Fast Facts: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Associated Press
1 Comment

Courtesy of INDYCAR PR, here’s all you need to know ahead of this weekend’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the Verizon IndyCar Series’ first round of the new 2016 season:

Track: 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit (clockwise)
Race distance: 110 laps / 198 miles
Entry List:  Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (Click link to download Entry List PDF)
Push-to-pass parameters: 10 activations for 15 seconds each
Firestone tire allotment: Seven sets primary, three sets alternate
Twitter: @GPSTPETE, @IndyCar, #FirestoneGP, #IndyCar
Event website: www.gpstpete.com
INDYCAR website: www.IndyCar.com
2015 race winner: Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet)
2015 Verizon P1 Award winner: Will Power (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) 1 minute, 0.6931 seconds (106.676 mph) in Firestone Fast Six.
Qualifying lap record: Will Power (1:00.6509; 106.841 mph) set on March 28, 2015, in Segment 2 qualifying.

ABC race broadcast: Sunday, March 13 (12:30 p.m. ET). Allen Bestwick is the lead announcer for ESPN on ABC broadcasts for the third consecutive year alongside analysts Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever Jr. Pit reporters are Rick DeBruhl, Dr. Jerry Punch and Jon Beekhuis.

Video Streaming: All practice sessions for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be available on the INDYCAR YouTube channel www.youtube.com/indycar and RaceControl.IndyCar.com. Qualifying for races telecast by ABC will also be available via live streaming.

Radio broadcasts: Mark Jaynes is the chief announcer alongside analyst Davey Hamilton. All Verizon IndyCar Series races are broadcast live on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, Sirius 212, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app.

Verizon IndyCar Series qualifying is broadcast on Sirius 212, XM 209, IndyCar.com,indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app. Verizon IndyCar Series practice sessions plus Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires practice and qualifying are on IndyCar.com,indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app.

At-track schedule (all times local): 

Friday, March 11

10:50 a.m.-12:05 p.m. (Verizon IndyCar Series practice)
3:40-4:55 p.m. (Verizon IndyCar Series practice)

Saturday, March 12

11:55 a.m.-12:40 p.m. (Verizon IndyCar Series practice)
3:40 p.m. (Three rounds of qualifications)

Sunday, March 13

9-9:30 a.m. (Verizon IndyCar Series warm-up)
12:30 p.m. ABC on air
12:52 p.m. Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg green flag

Race Notes:

* Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing begins defense of his 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series championship at St. Petersburg. Dixon, the longest-tenured driver for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, captured the title in thrilling fashion, winning the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma to finish in a tie with Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya in points. Dixon earned the championship by virtue of more race wins in the season. Dixon’s four season championships tie him with greats Mario Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais and Dario Franchitti for second on the all-time Indy car list, trailing only the seven titles collected by A.J. Foyt. Dixon, is fifth on the all-time Indy car victory list with 38. He has three runner-up finishes at St. Petersburg but has never won at the circuit.

* With seven victories in 12 races at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Team Penske is the winningest Verizon IndyCar Series team at St. Petersburg. Four Team Penske drivers have visited Victory Lane at St. Petersburg. Helio Castroneves has won three times at the venue (2006, 2007, 2012), while Will Power has two St. Pete wins to his credit (2010, 2014). Juan Pablo Montoya won the 2015 season opener at St. Petersburg after qualifying fourth. Ryan Briscoe opened the 2009 season with a victory for Team Penske. Chip Ganassi Racing has won four of the last 11 Verizon IndyCar Series openers (Homestead: 2006, 2007, 2008; St. Pete: 2011).

* Team Penske has won the pole position for six of the last nine St. Petersburg races, including four of the last five poles with Power. The St. Petersburg winner has qualified fourth the last three seasons.

* Tony Kanaan seeks to start his 250th consecutive race, which would extend his Indy car-record streak that began in 2001 at Portland. Dixon has made 191 consecutive starts.

* After a record-tying 11 Verizon IndyCar Series drivers scored wins in 2014, there were nine different winners in the 16 races of 2015. An equally tight competition is projected for the 2016 season.

* Four drivers will make their first start this weekend at St. Petersburg – Max Chilton, Conor Daly, Alexander Rossi and Spencer Pigot. All are Sunoco Rookie of the Year award candidates. Daly has competed in six Verizon IndyCar Series races and makes his full-season debut with Dale Coyne Racing. Pigot was the 2015 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion and has won at the track five times in Mazda Road to Indy series. Chilton, who joins Chip Ganassi Racing after a year in Indy Lights, and Rossi, who races with Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, both competed in Formula One.

* The 2016 season will be the second in which aerodynamic bodywork component kits are used. The aero kits, produced by engine manufacturers Chevrolet and Honda for their respective supplied teams, are the latest technical innovation to enhance on-track performance through competitive aerodynamic development. Each manufacturer produces two kits for teams – one for short ovals/road courses/street courses and another for superspeedway ovals – but within each kit, teams have multiple component options available.

* The second season of aero kit competition complements the fifth year of engine manufacturer competition between Chevrolet and Honda with their 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 engines. It will be another season testing speed and durability to determine the manufacturer champion.

* The overtake assist, or “push-to-pass,” for each car has increased by 20 horsepower to a total of 60 horsepower for 2016. Drivers may engage their overtake assist a total of 10 times during the race.

* The 2015 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is the 13th Indy car race on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. Paul Tracy won the inaugural race on Feb. 23, 2003, under CART sanction. Sebastien Bourdais, entered in this year’s race, started from the pole. He is a St. Petersburg resident. With the exception of 2004, the race has been run every year since.

Alexander Rossi ‘fits like a glove’ with his new IndyCar teammates at Arrow McLaren Racing

Alexander Rossi McLaren
Nate Ryan
0 Comments

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – There are more than three dozen fresh faces on the Arrow McLaren Racing IndyCar team, but there was one that Felix Rosenqvist was particularly keen to know – Alexander Rossi.

The driver of the No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet is the most high-profile new hire for McLaren, which has expanded to a third car to pair with the No. 6 of Rosenqvist and No. 5 of Pato O’Ward.

And there is another layer than Rossi just being the new kid. McLaren marks only his second team in NTT IndyCar Series after seven seasons at Andretti Autosport, where he began with a victory in the 2016 Indy 500 and was a championship contender for several seasons.

Rossi is a mercurial talent, and when things go wrong, the red mist quickly descends (and sometimes has led to feuds with teammates). He went winless during two of his final seasons at Andretti and was out of contention more often than not, often bringing out the prickly side of his personality.

Yet there has been no trace of the dour Rossi since joining McLaren. The pragmatic Californian is quick to remind everyone he hasn’t worked with the team yet at a track (much less been in its car), and there surely will be times he gets frustrated.

But it’s clear that Rossi, who made five Formula One starts in 2015 after several years racing in Europe, already is meshing well with an organization whose England-based parent company has deep roots in F1.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Rosenqvist said Tuesday during IndyCar’s preseason media availabilities. “I think Alex kind of has that bad-guy role a little bit in IndyCar. He’s always been that guy, which is cool. I think we need those guys, as well.

“Actually having gotten to know him, he’s been super nice, super kind. He fits like a glove in the team. I think it fills a role where Pato is kind of like the crazy guy, I’m somewhere in the middle, and Alex is the more engineering guy in the team. I think Alex has more experience, as well. He just feels like a guy who knows what he wants.

“Yeah, good addition to the team and great guy at the same time.”

There are many reasons why Rossi’s transition from Andretti to McLaren should be smoother than his abrupt move from F1 to IndyCar seven years ago. Namely, he no longer is the only newcomer to the team’s culture.

“It’s been kind of a good time to come in because everyone is finding a new role and position and kind of learning who’s who, finding everyone’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

But while Rossi might have questions about the team, he has none about the series. Unlike when he arrived at Andretti without any oval experience, Rossi joins McLaren with his IndyCar credentials secured as an established star with eight victories, seven poles and 28 podiums over 114 starts.

Even in his swan song with Andretti, Rossi still managed a farewell victory last July at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course that snapped a 49-race, three-year winless drought. It seems reasonable to believe he immediately could re-emerge in his 2017-19 title contender form.

“I know the series, and I know kind of everything that goes into American open-wheel racing vs. the European open-wheel racing, which is really the biggest transition,” Rossi said. “Certainly it’s the largest kind of team switch. I’ve obviously driven for different teams in the past in Europe, in sports cars, whatever, but never really in my full-time job. I’ve driven for the same organization for a very long time and have a lot of respect and fabulous memories with those people.

“So it has been a big kind of shift, trying to compare and contrast areas that I can bring kind of recommendations and experience to maybe help fill the gaps that exist at Arrow McLaren. Again, all of this is in theory, right? I don’t really know anything. We’ll have a much better idea and plan going into St. Pete (the March 5 season opener).”

He has gotten a good handle on how things work at its Indianapolis headquarters, though, and has been pleased by the leadership of new racing director Gavin Ward (who worked in F1 before a championship stint with Josef Newgarden at Team Penske). McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown also seems omnipresent on both sides of the Atlantic, making appearances at IndyCar races seemingly as much as in the F1 paddock.

“I think what’s very cool about Arrow McLaren is we do have the resources of the McLaren F1 team,” Rossi said. “They very much are being integrated in a lot of respects. It’s not two separate entities. McLaren Racing is one organization that has its people and resources and intellect in kind of everything. It’s been pretty cool to see how that can be an advantage to us in terms of people, resources, simulations, software, kind of everything. We’ve been able to kind of rely on that and use that as a tool that maybe other teams certainly don’t have.”

That will be helpful for Rossi with the methodologies and nuances of racing a Chevrolet for the first time after seven seasons with Honda.

And of course, there will be the relationship with O’Ward, who has been McLaren’s alpha star since 2020.

Rossi was in a similar role for Andretti, which raises questions about how McLaren will handle having two stars accustomed to being the face of the team. But O’Ward said IndyCar regulations should allow each driver to maintain their own style without being forced to adapt as in other series.

“At the end of the day, as much as teammates will help in order to gather data, it doesn’t mean they’re going to specifically help you in what you need because it’s a series where you can really tailor the car to what you want,” O’Ward said. “Rather than in Formula 1, (it’s) ‘This is the car, you need to learn how to drive this certain car.’ In IndyCar, it’s very different where you can customize it to what you want it to feel like or drive like.

“From past experience, I think Alex likes a car similar to what I do. I do think we have a very strong car in certain areas, but I definitely think he’s coming from a car where that other car has been stronger than us in other racetracks. I feel like if we can just find gains where we haven’t quite had a winning car, a podium car, that’s just going to help all of us.”

Though Thursday at The Thermal Club will mark the first time the trio works together at a track, Rosenqvist said he’s hung out a lot with Rossi (both are 31 years old) and deems his new teammate “well-integrated” in the simulator.

“I think the fit has been good with him, me and Pato,” Rosenqvist said. “On a trackside perspective, it’s obviously huge to have always a third opinion on things. Every driver’s opinion is valuable in its own way.”

Said O’Ward, 23: “It’s been great. (Rossi has) been great to have around. I think he needed a fresh start. I think he’s excited to really work with all of us, create the strongest package.”

Ever the realist, though, Rossi still is tempering some of his enthusiasm.

“Again, we haven’t really done anything yet other than some meetings and some team activities together,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for what they’ve done in IndyCar and also their prior careers. I think that we all bring something a little bit different to the table, which I think is really unique in terms of not only personalities but driving styles and experience levels.

“I think we have the ingredients to really be able to develop the team and continue to push the team forward to even a better level than what they’ve shown in the past. It’s been a really positive experience. Really I have nothing at all negative to say and can’t actually wait to get to work, get on track and start working together.”