg has always been one of my favorite events,” Castroneves said in a media release. “The fences are great to climb! I am honored to be grand marshal this year.

“I will miss competing in the race, but I look forward to seeing all of the fans and taking part in all of the activities during the weekend. I cannot wait to see the new aero kit Indy cars – fans will not want to miss out on all of the action.”

Castroneves’ duties as grand marshal will not be just for race day, when he circles the track as part of driver introductions and also when he gives the command for drivers to start engines to get the event under way.

He’ll also be involved in a number of events that will span five days including being official starter for a 6K race, take part in a fan Q&A and meet-and-greet, as well as other community, media and fan interaction events on-site as well as around the St. Petersburg area.

NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.