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Many wonder: Race or Rays?

SEBRING

The Genpak and fertilizer plants comprising the backdrop beyond Sebring International Raceway were hardly reminiscent of downtown St. Petersburg. ¶ But several participants in the Indy Racing League road course test there this week had downtown streets and waterfront vistas squarely in mind in the so-called "heartland'' of Florida. ¶ Not so much because the fourth Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was just more than a month away and these two-day sessions comprised the main test before the event. ¶ But because a general sense of unease exists about what has become an increasingly popular event. ¶ The typical question: "So is St. Pete going away after 2009?''

Though IRL officials have not kept their collective finger on the pulse of local politics and are unaware the Rays' plan to build a ballpark on the site of Al Lang Field (and therefore part of the Grand Prix's footprint) has not been widely supported, there is concern the series could lose the event. Andretti Green Promotions' contracts with the city and IRL to promote the race expire after the 2009 edition, when construction could begin on a Rays' park, crimping crucial sections of the course and consuming vital staging areas unless the team was willing to compromise.

"Yes, we're concerned,'' said president of competition Brian Barnhart. "I think we all consider St. Pete one of the marquee events on the schedule. … It's something we're going to keep our eye on.''

Barnhart said the league would intercede if asked but doesn't consider it the IRL's mandate.

Race managing director Kevin Savoree said AGP is committed to the market and the race in its current location "as long as the city wants us.''

Paddle me

It's a fairly unusual sight, a driver flipping through a technical manual, actually reading. But there was Ryan Briscoe, replacement for three-time Indy Racing League champion Sam Hornish at Team Penske, perusing Section 1, Part 2 of a guide for the new paddle shifting system IndyCars will use this season. The process, which employs flippers on each side of the steering column, allows drivers to better control their car by keeping their hands on the wheel. Before, they had to let go to grab a small shifter near their legs. But a myriad of buttons and other procedures, most dealing with putting the car in neutral and shifting gears entering and exiting the pits, can be tough to master from a quick glance at a manual. Briscoe attempted to explain the whole thing to teammate Helio Castroneves, who after a few minutes grabbed the binder and threw it down in mock frustration.

"It's really simple,'' he said. "But the way they make it simple is really complicated.''

Fast company

Second-year IndyCar driver Milka Duno, below, never aspired to a movie career, but she has enough of one now for her to need a dress for the May  9 premiere of the Wachowski Brothers' Speed Racer.

Duno, a 35-year-old former sportscar racer who is scheduled to undertake 11 races this season, has a bit role as Kellie "Gearbox' Kalinkov, whom she describes in her accent as a "Roo-ssian race car driver, very eccentric and aggressive.'' No comment from her peers whether her driving style made her particularly qualified for the role. She finished just three of seven starts last season, but her only official retirement by accident came in the Indianapolis 500.

"I had done what you call here 'the soaps','' she said. "In Venezuela we call them novelas. A long time ago, a few times. But this was different. I was nervous and following the directions of the directors. This is a new thing for me. I am not an actress but I took the opportunity to be in this special movie.''

The movie stars Emile Hirsch as Speed Racer, Susan Sarandon as Mom Racer and Christina Ricci as Trixie.

The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is not among Duno's scheduled starts.

The wedding crasher

Note to Dan Wheldon's wedding planner: Better make sure Tony Kanaan gets an invitation. He's going to be a little less inclined to keep his mischievous streak in check otherwise, especially on such a big day for his close friend and former teammate.

"Who ever thought Dan Wheldon was going to get married?'' he grinned. "I'm ready. I haven't got the invitation yet, but I told him I don't care. I'm showing up. I said, 'You better invite me.'''

Though IRL officials have not kept their collective finger on the pulse of local politics and are unaware the Rays' plan to build a ballpark on the site of Al Lang Field (and therefore part of the Grand Prix's footprint) has not been widely supported, there is concern the series could lose the event. Andretti Green Promotions' contracts with the city and IRL to promote the race expire after the 2009 edition, when construction could begin on a Rays' park , crimping crucial sections of the course and consuming vital staging areas unless the team was willing to compromise.

"Yes, we're concerned,'' said president of competition Brian Barnhart. "I think we all consider St. Pete one of the marquee events on the schedule. ... It's something we're going to keep our eye on.''

Barnhart said the league would intercede if asked but doesn't consider it the IRL's mandate.

Race managing director Kevin Savoree said AGP is committed to the market and the race in its current location "as long as the city wants us .''

Paddle me

It's a fairly unusual sight, a driver flipping through a technical manual, actually reading. But there was Ryan Briscoe, replacement for three-time Indy Racing League champion Sam Hornish Jr. at Team Penske, perusing Section 1, Part 2 of a guide for the new paddle shifting system IndyCars will use this season. The process, which employs flippers on each side of the steering column allows drivers to better control their car by keeping their hands on the wheel. Before, they had to let go to grab a small shifter near their legs. But a myriad of buttons and other procedures, most dealing with putting the car in neutral and shifting gears entering and exiting the pits, can be tough to master from a quick glance at a manual. Briscoe attempted to explain the whole thing to teammate Helio Castroneves, who after a few minutes grabbed the binder and threw it down in mock frustration.

"It's really simple,'' he said. "But the way they make it simple is really complicated.''

Fast company

Second-year IndyCar driver Milka Duno never aspired to a movie career, but she has enough of one now for her to need a dress for the May 9 premiere of the Wachowski Brothers' Speed Racer.

Duno, a 35-year-old former sports car racer who is scheduled to undertake 11 races this season, has a bit role as Kellie "Gearbox' Kalinkov, whom she describes in her accent as a "Roo-ssian race car driver, very eccentric and aggressive.'' No comment from her peers whether her driving style made her particularly qualified for the role. She finished just three of seven starts last season, but her only official retirement by accident came in the Indianapolis 500.

"I had done what you call here 'the soaps','' she said. "In Venezuela we call them novelas. A long time ago, a few times. But this was different. I was nervous and following the directions of the directors. This is a new thing for me. I am not an actress but I took the opportunity to be in this special movie.''

The movie stars Emile Hirsch as Speed Racer, Susan Sarandon as Mom Racer and Christina Ricci as Trixie.

The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is not among Duno's scheduled starts.

The wedding crasher

Note to Dan Wheldon's wedding planner: Better make sure Tony Kanaan gets an invitation . He's going to be a little less inclined to keep his mischievous streak in check otherwise, especially on such a big day for his close friend and former teammate.

"Who ever thought Dan Wheldon was going to get married?,'' he grinned. "I'm ready. I haven't got the invitation yet, but I told him I don't care. I'm showing up. I said, 'You better invite me.'''

Many wonder: Race or Rays? 03/07/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 9:30am]
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