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Grand Prix of St. Petersburg gets Indy Racing League opening race

The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will replace Homestead-Miami Speedway as host of the Indy Racing League's season opener when the 2009 IndyCar schedule is officially released today. The race will be April 5 through downtown streets.

"We've got to do something special," Grand Prix general manager Tim Ramsberger said when told of the change. "(Promoter International Speedway Corp.) makes Daytona a huge blowout (to begin the NASCAR season), right? We should do that."

Ramsberger envisions concerts and beer gardens at Progress Energy Park, which was vacated as a spring training home by the Rays, and said he looked forward to trying to keep the opener here long term.

That will be difficult now that the IRL is able to sort through venues left dormant after rival Champ Car's demise.

"We made the first right turn. Why can't we stay the first race?" he said.

St. Petersburg's ascension as a market is a function not only of its amenable spring weather, but its profile within the IRL. The race debuted in 2005 as the IRL's first non-oval event, a gutsy initiative to help determine if the series could venture into the street- and road-racing realm that had been the dominion of rival Champ Car.

It worked. The series will contest at least six non-oval events this season, and Champ Car has since gone out of business, with several of its teams and markets now with the IRL.

League founder Tony George said last spring during the Grand Prix's fourth installment that though he considered the event one of the best on his schedule, it might not work well as an opener.

The difficulty of establishing a late-March toehold in the Miami area, where several IRL drivers reside, prompted a move. Homestead will remain on the 2009 schedule, however. The IRL's desire to end the season at a domestic destination that could host its year-end gala makes it a logical choice in October.

NASCAr apologizes: NASCAR apologized for the tire fiasco that ruined its race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and vowed to avoid a repeat. A durability issue with the tires Goodyear brought to Indy forced NASCAR to call cautions every 10 to 12 laps on Sunday to slow the action and force teams to change their tires before they failed. "I can't say enough how sorry we, are and it's our responsibility being NASCAR that we don't go through this situation again," said Robin Pemberton, vice president of competition. The tire compound Goodyear selected was not strong enough when combined with NASCAR's current, heavier car.

Petty to try out drivers: Petty Enterprises will use three different drivers in the No. 45 Dodge over the next three races. Chad McCumbee will try to qualify the car this weekend at Pocono Raceway. Kyle Petty will try to qualify the car the next week at Watkins Glen, and Terry Labonte will drive it at Michigan.

Information from Times wires was used in this report.

Grand Prix of St. Petersburg gets Indy Racing League opening race 07/29/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 29, 2008 10:29pm]
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