Indy Cars Ready to Roar in St. Pete
by Carl Wagenfohr
Brazilian Bruno Junquiera practicing in his new IRL car on the Sebring road course last month
St. Petersburg - Motor racing is perhaps the most unpredictable sport, but the uncertainties surrounding this year's St. Petersburg Grand Prix promise to be more compelling than in years past.
This weekend, open wheel racing fans will witness the first street circuit race involving former Champ Car World Series teams competing in the recently-unified Indy Racing League. Nine drivers representing 5 former Champ Car teams will join the field of twenty established IRL drivers, swelling the starting grid to 29 cars, up from last year's 18.
Last weekend's IRL race at the Homestead/Miami proved that the established IRL teams experience on oval tracks will be hard to beat. And while the St. Pete circuit will be new to most of the former Champ Car drivers, the street course is expected to level the playing field for those new to the IRL, who raced exclusively on street and road circuits for the last several years.
But one of the former Champ Car drivers knows the St Pete circuit quite well. Bruno Junquiera, now with Dale Coyne Racing, drove the first ever lap of the St Pete circuit in 2003 when he was with Newman Haas Racing, and he placed third in the race.
Junquiera recalled the 2003 event during a recent practice session at Sebring. "I loved to race there. It was a nice track, a nice crowd, and it's close to my home in Miami," he said. But he was cautious about predicting a good result; "It's asking too much for the first race that we're going to do on a road course, but I know the track and testing has been promising, so you never know," Junquiera said.
While the headline race this weekend event will be the IRL race on Sunday, the on-track activity will include races by the Indy Lights open wheel development series and the American LeMans Series (ALMS) sports cars.
Tickets will be available during the event weekend at Gate #1 (1st Ave S & 1st St) and Gate #5 (5th Ave S & 2nd St). The best seating is in Grandstand 10, where you can see the main straight, turns 1 and 2 where most of the passing occurs, and the pit exit. A large screen TV showing the action on the rest of the track faces the grandstand.
Friday's activities include practice for all 3 events and qualifying for Indy Lights and ALMS.
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