What: Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
Where: Albert Whitted Airport Circuit, St. Petersburg, Florida
When: 12:30pm EDT on Sunday, March 24 (TV: NBC Sports Network)
Who: Helio Castroneves, defending race champion, looks to defend his race title on the Streets of St. Pete against 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series Champion Ryan-Hunter Reay, four-time series champ Dario Franchitti, perrenial road and street course ace Will Power and the rest of the IZOD IndyCar Series field.
Ryan Hunter-Reay begins his title defense on a very hit-or-miss track. Even though he finished on the podium here in 2012, this track hasn’t been terribly kind to him in the past. Can he overcome past technical gremlins and poor strategy to break through with a win?
Will Power leaves the Barber Preseason Test on top of the speed charts, but will that translate into speed on the airport circuit? Power has never finished outside the Top 10 at this circuit. In 5 starts at St. Pete, Power has three consecutive poles heading into this year’s race, with a lowest starting position of 6th.
Dario Franchitti comes off what most drivers would consider a successful season, but 8th Place overall just doesn’t cut it for Dario. He traditionally runs well at St. Pete, but can Franchitti use this race as a springboard for a fifth series title and a fourth Indy 500 win?
As a previous winner on this circuit, Graham Rahal has to be considered a real contender here. In his first full season as the lead driver on his father’s team, can Graham lead Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan racing back to the promised land and fulfill his own potential?
Sam Schmidt has put together an impressive team with the proven Simon Pagenaud at the wheel of the #77 and adding Tristan Vautier in the #55. This dynamic duo proved blazingly quick at Sebring. Will their speed on the bumpy Sebring Circuit translate to success at St. Pete?
Gone are the delays and lockout timers on Push-To-Pass this season. How will drivers use this tool since theoretically, one could save all their boost for the final lap and blow it all at once. Drivers are most excited about the delay being gone, so when you push the button is when the boost occurs.
How will Firestone’s new tire compound perform at St. Pete? In testing at Barber, the new tires proved to be like glue, providing a ton of grip on track and lap times almost four seconds faster than the previous year. Is the St. Pete track record going down as well?
Has Honda improved their engine in Preseason Testing? Chevy has been generally faster in testing and was also faster on the early season tracks. Honda suffered some very real problems with reliability last season, probably costing Scott Dixon a series title. Dixon said they worked through the technical problems in the offseason, inspecting every part on the car. Have they improved, or will the tech issues still be there?
Last year we saw a very conservative race at St. Pete with everyone learning new cars and engines. The teams all have a year with the new pieces and a full offseason of development. The engine manufacturers have been allowed to rehomologate their engines. Will we see a more exciting race this year?
By The Numbers
3- Not only is this Helio Castroneves’ number, it’s how many times he’s won this race. Helio is the only multiple time winner of this event.
3-It’s also how many consecutive Pole Positions Will Power has taken here.
10-That’s how many additional laps have been added to this year’s event. IndyCar is trying to alter strategy and reduce fuel milage races.
37-Laps led by Scott Dixon in this event last season; all in a losing effort.
13-Positions gained by Charlie Kimball here last year; most positions gained in the event.
6-Chevrolet cars in the Top 10 here last year.
72-The lap number in which Helio Castroneves pulled off an unreal pass on Scott Dixon to eventually win the race.
6-Total different leaders during last year’s event (Castroneves, Dixon, Franchitti, Sato, Hildebrand, Power)
5-The lap on which Will Power set the fastest lap at 1:02.7575