With veteran Bourdais and rookie Jones signed before the end of last year, the Dale Coyne-led team was able to focus entirely on preparations for the upcoming season, completing successful road course and oval testing in the lead-up to this week's March 10th to 12th event.
While the team is eager to start its 2017 campaign, and see its off-season work come to fruition, it enters the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg with humble expectations as it takes on what is known to be a highly competitive field.
Bourdais has a best finish of sixth in six starts on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street course and looks to improve on that result aboard his #18 Sonny's BBQ Honda powered machine. The Frenchman who calls St. Petersburg home scored his first ever North American open-wheel pole position on the street circuit in 2003.
Rookie Jones also has fond memories of the St. Petersburg track. The reigning Indy Lights Champion won in his American racing debut at the street circuit in 2015, picking up a couple of wins in the doubleheader weekend, starting from pole position for both races.
The Dale Coyne Racing drivers will get to rediscover the newly repaved race track when action gets underway on Friday, March 10 at 11:15am ET. Qualifying for the first race of the season will take place on Saturday, March 11 at 2:55pm ET with the 110-lap race going green on Sunday, March 12 at 12:30pm ET.
The race will be broadcast live on ABC starting at Noon ET on Sunday, March 12. Live streaming of both Friday practice sessions will be available online at racecontrol.indycar.com with live timing and scoring available for all sessions.
What they have to say:
Sebastien Bourdais – #18 Sonny's BBQ Honda
We're very excited to get the season started. Thanks to Dale we've put together a good group of people and it's been going well so far between the engineers and the technical team. It's always hard to know exactly where you stand going into the first race of the season, but I really think we have the potential to do well and everyone is anxious to see what we're going to do. That's exciting, and a little stressful all at the same time because it puts pressure on everybody. On the other hand, I think it's a positive kind of pressure because it also means that some people are expecting us to maybe cause an upset. But that's what we're here for, and going up against the big teams is what makes it an interesting challenge. I think everyone is going to rediscover the St. Pete track because it's been completely repaved, even the runway. I drove on the first version of the track back in 2003 and I've seen its degradation through the years as it got bumpier and bumpier. They've only resurfaced it, so it will likely still have some bumps but it is a new surface so it should be much easier on the tires. It will be interesting to see how that changes things. It will be up to us to adapt to it as quickly as possible to get the best performance out of the car. I always enjoy racing in St. Pete. It's a home race for me and it's always nice to race in front of family and friends.
Ed Jones – #19 Boy Scouts of America
It's great to finally be so close to the race now. Preseason testing has gone pretty well. I feel very comfortable in the car, even though I haven't had that much time. I've worked well with the team and got along with everyone. I think they've taken massive steps forward from where they were last year and I'm really looking forward to getting going. St. Pete is a track I've done well on in the past, so it's a nice place to start again. I can't wait to see what we can do. For the first race, it's so hard to know where you stand against the competition because there are so many variables with what people are doing. It's hard to know until you get to that first qualifying session. With that in mind, for the race, it's better to not have clear expectations for myself because you never know where you are going to be. I think after St. Pete we'll have a better idea of where we are and know what to improve on and what to expect and what to aim for. St. Petersburg is a great track. I've always loved street circuits. It's where I made my debut in American racing and it was a perfect debut, so I have good memories there. The track itself is quite technical, it has a good variation of different corners. The infield is very technical and quite tight and then it opens a bit towards the main straightaway. It's also nice to have the track right next to water. Every year I've been there it's been amazing with a lot of fans there. It's a very good place to start the season off.