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IndyCar leader says St. Petersburg race secure

ST. PETERSBURG — A few weeks after a report suggested that IndyCar could abandon the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the series' leader said the race's future wasn't in doubt.

"I think it's secure and really kind of a pillar of our season," said Mark Miles, the CEO of Hulman & Co., which owns IndyCar. "I hope we'll have some more specific announcement about that before long."

In June, the city council unanimously approved a three-year extension to keep the race here through 2017.

But a report from the Boston Consulting Group that was leaked to the Associated Press this month left St. Petersburg off of a proposed 15-race schedule. Miami and Atlanta were instead listed as possible sites.

Miles, who took over after the 2012 season, is charged with boosting the series' fan base. One idea is to make the world's fastest racing series even faster.

The Indianapolis 500 speed record of 237.498 mph has stood since 1996. Miles would like to see Arie Luyendyk's record fall, as long as safety isn't compromised.

"Let's think about how we can incrementally manage increases of speed and safety," Miles said. "Not stay where we are, but make steady directional improvement. I think that's a big hook for the public. You can't do one without the other."

Team Penske owner Roger Penske said he supports boosting innovation but not if it becomes too costly for team owners already struggling financially. Most fans, Penske said, wouldn't see a change from the stands and would only notice the faster speeds if they looked on the video board.

"They wouldn't know the difference between 220 (mph) and 230," Penske said.

CLIMBING THE LADDER: Though a handful of established IndyCar drivers got their starts in the Road to Indy ladder system, the feeder series seem to have taken a step back.

Only nine drivers competed in Saturday's Indy Lights race. That's down from 16 drivers each of the past three seasons. And there were just 12 cars racing Saturday in the next series down the ladder, Pro Mazda.

James Hinchcliffe said too many rising stars are trying their luck in Europe instead of moving up in IndyCar.

"It's unbelievable," said Hinchcliffe, who finished second in the 2010 Indy Lights series to snag a full-time ride and is now at Andretti Autosport. "It's shocking how short-sighted some of these young drivers are that they can't see such an incredible opportunity …

"It's nuts. I just don't get it."

Penske has been active in NASCAR's second-tier Nationwide series but hasn't dipped into Indy Lights. Penske said he proposed sparking the series by having up-and-coming drivers race old IndyCars instead of different, slower models.

"Then you've got people who really are driving the same kind of car that you have," Penske said. "That was an idea that I threw out that didn't even bounce."

VISO WRECKS: Andretti Autosport's E.J. Viso halted Saturday morning's practice with a wreck.

The suspension broke on Viso's No. 5 Chevy, sending the Venezuelan into the right wall near the entrance to Turn 10. He was not injured and qualified 22nd.

THIS AND THAT: Power's 30th career pole moved him past Dario Franchitti for eighth-most in series history. … St. Petersburg resident Sebastien Bourdais qualified 21st. … Three-time Grand Prix winner Helio Castroneves will start fifth — the same position he did last year when he took the checkered flag.

Matt Baker can be reached at mbaker@tampabay.com or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.

IndyCar leader says St. Petersburg race secure 03/23/13 [Last modified: Saturday, March 23, 2013 9:56pm]
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