St. Petersburg Preview

The long IndyCar offseason is finally over! If this year’s offseason seemed like it was longer, you’re not imagining things. The 2022-23 offseason was three weeks longer than last year’s offseason. No wonder we have all been going stir-crazy.

The start of the season for the NTT IndyCar Series is always one of the two most anticipated dates on any IndyCar fan’s calendar. The Month of May and the Indianapolis 500 is the other. With the added three weeks to this offseason, it seems like everyone is more excited than ever to get this season off the ground with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Susan and I attended last year’s season-opening race at St. Petersburg. In fact, we’ve attended two of the past four races there – but we won’t be there this year. This is not due to any of Susan’s health concerns; it’s more time and budget related. We have a full in-person racing schedule planned for this season, which I’ll discuss in detail sometime in the next week or so. This season, we will take in the season-opener from the comfort of our den. The weekend forecast for the St. Petersburg area calls for temps in the low-80s. It will be much cooler in Nashville, as the forecast predicts things probably won’t break out of the 50s here.

But that’s not to say we won’t be back. We thoroughly enjoyed our two trips to this race. Warm sunny weather and fresh seafood are a nice accompaniment to the first time we’ve seen race cars on-track. If you can ever swing a trip to this event, I would highly recommend it. Everyone present seems to be in a constant good mood all weekend.

The 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit offers drivers challenging turns along with several passing opportunities; while offering fans a very scenic circuit – made even more scenic by the presence of race cars. The main straightaway is actually Runway 25 of the Albert Whitted Airport, so you know it is very wide (and a bit bumpy). It runs almost the entire length of the runway before it funnels into Turn One, a taxiway quickly leads to Dali Boulevard, then onto First Avenue and into downtown St. Petersburg. The circuit runs north and crosses through a wooded park, and over to Bay Shore Drive, which overlooks scenic Tampa Bay. They go south on Bay Shore Drive, past lots of yachts on driver’s left and the Dali Museum on driver’s right, before meandering back to the airport runway.

Not counting CART’s one appearance in 2003 (a race won by Paul Tracy), this race has been run continuously by IndyCar since 2005, and has served as the season-opener for thirteen seasons. Personally, I think it should always kick the season off, but sometimes a warmer weather site may take precedence – like São Paulo did one year. In the COVID year of 2020, the course was set up and all of the teams were ready to go, when the race was postponed just a couple of hours before the first practice. Ultimately, the first race that season wasn’t run until Texas in June. Anything short of a pandemic, St. Petersburg should always be the season-opener.

Last year, Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin began what turned out to be his breakout season, by winning the pole and the race at St. Petersburg. This was the first of three race wins for McLaughlin last year.

Team Penske swept the front row at St. Petersburg last year with McLaughlin and Will Power. In the race, Ganassi’s Alex Palou ended up in second-place, between McLaughlin and Power. Josef Newgarden was the one Penske driver who was seemingly out to lunch most of the weekend. He ended up qualifying ninth and finished a forgettable sixteenth.

St. Petersburg has been the playground for Team Penske. Of the eighteen IndyCar races run at St. Petersburg, Team Penske has won eleven of them – including six of the last ten. Andretti Autosport has won three of those eighteen races, including 2021 with Colton Herta; and two of the last ten. The other two from the last decade? Dale Coyne Racing.

Curiously missing from the winners over the last decade is Chip Ganassi Racing. In fact, Chip Ganassi Racing has only won once at St. Petersburg – in 2011 with Dario Franchitti. Strangely enough, Scott Dixon has never won at St. Petersburg in eighteen tries. It’s an odd stat that Dale Coyne has twice as many wins at St. Petersburg as Chip Ganassi.

Since the NTT IndyCar Series started racing at St. Petersburg in 2005, the winner has only gone on to win the championship – 2005, when Dan Wheldon won; 2014 with Will Power and 2019 with Josef Newgarden. So this is not an indicator for the championship. With it being the season-opener again this season, there will be a lot of racing left after this weekend.

Practice One for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will begin this afternoon at 3:00 pm EST and will be available for viewing exclusively on Peacock. Practice Two will roll off at 10:00 am EST on Peacock. Qualifying will be shown live on Peacock on Saturday afternoon at 2:15 pm EST. Sunday’s morning warm-up will be shown live on Peacock at 9:00 am EST. Race coverage will be shown on Big NBC and Peacock beginning at Noon EST. All practice sessions and race coverage will also be carried on IndyCar Radio.

So now it’s time for me to get someone’s season off to a rocky start – by me predicting them to win. If you’ve followed this site long enough, you know that over fourteen seasons – I’ve predicted the winner of every race since May of 2009. In that time, I have probably been right less than ten times. That’s a span of exactly 230 races. Being very generous to myself, I’ll estimate that I’ve correctly predicted ten winners. That’s a winning percentage of only 4.35%. Do not place any money on what I say. Usually my predicting a driver means they find the wall fairly early in the race.

So whose race will I ruin to start the season off? A Chip Ganassi driver will win on Sunday, but it won’t be Scott Dixon. If you read my season prediction on Wednesday, you’ll recall that I predicted this driver to fade down the stretch this season. But early on, I think he’ll be strong. That’s why I am predicting Alex Palou to win Sunday’s season-opening race at St. Petersburg. We’ll see.

The offseason is over. The 2023 IndyCar season is finally here!

George Phillips

4 Responses to “St. Petersburg Preview”

  1. No comments yet?
    too bad I won’t be down there again

  2. billytheskink Says:

    It’s been too long. Fire the engines!

  3. Yannick Says:

    Here’s wishing everybody a safe and interesting racing season.

  4. OliverW Says:

    I used to be a trader covered by a number of brokers. One in particular was very useful. Whatever I decided to do my final check was to ask him his view. He always read the market incorrectly so was a brilliant help!

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