Grand Prix of St. Petersburg journal: IndyCar drivers liking smooth ride

Published March 11 2017

ST. PETERSBURG — Repaved downtown streets intended to smooth your drive could make a big difference in Sunday's Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

About 80 percent of the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street course for the IndyCar season opener has been repaved, including the front straightaway on the Albert Whitted Airport's runway, Turns 5, 6 and 7 on Beach Drive NE, and the backstretch on Bay Shore Drive. Some of the bumps that made braking difficult have disappeared.

"It's definitely nice and smooth," IndyCar star Will Power said. "It's a really nicely done street course. Kind of sets the standard for how smooth street courses should be."

Although former series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay said the surface isn't as smooth as he thought it'd be in parts, the change should have an impact on Sunday's race. Fewer bumps could open up more passing lanes, especially on the best passing spots: Turns 1 and 10 and the front stretch.

The track underwent another change after multiple cars from other series had problems with a bump in Turn 3 during Thursday's practice. Organizers moved 180 feet of wall on the drivers' left side back about 40 feet and installed curbing on the right side. Instead of speeding by, drivers will have to brake more than usual.

"It definitely made that corner very tricky," IndyCar veteran Scott Dixon said.

Deja vu for Will Power

Will Power hit the wall in Turn 10 during Friday morning's practice session for the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. It was an unfortunate instance of deja vu for the 2014 race winner. He had a similar hit in practice last year, and it led him to be wrongly diagnosed with a concussion. The problem kept him out of the race after he had won the pole. "I couldn't believe it," said Power, the second-fastest driver in the afternoon practice, of the morning hit.

Max Chilton: Travelin' man

Though the IndyCar series is based in North America, Chip Ganassi Racing driver Max Chilton keeps his home in England. "I know some people think I'm mad," Chilton said.

A by-the-numbers look at his work commute:

4,426 Miles between his home in Reigate, England, and St. Petersburg

16 Races in the United States and Canada on last year's schedule

180 Days spent in America last year

140 Days Chilton expects to spend in America this year

68 Transatlantic flights last year

2 Flight upgrades received

Quote of the day

"It doesn't pay anything. It doesn't mean anything."

IndyCar driver Scott Dixon, on being the quickest driver in Friday's Grand Prix practice

Nuts and bolts

Three-time Super Bowl winner Mark Schlereth will serve as the grand marshal for Sunday's Grand Prix. The former Redskins and Broncos guard works as an NFL analyst for ESPN. … IndyCar announced multiyear contract extensions with manufacturers Firestone (tires), Chevrolet (engines), Honda (engines) and Dallara (chassis). The series is still trying to add another engine manufacturer.