Overheard in St. Petersburg – Sunday

The Penske cars get over the St. Petersburg bumps the best. None of their drivers want the track repaved.
The Penske cars get over the St. Petersburg bumps the best. None of their drivers want the track repaved.

Rumor has it that a good portion of the St. Petersburg street circuit will be repaved before next year’s race, which will be a welcome relief to drivers.

"Every street circuit has bumps, it's their characteristic," Helio Castroneves told racer.com. "Don't spend the money to repave this place, please leave it alone."

Simon Pagenaud agreed. "Bumps make it more difficult but that's the essence of racing, it's supposed to be difficult, so I hope they leave it alone."

Added Juan Montoya: "It's bumpy, so what? That's racing."

Ryan Hunter-Reay had a little different view. He told Racer, "Of course Team Penske loves it, why wouldn't they? I say repave it."

It's all in the shocks. When asked why the Penske cars are so good Simon Pagenaud said "It's all in the shocks. We [Penske Team] make our own shocks and they are the best."

Spotted NHRA superstar John Force making the rounds in St. Petersburg and hanging out in the Rahal hospitality area. His daughter Courtney is of course married to Graham Rahal. Will NHRA stars Force and Don Prudhomme (who is also here) get together to field an Indy 500 effort? Don't hold your breadth.

We asked Chip Ganassi if Ford approached him about switching to Ford in NASCAR given his relationship with Ford in sportscars. He said “we’ll always talking to everyone, but for now we are happy where we’re at."

The ABC and NBCSN TV deals with IndyCar expire after the 2018 season. Soon IndyCar will put out feelers for who will be interested in bidding on the TV contract. This contract will be the most important contract IndyCar has ever signed since the two series (IRL and Champ Car) came together. It is imperative that IndyCar meet two key goals – 1) Sign a deal that will ensure they get a minimum average TV Rating per race of 1.0 and 2) Get a TV partner that will be a true partner so the two sides can grow the sport together.

The European journalists we told you were brought in by ABC are learning a lot about IndyCar. They all got a 2-seater ride this morning and most will be back for the Indy 500.

Our condolences to James Hinchcliffe who has broken up with his stunning girlfriend Kirsten Dee, a model from Australia. We hear she has moved back to her home country.

James Davison could again have a busy month of May ahead, as he’s targeted a return to the Indianapolis 500 (we rumored this earlier in the weekend) alongside his full-season Pirelli World Challenge commitments with Always Evolving and Nissan.

The 29-year-old Australian, who is in his second season in PWC, revealed that he could end up doing the Indy 500, Lime Rock Park double, with the PWC round in Connecticut occurring on the same weekend this year.

This year’s Indy 500 bid would be made even more difficult for Davison, who would not only again miss qualifying weekend due to the Mosport round but also Carb Day, due to the Lime Rock event, which runs on Friday and Saturday.

Gerald McCoy and Dixon
Gerald McCoy and Dixon

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive lineman Gerald McCoy served as the grand marshal for today’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The four-time Pro Bowler and team captain met four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon in the Chip Ganassi Racing garage in the paddock for a jersey exchange. He also met with team owner Roger Penske for an exchange on the grid.

“When they asked me to be grand marshal, I said, ‘Sure I can do that,’" McCoy said. “Now that I’m here, I’m like, ‘They picked me to do this?’ It’s an honor to be here and a lot of fun."

McCoy got an up close look at the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet before signing his jersey to Dixon.

“It’s fun to meet these guys, especially football players, and talk about their training and what they do, their seasons and what they do in the offseason," Dixon said. “You can tell they have a great work ethic and love their jobs. It’s very similar to (Verizon IndyCar Series drivers)

From left, David Rutherford, Kyla Kyle and Brabham
From left, David Rutherford, Taya Kyle and Matt Brabham

PIRTEK Team Murray and the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation have created a unique program that will see six military service veterans and first responders from across North America form a pit crew for this year’s TAG Heuer Pit Stop Competition during Miller Lite Carb Day, in conjunction with the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

The announcement was made today at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg by team owner Brett Murray, along with Taya Kyle, the widow of “American Sniper" Chris Kyle and executive director of the foundation.

The first crew member named was David Rutherford, a former Navy SEAL from Boca Raton, Fla., now serving as a motivational speaker.

“We’ll be using plenty of SEAL Team thinking come the TAG Heuer Pit Stop Competition on May 27 and I think that, with the team we are putting together with Warner Bros. Home Entertainment and the support of the military community on that Memorial Day weekend, we can be unstoppable," Rutherford said.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment worked with Team Murray and the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation to create the concept. WBHE will use the pit crew program to launch “American Sniper: The Chris Kyle Commemorative Edition" on Blu-ray on May 3.

Rookie driver Matt Brabham will drive the No. 61 PIRTEK Team Murray Chevrolet in the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 14 and the 100th Indianapolis 500 on May 29. The honorary pit crew, called the CK Crew, will participate as the team’s entry in the pit stop competition May 27 and serve as backups for the regular crew on Indy 500 race day.

The pit crew will be housed in Indianapolis for 10 days leading up to the event and be trained and coached by some of the sport’s leading fitness and movement professionals, including Pit Fit’s Jim Leo. Additional crew members will be named soon.

“I am sure the six members of the CK Crew and their partners will have an experience they will never forget, but also the hundreds of other worthy recipients we intend to involve around the country," Taya Kyle said. “It is a great chance for supporters of the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation, our military and first responders to get involved as a donor to the CK Crew.

“Not only will they have an awesome experience right across the Indy 500 weekend, their donations will allows us to assist many families that have done so much to support and serve our country over many years.

Ryan Tannehill with Mario Andretti
Ryan Tannehill with Mario Andretti. Tannehill and Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay became friends – both live in the Fort Lauderdale area

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill became friends with Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay through their wives since both families are South Florida residents. The racing Ryan invited the pigskin-throwing Ryan to the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, allowing Tannehill a chance to ride on the Honda Fastest Seat in Sports two-seater with Indy car legend Mario Andretti at the wheel to pace the field before the race.

“It’s a unique experience," Tannehill said prior to climbing into the passenger seat. “You can’t really grasp how cool it is until you’re part of it. To be with a legend like Mario and his career that he had, being able to go around the track at speed, it’s a unique experience and I’m really looking forward to it."

Tannehill spent race eve meeting with Hunter-Reay and his crew. It gave the quarterback a new appreciation of the teamwork involved, just as in football.

“We were at the truck last night and I met his engineers and his mechanics," Tannehill said. “Just the work that these guys put in getting the car ready to go and perform at peak performance, you don’t realize how much goes into it. I can appreciate that from my aspect.

“Most people don’t realize how much work that football players put in, so definitely a lot of parallels (between football and racing) and you can see the hard work pay off."

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