St. Petersburg weekend, Friday notes

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Here’s more notes and nuggets from the ground at the Verizon IndyCar Series season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, for Friday practice and qualifying (and one GTS race).

EVENT

Today marked the debut of additional safety enhancements taken at the race, with walk-thru magnetometers, wanding, enhanced vehicle inspection and increased Public Safety presence for the event.

Per a memo distributed to competitors, the event organizers note this is no different than any other major sporting event in the U.S.

Veteran security man Charles Burns, formerly INDYCAR’s head of security and most recently the head of safety for the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, is on site this weekend.

The safety enhancements were part of the story but so too was a solid Friday crowd – even if it didn’t appear as such in the grandstands – on the grounds. Gorgeous weather and a packed day of track activity, which ran from just after 7:30 a.m. through to 5 p.m., helped bring the people to the track.

INDYCAR 

  • The Andretti Autosport quartet of drivers didn’t have a ton to note in their media availability, although Marco Andretti did say the characteristics of his No. 27 Snapple Honda are better on the street course this year. “The characteristics of the car, the behavior, it’s better this year. Is it a ton more grip? Not really. But I think it’s a little bit more straightforward package this year.” Rossi was in team kit, while the other three were in their firesuits.
  • By contrast, both of Graham Rahal and Spencer Pigot were loquacious in their media availability (1,700-plus words on the transcript for the two RLL drivers; 1,500-plus for the four Andretti drivers). Rahal discussed Honda’s improvements, his own championship hopes, the pressure he feels to succeed and Pigot’s enhancement for the team. Rahal fought major understeer issues in the first session but the team made a big stab at it, and ended fourth both in the second session and combined for the day.
  • Honda’s media availability brought a number of nuggets, primarily related to when various updates will come in over the course of the year. HPD’s Art St. Cyr noted that the company is prepared to supply “at least” 17 cars for the Indianapolis 500, same as what his colleague Steve Eriksen told me at Daytona, and is prepared to do more if the right opportunity presents itself.
  • Very good to see both Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth end fifth and eighth. On the first day with the A.J. Foyt Enterprises’ team’s engineering strength adjusted and bolstered, with Raul Prados on Sato’s car and Dan Hobbs on Hawksworth’s, the Foyt team was a welcome surprise with two cars in the top 10.
  • Dixon aside, it wasn’t the best of Fridays for St. Petersburg at what has not been Chip Ganassi Racing Teams’ best track. Tony Kanaan, Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball were 15th, 18th, and 19th.
  • In a typically tight field, just 0.9167 of a second covered first to 20th.

MRTI

  • Two intense Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires sessions occurred, with Belardi Auto Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist leading both sessions. That being said, very little covered the 16-car field. Results are linked here.
  • Watch for fuel to be an issue this weekend; Carlin’s Neil Alberico was apparently suffering from fuel pickup problems and had a fraught day at the office.
  • There was also a practice sweep in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires ranks, with Team Pelfrey’s Aaron Telitz on top in both sessions.
  • Jordan Lloyd of Pabst Racing snatched the pole for the opening round of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season on the final lap, ahead of Parker Thompson in a repaired Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing car and Pabst teammates Yufeng Luo and Garth Rickards.

PWC

  • Big day for EFFORT Racing. First, courtesy of a bang-up, incredible repair job from the team with assistance from Porsche and Alex Job Racing – based in nearby, Taveres, Fla. – the team’s No. 31 Porsche 911 GT3 R arrived back in the paddock earlier than anticipated.
  • It was the second bit of good news on the day for EFFORT, as Californian Michael Lewis scored his first career pole in the No. 41 Porsche. Here’s your starting grid, with Long set to start at the back after his car came back.
  • Jack Roush Jr. also scored a career first today, the series veteran capturing his first win in the series in PWC GTS class in his No. 60 Ford Mustang Boss 302. Said Roush Jr. afterwards, after beating Brett Sandberg and Nate Stacy, “Street courses are treacherous. I have the advantage of being not that smart.”

SOCIAL

IndyCar brought back visor cam. It is awesome. Here is Ryan Hunter-Reay at speed in his No. 28 DHL Honda:

Decals are being handed out this weekend to honor the wife and life of HPD PR ace and veteran T.E. McHale. Such an example is modeled by James Hinchcliffe of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Autographs from Mazda Road to Indy stars of the future, here today.

More to come tomorrow.