ST. PETERSBURG — Much of the talk entering last season in the IndyCar series surrounded aero kits, the new bodywork that increased downforce but also increased the number of pieces that could break off in a collision.
That helped lead to five caution flags in last year's Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and St. Petersburg resident Brigitte Hoffstetter sued the race and the series after she was struck by a piece of debris that flew off a car, resulting in a depressed skull fracture.
This year aero kits are back with some tweaks. But 2016 figures to be more settled after teams have had a year of development.
"The cars will be a bit faster and I'm sure the lap records will be broken again," two-time St. Petersburg winner Will Power said Thursday. "I think Honda has caught up a lot. They had a lot of areas opened up for them so I'm sure they've capitalized on that."
Honda teams were allowed to alter their aero kits for road and street courses and short ovals. Late last year the series approved the alteration, citing Rule 9.3, which reads in part: "In the event that an aero kit is not competitive … IndyCar may permit, in its sole discretion, approved suppliers to implement modifications."
Power's Team Penske teammate, three-time St. Petersburg winner Helio Castroneves, said, "We have a little more knowledge. It's not completely new. However we (Chevrolets) have an update, mostly in the rear. So it's going to be another step."
Firestone extends: Firestone extended its title sponsorship of the St. Petersburg race through at least 2018.
"We entered into a multi-year agreement with a marquee event," said Lisa Boggs, director of Bridgestone Americas motorsports (Bridgestone owns Firestone). "It's a first-class event."
The series has dates set for the next three years — today through Sunday this year, March 10-12 in 2017 and March 9-11 in 2018, a boost to the race's stability. But Boggs said that wasn't a factor in Firestone extending its deal. The company's deal to supply tires to the series also runs until 2018.
Pointing things out: Scott Dixon won his fourth series title last year — or snatched it from Juan Montoya, depending on one's perspective.
Montoya won the opener in St. Petersburg and led the entire season, until the finale in Sonoma, Calif., which was worth double points (the Indianapolis 500, which Montoya also won, was worth double points as well).
Dixon entered Sonoma third in points, 47 points behind Montoya, but won the race and clinched the title on a tiebreaker when Montoya finished sixth.
"I feel that with the double points, it washes itself out," Dixon said. "Last year we lost the 33 points for qualifying on the pole at Indy (the series scrapped qualifying points after cars had to qualify in race trim for safety concerns). It is what it is, when you start a season you know what the rules are."
Tampa's Tan: The late Dan Wheldon and current driver Sebastien Bourdais are among the IndyCar competitors who have lived in St. Petersburg.
Don't be surprised if the Pro Mazda series' Weiron Tan becomes a long-term local resident, too. The Malaysia native moved to Tampa in the offseason to be close to the Palmetto-based Team Pelfrey. Tan is in an apartment and would eventually like to set up permanent roots here.
"I'm hoping so," said Tan, 21. "I do prefer the warm weather; that's probably one of the biggest reasons why. I can't stand the cold. I just hate it. I really hate it. I like going back for holidays, but to live there? I just can't."
Times staff writer Matt Baker contributed to this report.