St. Petersburg GP Preview
The affable South Florida resident has led 135 laps at St. Petersburg the last two seasons and only two drivers have ever won three consecutive races at the same track, with local Dan Wheldon winning three in a row at Homestead-Miami Speedway (2005-07) and Scott Dixon capturing three in a row at Watkins Glen (2005-07).
While Castroneves may be looking for the hat-trick, St. Petersburg resident Dan Wheldon also has his sights set on a return to his hometown Victory Lane for the first time since 2005. After winning the inaugural Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Wheldon has finished ninth in 2007 and 16th in 2006 and now heads to his home-track fresh from a third-place finish in the season opener.
Round one winner, Brisbane-born Kiwi Scott Dixon, and Australian Ryan Briscoe are also expected to be on the pace, with Dixon especially counting history on his side.
By winning the season opener on the 1.5-mile (2.4km) Homestead-Miami Speedway oval, the Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver just may have put himself in the driver’s seat for the 2008 IndyCar Series championship, with drivers who have won the Homestead opener going on to win the series championship four times, including Dixon as a rookie in 2003.
In addition to that long-term history, Dixon is proving to be the man to beat in the IndyCar Series based on his short-term results - in the 18 races since the start of the 2007 season, the Brisbane-born Kiwi has finished first or second 11 times.
For Briscoe, the chance of a podium finish in his first round of the IndyCar Series as a full-time pilot for Team Penske was snatched away when a spinning Milka Duno saw him taken out of the race on lap 127 after running in the top five for the majority of the race.
Briscoe’s #6 Team Penske Honda/Dallara/Firestone showed obvious pace throughout the entirety of his appearance, and the 26 year old from Sydney is expected to make a good showing on the streets this weekend.
For the nine drivers transitioning into the IndyCar Series, the streets of St. Petersburg should prove to be more comfortable surroundings, a fact Team Australia’s Will Power is sure to be looking forward to with street courses his strongest discipline.
After competing in his IndyCar debut and only his second-ever oval race last weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the 27-year-old is now focusing on a form of racing that is very familiar to the Australian.
The Toowoomba driver has had great success on street circuits to date, with wins on street courses across three continents in various forms of open-wheel racing along with other strong results including two pole positions at his home race - the Gold Coast Indy 300.
Of the nine transitioning drivers, only two had made more than five starts on ovals prior to last weekend’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Of the nine, Oriol Servia recorded the best finish at Homestead-Miami (12th) and along with Bruno Junqueira will head to the Florida street race with prior experience after competing in Champ Car’s inaugural Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in 2003.
While the transitioning teams come to terms with ‘new everything’, for those continuing in the series some off-season changes to their machines will now come into affect, with the two changes introduced by the IndyCar Series more easily seen on street and road circuits than on ovals.
For 2008, all cars were outfitted with a paddle shift system that allows drivers to shift gears without removing their hands from the steering wheel. A variable assist steering system also has been introduced, easing the effort required to turn the steering wheel the farther the wheel is turned.
Following the St. Petersburg race the unified series continues on a schedule that is the most diverse in world motorsports.
The 2008 schedule will take the teams and drivers to short ovals, superspeedways, and road and street courses including the Gold Coast Indy 300 which is regarded as a ‘crown jewel’ in international motorsport.
WHAT THEY HAD TO SAY
"I think every year there's a crop of five, six or seven of us that have a great shot at it. And I think you saw all of us racing at the top.
"It's going to be a tough championship. I think Homestead definitely helps. It puts you off to a great start. It's a tough place to race; not a place I've done particularly well since it changed to the banked oval. I loved it when it was a flat circuit or a flat track.
"For our campaign for 2008, that was exactly what we wanted to do. We wanted to come out of the blocks fast and hard. I don't think we had a car that was enjoyable to drive throughout the race. But we had to fight on. That's how we got to win championships."
"As I keep saying, for a bad day (at Homestead) we still come away with maximum points.
"That's what we've got to do. We've got to hit the start hard and gain as many points as possible, because I think last year that's how we lost it."
Ryan Briscoe - #6 Team Penske Racing Honda/Dallara/Firestone
“Going to St. Petersburg, (I am) a little bit nervous and didn't really at Homestead last week, I was really happy, as it has been 2005 since I raced and won on a mile-and-a-half oval, so I wasn’t really sure how I was going to go, and I have a lot to learn on ovals and so on.
“I was racing with the leaders and keeping in touch, and that's just the first race. We certainly took it pretty conservatively - we didn't go into the race putting downforce level or whatever was going to give us the quickest car out there that would lead laps and so on, but we just wanted to come away with a good, solid result and that's exactly what we were doing.
"We were probably looking at finishing anywhere between I reckon second and fourth or, keeping in touch, you never know what happens with a win but I wasn't really expecting to win at Homestead, and at the worst, very worst was going to look like fifth, which would have been great for starting off a championship.
"I expect as I get more experience to get better on the ovals as the season goes on. The big goal of mine this year is to get the race win on an oval. That will be huge.
“(Team Penske) is going great. (I raced for) Penske for the ALMS program (last year), (and) I've got to know everyone, and I actually got to know a lot of the IndyCar guys, and especially my mechanic, Tom German. We got to know each other really well last year already spending time away from the circuit.
“I was coming into a group of people where I'm already feeling pretty comfortable and our working relationship has been spot on. I'm really happy, and we're understanding each other really well, and it's just perfect.”
Will Power - #8 Team Australia - Aussie Vineyards Honda/Dallara/Firestone
“It has a similar feel to my home race in Surfers Paradise because the track is right next to the water and there are some really challenging sections.
“I’m really looking forward to getting on a street circuit in the Aussie Vineyards – Team Australia car. Both my wins last season came on street circuits and I’ve always loved racing on street circuits right from the start of my career.
“We are still going to be behind the existing IndyCar teams but coming to a street circuit certainly closes the gap. After this weekend we will have a much clearer indication of where we are at compared to the other teams and in what areas we need to concentrate our development.
“I had a lot of fun running the oval for what feels like a whole week at Homestead and the team and I learned a huge amount. I will definitely feel a little bit more at home on the street circuit at St Pete this weekend and I can’t wait to get out there and hopefully challenge for a strong result.”
ENTRY LIST - IndyCar® Series - Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg At Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.
Car - Driver - Entrant
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