IndyCar

St. Petersburg Grand Prix reinstated; expected to be IndyCar’s new finale

Leave a comment

After initially announcing the race was canceled, IndyCar and Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg organizers apparently will reschedule the race as the 2020 season finale.

In a release announcing the rescheduling of the Indianapolis 500 to Aug. 23, a copy of the revised schedule for 2020 listed “Streets of St. Petersburg” as “TBD Expected Finale.”

St. Pete would replace Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California, which played host to the championship finale last year for the first time in two decades. This year’s race at Laguna Seca remains on Sept. 20.

The new schedule also lists new dates for Mid-Ohio (Aug. 9), Gateway (Aug. 30) and Portland (Sept. 13), mostly to accommodate moving the Indy 500 out of May for the first time ever.

There also are no dates listed for the Circuit of the Americas and Barber Motorsports Park, effectively canceling those races.

During a March 12 news conference in St. Petersburg, Mark Miles and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman had cast serious doubt on the likelihood of rescheduling the street race, whose course of concrete barriers and catchfencing takes several weeks to construct.

From a series point of view, that would be very difficult,” said Miles, who is the CEO of the company that runs IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “Nobody knows what the next several weeks or months are going to look like. You have multiple considerations. We’ve built a track. It’s tough to build it twice. There are television considerations. It would be highly unlikely to reschedule this.”

During a conference call Thursday, Miles said the support of Kriseman had made the logistics possible for returning to St. Petersburg — possibly with a date at the beginning of October or slightly later for the new season finale.

“I’ve spoken to the mayor at least twice in the last three days,” Miles said. “He’s an IndyCar fan. He’s a true believer in the value of a race at St. Petersburg for his community.

“They just never gave up. They’re making some arrangements that make it more feasible logistically. I think they’ll try to keep up some of their stands, not completely reset as I thought they might have had to. The key was their persistence and their appreciation for what (the race) brings to them.

“It’s just such a superb event to be in South Florida to start the season every year. In this case, we’ll be doing it to end the year. We’ll be back to open the season in March 2021. We think that’s special.”

In a release Thursday from the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg stated, “IndyCar announced earlier today that the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is expected to be rescheduled for later in 2020. The event was originally set for March 13-15, 2020. This shift to a later date is in support of the NTT IndyCar SERIES’ efforts to run as many of its points championship races as possible in 2020 and would be expected to serve as the season finale round.

“The rescheduled date is subject to the ongoing guidance and mandates of national, state and local authorities regarding public gatherings. The health and safety of all associated with this event will remain the priority of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Previously purchased tickets to the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg would be valid and honored on the rescheduled date yet to be determined.”

Here is the updated 2020 IndyCar schedule as listed in a release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

Saturday, May 30 

Streets of Detroit Race 1

Sunday, May 31

Streets of Detroit Race 2

Saturday, June 6

Texas Motor Speedway

Sunday, June 21

Road America

Saturday, June 27

Richmond Raceway

Saturday, July 4

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course

Sunday, July 12

Streets of Toronto

Saturday, July 18

Iowa Speedway

Sunday, Aug. 9

Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course

Sunday, Aug. 23

Indianapolis 500 Mile Race

Sunday, Aug. 30

World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway

Sunday, Sept. 13

Portland International Raceway

Sunday, Sept. 20

WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca

TBD expected finale

Streets of St. Petersburg

April 9 in Motorsports History: Al Unser Jr. gets sixth Long Beach win

Leave a comment

The list of winners in the Grand Prix of Long Beach is a ‘who’s who’ of open-wheel racing.

Mario Andretti won at the famed street course four times. His son Michael won there twice.

Paul Tracy is also a four-time winner at the beach. Alex Zanardi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sebastien Bourdais, and Alexander Rossi also have won at the famed course multiple times.

But there is only one “King of the Beach”: Al Unser Jr.

The winningest driver in the race’s history, Unser won at Long Beach four consecutive times from 1988-91. He won again in 1994 and entered the 1995 edition as the race’s defending champion and the defending CART champion as well.

Starting fourth, Unser made slight contact with Gil de Ferran when he passed the Brazilian on Lap 3. He then continued to move up to the front, taking the race lead from Teo Fabi on Lap 30.

Once he had the lead, Unser ran away from the field, winning by more than 23 seconds over Scott Pruett.

Unser’s victory was such a familiar scene that after the race, CART news manager John Procida began the winner’s news conference with the following statement: “Well, we have a very familiar face on the top rung of the podium. As we listed on the prerace press release, this seems to be the Al Unser Invitational.”

Indeed it was. Unser’s victory was his sixth at Long Beach, and the 28th of his career. overall. While it would be his last win there, Unser continued to race at Long Beach through 1998 before missing 1999 with a broken leg and moving to the Indy Racing Leauge in 2000.

In 2009, Unser was inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame, which honors significant contributors to the race and California motorsports community.

“It truly is just an honor to be mentioned with the names and the legends that have already been put into the sidewalk,” Unser said during the induction ceremony. “To have Brian (Redman, the inaugural winner of the race) and Parnelli (Jones) is really an honor and just to be in their company is very, very special.”

Also on this date:

1971: Jacques Villeneuve was born in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Canada. The second-generation driver was one of the best in open-wheel racing during the 1990s, winning the Indianapolis 500 and CART championship in ’95 and becoming a Formula One champion two years later.

1989: Rick Mears dominated CART’s Checker Autoworks 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, leading every lap from the pole and lapping the field.

2011: Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas won the Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park, their sixth consecutive victory in Grand Am competition. Their lengthy win streak, which started on Aug. 7, 2010 at Watkins Glen, prompted Grand Am to offer a $25,000 bounty for any Daytona Prototype team that could beat the dominant duo. The Action Express trio of Joao Barbosa, J.C. France, and Terry Borcheller finally unseated Pruett and Rojas in the series’ next round at Virginia International Raceway.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994