ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Verizon IndyCar Series opens its 2016 season with a number of interesting story lines, with the most interesting one actually developing Sunday morning regarding Will Power’s status.
Here’s what to watch for from the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (12:30 p.m. ET, ABC, with 12:52 p.m. green flag):
Will Power set another track record and scored his sixth pole position at St. Petersburg in the last seven years. Yet he will not be able to start due to nausea diagnosed during the weekend.
Oriol Servia filled in in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet in warmup and was brought in on standby for the race, and just got confirmed.
Since he starts, he has experience in these type last-minute situations before. In one of his most memorable drives, he went from 14th on the grid up to second driving for Gerry Forsythe’s team in an injury fill-in role for Paul Tracy at the 2007 Champ Car World Series race at Long Beach.
SIX FOR SIX?
The last five years dating to 2011 have seen five different winners at St. Petersburg (Dario Franchitti, Helio Castroneves, James Hinchcliffe, Power and Juan Pablo Montoya). Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay are the three Firestone Fast Six qualifiers absent of a St. Petersburg win who could get their first today.
A FOYT SURPRISE?
Arguably the surprise of a weekend from a pace standpoint has been A.J. Foyt Enterprises, which has clicked with both Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth in the Nos. 14 and 41 ABC Supply Co. Hondas. Both drivers traditionally overachieve at the circuit and look for solid top-fives or so here.
HINCH, MIKHAIL AND THE ROOKIES
Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin make their series returns and there’s also a quartet of rookies – Conor Daly, Alexander Rossi, Max Chilton and Spencer Pigot – making their first St. Petersburg starts. Daly has several career starts while the latter three make their series debuts.
This is a three-stop race with roughly 17 or 18 laps of a window per pit stop cycle. The window opens as early as Lap 14 and runs through Lap 31 for the first cycle.
Honda tended to have an edge on Chevrolet on fuel mileage throughout 2015 and it will be interesting to see whether Chevrolet has closed the gap this season.
TURN 1, THEN TURN 4
The race can’t be won on the opening lap but it certainly can be lost that way. Both Turns 1 and 4 are trouble spots, with Turn 1 serving as the more traditional problem child.
OFFICIAL STARTING GRID