The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Seven months ago it was going to open the 2020 season. A season with a lot of promise and intrigue. Now it will give us the closing laps of the season. It has been quite the season. It seems fitting that with 2020 we both start and end in Florida.
The race became an IRL/INDYCAR event in 2005, and holds the distinction of being IRL’s first non-oval event. Since 2009, the streets of St. Pete have served as the season opener, and what a location! The race is on a street circuit, one of four on the 2019 schedule, that utilizes a lot of waterfront streets. A unique feature of this race is the use of airport runways. The drivers hit Turn 14 and drive down a runway before the strong right hand turn into Turn 1. It has been the site of many exciting moments both in the race and in practice and qualifications. If you have the chance to sit in the Turn 1 stands for practice or qualifications – you should. It’s where some of my most favorite pictures from last year were taken.
Last year my rookie pic in our fantasy league did not disappoint! Within 2-5 laps, Felix Rosenqvist decided to pass Josef Newgarden and challenge Will Power. Rosenqvist is here to tell the series that it’s not fluke, he’s here to get shit done. Rosenqvist made a great challenge on Will Power in Turn 1, a pass and a game of chicken. The Rookie would go on to lead thirty-one laps out of the race. In our interview with Team Sweden of Chip Ganassi Racing, they teased the possibility of a full CGR podium – and may that will happen! Florida was not happy with her local drivers. On Lap 11, Sebastian Bourdais just had his car decide to stop. He, masterfully, pulled the car off into a runoff. The next Floridian in the tracks cross hairs was RHR, Lap 19 and his engine blew. Large trails of smoke covered the front stretch of the track.
This year, well the Firestone Grand Prix Part 1 was when we attempted to get this season started. Of course we all remember the cascade of changes that led to the ultimate cancellation of the race. Now, in some type of cathartic closure providing set up: we’re ending the season in St. Petersburg. For the fifteenth year in a row, the championship will be decided at the last race. It’s a good fight between Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon. Scott holds a thirty-two point lead, but really it’s not a lock in. A perfect race, and getting the pole, provides a driver fifty-five points. So let’s say Josef has a great race, nabs pole, wins, and leads the most laps. Scott has to finish at least eighth or better to still win the championship. Can he do that? Sure. But it has been a weird end of the season for Scott, we’re seeing a more emotional driving style from him.
Aside from the championship, this is the final audition for a few drivers. If Oliver Askew is back in his car – he’ll be auditioning for any team who wants to take him. If he hasn’t been cleared: than Helio Castroneves will be auditioning. James Hinchcliffe will finish our hit three-race stint in Zach Veach’s old car. He’s looking for a ride, though good money is on Andretti Autosport picks him up. Plus this race will feature Scott McLaughlin, he drives for Penske over in Australian SuperCars and is going to be given a one-race trial. He’s been pretty adamant on how he’s been training and practicing for this race. He’ll be one to study and see how he’s doing. Finally, I would recommend watching Lap 1 Turn 1, or any restarts. That straightaway gets surprisingly narrow and a sharp turn. Carnage ensues.
If you’re in person, say “hey”! Also be COVID aware, the track and city are doing a great job by letting us enjoy this race, let’s be mindful of the protocols in place.