St. Petersburg GP: Friday Notebook

The IZOD IndyCar Series will compete in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, a 100-lap race at 12:30 p.m. Sunday. The Firestone Indy Lights series will compete in the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, a 45-lap race at 10:30 a.m. Sunday. The Star Mazda Championship and USF2000 National Championship – part of the Mazda Road the Indy ladder system – are also racing this weekend. Star Mazda will race at 4:10 p.m. Saturday. USF2000 will compete at 5:20 p.m. Saturday and 3:30 p.m. Sunday.


Drivers will have 240 seconds total of the Honda overtake assist at their disposal during the 100-lap Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday. Each press will have a horsepower boost for 12 seconds, with a 10-second recharge period between presses built into the ECU.


ABC will broadcast the first of its five IZOD IndyCar Series races this weekend. Marty Reid and Scott Goodyear will be the announcers.

ABC's schedule also includes the Indianapolis 500 on May 30, marking the 46th consecutive year that "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" will air on ABC, as well as events at The Milwaukee Mile, New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Reporting from the pits will be Rick DeBruhl, Jamie Little and Vince Welch. For the Indianapolis 500, former race winner Eddie Cheever will be an analyst with Reid and Goodyear in the booth for the third year. Jerry Punch returns to Indy as a fourth pit reporter. Brent Musburger will host the Indy telecast.


Happy birthday: Andretti Autosport driver Danica Patrick celebrates her 29th birthday March 25 (today). She has been running at the finish in 33 consecutive IZOD IndyCar Series races. She broke the series record at Infineon Raceway in 2010.


Bourdais returns to adopted hometown: Sebastien Bourdais will drive the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America car for Dale Coyne Racing on road and street courses this season, starting with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Bourdais lived in St. Petersburg while competing in Champ Car from 2003-07, and he led the first lap of the 2003 race on the St. Pete circuit.

"My hometown is Le Mans (France), and to win there is very important to me," said Bourdais, who won four consecutive Champ Car titles. "But winning here in the States is equally as important, and I want to thank Dale for the impressive effort he is putting forth in what is a very competitive series."

For the second consecutive year, the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America car will represent the more than 4 million members of the world's largest youth organization.


Race day tour: Helio Castroneves and Team Penske will host a group of about 40 local underprivileged children on race day as part of Shell's "Fuel for Success" program.

Castroneves will meet with the "Castroneves Crew" and take them on a tour of the Team Penske garage at 9:30 a.m. The No. 3 Guidepoint Systems car will also carry a Castroneves Crew logo this weekend, honoring the names of three police officers that recently were killed in the line of duty.


New tire spec for street circuit: Firestone Racing has new specifications for both its primary and alternate tires for the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. That's coupled with the new IZOD IndyCar Series rule of only one set of tires per segment of road/street course qualifications.

The primary Firehawks consist of the same tire construction as the 2010 St. Pete primes, paired with an improved tread compound formula.

The alternate tire program, part of the IZOD IndyCar Series since 2009, has a spec with the same construction as the primary but with a softer tread compound that provides more grip and faster lap times, yet trades off compound durability in exchange for those shorter-term advantages. Firestone's alternate tires are easily identified by the red sidewalls.

Teams are free to use their tire allotment (six sets of primaries and three sets of alternates per entry) as they see fit, though the new rule limits cars to one set of tires (team choice of primary or alternate) for each of the three segments. Also, per series regulations, all cars must use at least one set of primary tires and one new alternate set during the race, each for a minimum of two green flag laps.


Parameters are updated before each race weekend to meet the circuit layout.

For the 1.8-mile street course, 20 uses of 12 seconds each will be available. There is a 10-second recharge period between uses. One overtake assist push is available for the warm-up session on race morning.


Older but wiser: Johnny O'Connell glanced to his left and right and laughed.

"I was racing before some of their parents met," the SCCA World Challenge GT driver said during the welcome luncheon for the race weekend.

The eight-time Sebring 12 Hour class winner was referring to 16-year-old Zach Veach and 17-year-old Spencer Pigot — USF2000 drivers who shared the stage at the Vinoy Golf Club.


McIntosh can walk to work: USF2000 driver Shannon McIntosh recently relocated to St. Petersburg and lives about a mile from the circuit. She plans to walk to it one day, just so she can say she did it. "It's going to be the racing capital of the world," she said of the weekend event.


New rides for the Wilsons: Justin Wilson and Stefan Wilson have will ride AeroCat bicycles as part of their fitness training and support AeroCat in a number of initiatives to promote the company's high-performance bike lines.

"Cycling is a big part of my life and I can't wait to get some miles on my new R509," said Justin Wilson, driver of the No. 22 entry for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. "There are some clear synergies between what AeroCat does and the world of IndyCar racing. We all share the same design and performance values and we all use a lot of carbon fiber. Stefan and I are both looking forward to working with AeroCat and promoting their brand."


Yacaman could clean up: Gustavo Yacaman was the only Firestone Indy Lights driver to remember his driving shoes for media photos on set-up day in St. Pete. Consequently, others borrowed his shoes for the shoot.

Charging rent crossed his mind. "I'm driving the remainder of the season on them," he said.


Saavedra makes first non-oval start: Conquest Racing kicks off its 10th year in Indy car racing and 15th overall (five years in Indy Lights) with rookie Sebastian Saavedra, who will be making his third IZOD IndyCar Series start but his first on a street course. He competed in three Firestone Indy Lights races on the circuit, with a best finish of second in 2009.

"We had a good test a few weeks ago at Sebring and again at Barber so I'm confident going into the first race of the season," Saavedra said. "I don't want to create expectations for myself because the level of competition in the series is very high and I know it won't be easy. I just have to focus on myself and soak up as much experience as possible, all while doing the best I can."


Markers and milestones: With a victory this season, Helio Castroneves will extend his streak of consecutive seasons with a win to 12 consecutive seasons. Castroneves needs four earned poles to reach 40 in his Indy car career. With one earned pole, Castroneves will extend his IZOD IndyCar Series record of consecutive seasons with a pole to 10.

With his next victory, Dario Franchitti will tie Johnny Rutherford for 10th on the all-time Indy car list with 27. He needs one earned pole to reach 25 in his Indy car career.

Tony Kanaan will attempt to make his 132nd consecutive start, the active leader among IZOD IndyCar Series drivers. Scott Sharp holds the series record with 138. Jimmy Vasser holds the all-time record of 211.


Selected quotes from Danica Patrick availability:

About her expectations in INDYCAR each week:

"Well I think that there's also a time in the IndyCar Series, too, to have expectation levels so that I find myself in a good mood all weekend. I think for me, going to oval races that is definitely the goal [to run up front and win] and it's definitely the goal on road course, as well."

About her strategy to achieve her expectations

"There are so many good drivers that I think once you get into the top tiers of speed, anything can happen. But it's hard to get there, so for me the goal will be getting out of the first round of qualifying and getting into the top 12. I think that should be a goal for this weekend for me and then to just let the race run."

About her past results at St. Petersburg:

"I mean, I've never really been fast here, unfortunately, but I've had OK results, 6th or 7th , so it's not like my results have been awful. It's just seeing what comes to me in the race.

About how to better her results here and make it to the head of the pack

"It's always been a track position kind of a series on road courses because it's difficult to pass. Perhaps with the new rules like they are and the double-file restarts, that maybe some things will be different and maybe there will be some opportunities to make more passing happen, which would be great. That's the reason why I think it's a good decision to do that."


The top 11 laps of the day all were turned in the second session. Twenty-three drivers turned their best lap in the second session.


Dan Wheldon and Bryan Herta were teammates at then-Andretti Green Racing from 2003-2005. In May, Wheldon and Herta will be reunited in an effort to win the 100th anniversary running of the Indianapolis 500 in a Bryan Herta Autosport-prepared car.

"It goes without saying that Dan knows his way around the Speedway," said Herta, co-owner of the team with longtime race engineer Steve Newey. "He has achieved a tremendous amount of success there and all of us have high expectations going into the month of May. As a former teammate of Dan's, I appreciate what he brings to the table with his professionalism, determination and attitude. I couldn't be more excited. We have a strong and experienced team in place and our goal is to give Dan everything he needs to capture his second 500 win."

Wheldon became the first Englishman since Graham Hill in 1966 to stand in Victory Circle at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and he's followed with runner-up finishes in 2009 and 2010 with Panther Racing. Overall, he's had five top-five finishes in eight starts. Herta, who turns 41 on May 23, made five starts in the '500' with three top-10 finishes.

"I'm really excited to be joining Bryan Herta Autosport for the centennial running of the Indianapolis 500 and I'm excited to announce this news in my hometown of St. Pete," said Wheldon, 32, who on March 19 celebrated the birth of his second son, Oliver. "Bryan has been a friend – and a teammate – for a long time now and because of that I have the utmost confidence in him and his team to provide me with the tools to win my second Indy 500."

Wheldon has amassed 15 victories, 42 podiums and 61 top-five results in 131 IZOD IndyCar Series starts, and has been the championship runner-up twice (2004,'06) in addition to his '05 title.

"Going into the month of May, I think we stand in a very good position," Wheldon added. "At this point, I won't be a full-time IndyCar participant this season, but I don't think we will be at a disadvantage having not raced in the first four races of the season because they are not on ovals; they are running on road and street courses. We will have plenty of preparation time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and paired with the fact that Honda always supplies us with reliable engines, I think we'll be able to hit the ground running. I'm really excited about this opportunity and can't wait to get to Indy."

Bryan Herta Autosport will announce details of the program in April.


A refueling safety interlock system designed to reduce the potential for pit fires was unveiled before the first IZOD IndyCar Series practice by American Honda and its Honda Performance Development subsidiary.

The system, the first in open-wheel racing, includes a fuel-probe sensor and corresponding electronics in the Engine Control Unit and Gearbox Control Unit. The system prevents first gear from being engaged in the paddle shift system while the refueling hose is still attached to the car in the pit lane.

Dallara Automobili has included the system into the IndyCar Safety Cell it is designing and producing for the start of the 2012 season. Crews and drivers tested it during the Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park last week.

"Every year, as a result of human error or mechanical malfunction, there are instances of drivers leaving their pit boxes while the refueling hose is still attached to the car," said Roger Griffiths, HPD's technical director. "All of these incidents create the potential for a fire in the pits and injuries to the driver, crew members, or others in the pit lane area.

"It was just such an incident – one that resulted in serious injuries during an American Le Mans Series race in 2008 – that led to the development of this system. "

When the sensor detects a connection between the pit lane refueling nozzle and the buckeye, software in the ECU signals the GCU to hold the transmission in neutral and prevents the driver from leaving before the refueling hose is detached from the car.


In response to the recent events in Japan, IZOD IndyCar Series driver Takuma Sato has launched a direct support campaign entitled "With you Japan" to help the victims of this tragedy.

"With you Japan" will engage in a number of fundraising events over the coming weeks and months starting with a joint initiative involving all the IndyCar drivers. At the season's first race, the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, March 27, drivers have agreed to donate a pair of race gloves for auction. Gloves were chosen because they symbolize the hands of friendship between the USA and Japan.

Ultimately, this support scheme will directly benefit children affected by the disaster some of whom now face rebuilding their lives from scratch having lost their family, friends and home. For them, the amount of care, counseling and love they will need cannot be imagined.

Gathering his fellow IndyCar drivers in St Petersburg, Takuma will take possession of the donated gloves and thank everyone for their support.

Additionally at the St Petersburg race, Takuma will carry the "With you Japan" campaign message logo on his KV-Lotus race car and helmet, and has asked other drivers to do the same where possible.

"It is just so devastating and heartbreaking what has happened," Sato said. "Japan is suffering. People there are suffering so much. Children are going through a terrifying situation. I am personally supporting a few campaigns but since I am competing in the IndyCar series, I want to do something to support Japan from America. Now is the time that we need to walk and support hand in hand. This "With you Japan" campaign is going to do several projects and hopefully make a difference."

Leave a Reply