Five things to know about St. Petersburg

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After 175 days since the season finale at Sonoma Raceway, IndyCar will swing back into action on the streets and runways of St Petersburg, Fla.

The first of four street courses (along with Long Beach, Belle Isle and Toronto), this 1.8-mile circuit has hosted races since 2005. It kicked off the season in 2009 and every year since 2011. Getting off to a strong start on the Streets of St. Pete does not necessarily translate to season-long success in part because most of the temporary circuits are front-loaded in the year while ovals and permanent road courses dominate the second half.

Here are five things to know about this week’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg:

  1. St. Petersburg has been won in back-to-back seasons three times, but no one has ever won three consecutive. Sebastien Bourdais won in 2017 and 2018. The first 12 runnings of this race were won from a starting position of 9th or better. The last two have been won from 21st in 2017 and 14th in 2018.
  2. In 14 races, four drivers have multiple wins at St. Petersburg: Will Power, Bourdais and Juan Pablo Montoya have two; Helio Castroneves has three. The winner of this race has gone on to win the championship three times: Dan Wheldon in 2005, Dario Franchitti in 2011 and Power in 2014.
  3. This race has been won from the pole only twice (Castroneves in 2007 and Power in 2010) and from the outside pole once (Franchitti in 2011).
  4. Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan are the only drivers to start every race on this track. Kanaan has been running at the finish of all but one of those races. Dixon has retired four times.
  5. Ten countries are represented among 24 entrants: the United States with 10 (three from California, two from Ohio and Florida with one each from Tennessee, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, England has three, there are two each from Brazil, Sweden and France, plus one each from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, United Arab Emirates and Japan.

MORE: Sebastien Bourdais hopes another fast start lasts all season 
MORE: Five things to watch for in the 2019 IndyCar season 

 

 

NBC Sports’ coverage of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series begins on March 10 with the Streets of St. Petersburg at 1 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com, and the NBC Sports app. Watch the entire 2019 IndyCar season on NBC, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold.

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IndyCar drivers say Thermal Club could host race after successful opening day to test

IndyCar Thermal race
Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY Sports Images
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THERMAL, Calif. – The “motorsports country club” passed the first test (figuratively and literally) with NTT IndyCar Series drivers pleased enough to proclaim The Thermal Club as race-eligible after its debut.

Though there were a few minor incidents on the 17-turn, 3.067-mile permanent road course east of Palm Springs in Southern California’s Coachella Valley, there was no significant damage for the 27 full-time cars that turned 1,119 laps Thursday.

Perhaps more importantly, drivers seemed to enjoy the ride around the track, which is unlike anything on the current circuit.

“I would love to race here,” said Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Marcus Armstrong, who posted the 10th-quickest time (1 minute, 39.9077 seconds) in the No. 11 Dallara-Honda that he will race on street and road courses after coming from the F2 Series. “I think it’s awesome. Would have to do a lot of neck training prior to the race because it’s much like a European circuit, quite demanding on the neck, towards the end of the lap anyway.

PRACTICE SPEEDS: First session l Second session l Combined

‘AN AMAZING PLACE’: IndyCar and its big plans for Thermal

“I think it’s cool. Very flowing, banked corners, banked high-speed corners. In terms of racing, it could be potentially not a lot of overtaking. You’d have to commit hard (in) maybe Turn 1. It wouldn’t be the easiest place to overtake. As a whole facility and circuit, it’s very enjoyable.”

Juncos Hollinger Racing No. 77 Chevrolet driver Callum Ilott, another F2 veteran who is entering his second year in IndyCar, was seventh fastest. Ilott said Thermal would “set a standard really of what we want to be doing with this series.

“It’s really, really high level, high tech,” said Ilott, whose rookie teammate Agustin Canapino went off course twice but incurred no major trouble. “As a circuit, yeah, it’s got a little bit different corners. I think the overtaking — we’ll find a way, we’re IndyCar — someone always sends it down the inside. I think if we can extend the straight and get some overtaking between Turn 6 and 7. It’s definitely a great circuit to drive and good fun and a bit different to the normal winter training we get in Florida. So I like the circuit.

“I think if we could, it would be good to race here once.”

Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta, who turned the fastest lap (1:39.3721) in his No. 26, also was optimistic despite the passing challenges.

“I think it really comes down to tire deg, what people are showing with that,” Herta said. “It will be tough to pass, right? A lot of the good braking zones, you’re coming off of high-speed corners, so it will be hard to follow.

“But you never know. I would say some of the tracks we go to would be terrible for racing, and IndyCar still puts on a great show. You never know until it’s tested and proven right or wrong.”

The possibility of adding an IndyCar race at The Thermal Club has been floated, but there would be some challenges. It likely would be a made-for-TV event given it’s a private club (and filled with multimillion-dollar homes filled with vintage cars). The test is closed to the public and open only to members and VIPs.

There also are some areas that would need to be improved, namely the galvanized steel Armco barriers that ring the track and generally are considered antiquated in motorsports.

“I think the Armco might propose a little bit of an issue,” Ilott said. “Again, it depends on what angle you’re hitting them obviously. It’s a pretty straightforward process to make it a bit safer and a bit more cushiony. I’m not in charge of that stuff. I just drive and try not to hit those things.

“I think it’s a straightforward process. To be fair, everyone has had a little moment today, spun and carried on. That’s a good start. Obviously there are anomalies, these things happen. So far, so good.”

Said Herta: For sure. It probably needs a little bit of work. They’ve already done a lot for us to come here already. It seems like if they do want to have a race here, they’re willing to put the work in and money in to upgrade the facility to make it a little bit safer for us.”

Christian Lundgaard of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was second fastest (1:39.3767), followed by Alex Palou (1:39.3970) and Romain Grosjean (1:39.4826). Will Power was the top Chevrolet driver in fifth (1:39.5690).

Though Andretti had two of the top four times, Herta downplayed the significance other than getting reacclimated to his team.

“Just a lot of knocking the rust off,” he said. “It’s quite a long offseason without being in the car. I don’t know how much we’re really going to learn from running here. It’s really good to get the team back into it, get all the boys working again. Yeah, just get everybody back into the flow of it.

“It could be a huge shake-up when we go to St. Pete and who’s up front and who’s at the back. It is too early to tell. It’s nice just to be back in the car and get lap times down, get everybody working again.

“The track surface is very strange, very different to anything I’ve really felt in IndyCar. It’s seven first-gear corners. We don’t really have that many anywhere we go on a street course. It is quite a bit slower than our natural terrain courses. But I don’t want to be in here and dig it the whole time. It’s a fun track to drive, especially the back section. It keeps you on your toes. It doesn’t really replicate anything else that we go (race).”

The test will continue with another six-hour session Friday.