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Grand Prix of St. Petersburg postponed until Monday

Fans crowd near the entrance to a bridge across the track, on their way out after severe weather postponed the IndyCar race.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Fans crowd near the entrance to a bridge across the track, on their way out after severe weather postponed the IndyCar race.

ST. PETERSBURG — IndyCar drivers pride themselves on racing in the rain, but the volume of water standing on the downtown course of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was substantial enough that Sunday's IndyCar race was postponed to 10 a.m. today.

"While our cars are equipped to run in the rain, we take the safety of our teams, event workers and fans very seriously," said Brian Barnhart, the Indy Racing League's president of competition and racing operations. "We just felt (postponement) was in the best interest of everybody."

Even if heavy afternoon rain had subsided before the race's scheduled 3:45 p.m. start, as much as 6 inches of standing water was along the course, Barnhart said.

"I took a pace car ride around with (drivers) Dario Franchitti and Graham (Rahal)," he said. "Graham stopped the car. He wanted to take a picture of it because the water was up so far. The challenge is going to be moving that water around and how much more we get (Sunday night)."

The postponement came after fans had been moved indoors for two hours as a safety precaution after race organizers issued a severe weather advisory.

Admission today is free (general admission was $42 for adults Sunday), though to sit in the grandstands, tickets or stubs will be needed. The race will be shown on ESPN2.

"The biggest disappointment is for the fans," driver Ryan Hunter-Reay said. "This is probably the best turnout for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg we've ever had, so to have them all out here and have them go home and come back out (today) is a disappointment for us."

Having the race today creates unanticipated traffic problems downtown. Mayor Bill Foster said the level of police and security staffing will be the same for event safety and traffic control in and out of downtown.

Asked about additional expenses associated with that, Foster said, "A lot of that will be sorted out. I don't see that as being an additional strain on the city's budget."

Albert Whitted Airport, which has a runway used as a straightaway on the race course, is still expected to re-open as scheduled Thursday.

"We have some challenges to work out that we didn't anticipate," Foster said. "It's not what anyone wanted, but certainly those of us here in the city of St. Pete, we're committed to this race."

Four of Sunday's five scheduled races were completed before the postponement.

The IndyCar series hadn't had a race postponed since 2008 in Japan, when Danica Patrick picked up her only IRL win after waiting a day. Two years ago, the St. Petersburg race started with rain but was completed as scheduled.

Australian driver Will Power, who won the IndyCar season opener in Brazil two weeks ago, has the pole for today's race after posting the fastest time in Saturday's qualifying. The race is still scheduled for 100 laps, but if it begins under wet conditions, it will be limited to two hours.

Heavy rain was expected to continue until the middle of Sunday night, but organizers were optimistic they could get the standing water to a safe level in time for a 10 a.m. start.

Park-and-ride services from Tropicana Field, in place Sunday, will not be available today.

Times staff writer Greg Auman can be reached at auman@sptimes.com and (813) 226-3346.

Grand Prix of St. Petersburg postponed until Monday 03/28/10 [Last modified: Monday, March 29, 2010 2:43pm]
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