The Honda Grand Prix has arrived, consuming the downtown area in a noisy barrage of colorful events.
The three-day schedule, which kicks off today and is expected to attract more than 150,000 people, will include a 5K run, street parties and concerts at Jannus Live. The actual racing features Indy cars, Mazdas, Acuras and other fast cars whipping through a 14-turn, 1.8-mile track on the streets near St. Petersburg's waterfront.
This is the sixth year of the race, which has steadily drawn more fans to watch cars reach upwards of 160 mph. Racers will compete in five different racing series this weekend, with the 24-car Izod IndyCar series being the feature.
The race promoter, Green Savoree Racing Promotions of Indianapolis, would not release ticket sales but city officials say the race has grown steadily since 2005, when 100,000 attended. Sunday's race will reach a worldwide audience when televised live on ABC from 3:30 to 6 p.m.
Residents' biggest complaint is always noise. If you're going downtown, arm yourself with a pair of headphones or ear plugs. Though the cars now come with quieter exhaust systems, it's still going to feel like a raucous rock concert at times. The dull whine can be heard from several miles away.
"A lot of race fans carry ear plugs," said Tip Nunn, spokesperson for the Honda Grand Prix, "but there are also moments on the track of very nice peacefulness."
. Fast facts
Plenty of varied events throughout the weekend
Here's a few things to know about events surrounding the Grand Prix over the next few days:
Star watching: Expect 2009 IndyCar Series champ Dario Franchitti (and perhaps his movie star wife Ashley Judd) to be on hand; Danica Patrick; local racer and 2005 Grand Prix winner Dan Wheldon; and three-time Indianapolis 500 champ (and 2007 Dancing With the Stars winner) Helio Castroneves, who has won the Grand Prix twice.
Don't sleep in: Events start at 8 a.m. today through Sunday, with the big Izod IndyCar Series race at 3:45 p.m. Sunday. See gpstpete.com for a complete schedule.
Tickets: Single-day general admission is $25 today and Saturday, $40 Sunday for adults; $10 and $15 for kids 12 and younger. See gpstpete.com for three-day, reserved seat and VIP prices. Tickets are available online and at the gates at First Avenue S and First Street, and Fifth Avenue S and Second Street. (727) 898-4639.
Parking: There are about 25,000 parking spaces within a mile of the race track. City parking garages will charge $5 a day today, and $10 on Saturday and Sunday. Parking at Tropicana Field costs $10 but a shuttle will be provided from the Trop to the race course. The Looper trolley will offer 25-cent rides during the Grand Prix from 10 a.m. to midnight today and Saturday and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday. A map of the route can be found at stpetetrolley.com.
Entertainment: Today's action starts with a 5K for charity at 9 a.m. at Straub Park, and ends with Get Downtown Fast Friday, a street party that offers music, food and vendors starting at 6 p.m. on Central Avenue, from Second to Third streets. To wrap it all up Sunday, a free Victory Party will be held at Jannus Live, featuring DJ Irie (official DJ for Jamie Foxx) and friends, immediately following the race. Remember, the Saturday Morning Market is canceled this week.