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DATE News (chronologically)
04/05/08
irl
Crowds swell at St. Pete after unification
The crowds at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg appear to be bigger than ever, and Tony Kanaan figures it might well have something to do with the unification of the two American open-wheel series under the IRL banner.

There were plenty of open-wheel fans who changed their allegiance to NASCAR or simply lost interest in racing after the IRL IndyCar Series began competing with CART/Champ Car in 1996.

Now that there is one series again, some of those people might be ready to return to the fold.

"This race, I think, from day one was always a success," said Kanaan, who raced in both series and is a former IRL champion. "Obviously, with the merger, we saw how successful was Homestead (last week), and this place just grows."

There were big crowds Friday for the first day of practice, and on Saturday. Kanaan spent some time Friday signing autographs and talking to fans.

"Somebody came in to give me a picture to sign," the Brazilian driver said. "I ran the McDonald's car back in '99. (But) I said, 'That's not me, it's (former Champ Car driver) Justin (Wilson).' And I looked and, actually, it was my hero card from 1999.

"So the guy says to me, 'It's the first time I'm watching your race since the split,' so I think we add some people, which is great. Finally we got everybody together."

Kanaan said he is enjoying the new era, even if it does make things more crowded both on and off the track.

"This event has always been a success and now it's just improving itself with unification," Kanaan said. "The paddock is crowded.

"Before, we would go, 'I'm going to go to the restroom and I'll be right back.' Now you have to think twice before you go because it takes half an hour to go and come back. It's a good problem to have." Canoe.ca

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