ST. PETERSBURG — Add another new element to the new cars and new engine manufacturers for Sunday's Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg: curbs.
Driver Ryan Hunter-Reay said Friday morning that he and other racers were concerned about new, raised curbs at Turns 2, 4 and 9. Turn 4 is the intersection of Second Avenue S and First Street SE, Turn 9 the intersection of Central Avenue and Bay Shore Drive NE.
Hunter-Reay compared the previous curbs to loaves of bread: bumps small enough for the cars to drive over while keeping speeds up. The new curbs are bigger, like tabletops, he said, so drivers must maneuver around them.
"Our concern is it is going to lower the cornering speeds a little bit," Hunter-Reay said. "We need these things to look as fast as possible on TV. Now we may have to tiptoe around them."
After practice, Helio Castroneves said, "I did not have an issue, but it is an issue. I didn't run behind anybody. Sometimes you are so close to somebody's rear wing that it might catch you by surprise."
SPEEDS UP: Leading up to the first practice, drivers said they expected the new DW12 chassis to be faster than the previous cars on road courses. The first results suggest they're right.
Scott Dixon's No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda clocked the fastest first-session lap, 1 minute, 3.0406 seconds. That's 1.1031 seconds quicker than the best lap at the first practice last year, Hunter-Reay's 1:04.1437.
In the afternoon, Will Power's No. 12 Penske Racing Chevrolet was tops at 1:02.0077.
The ENGINEs: Two Chevrolets were among the three fastest cars in both sessions, including the top two in the afternoon, when Power's teammate, Ryan Briscoe, was second.
The fastest Lotus belonged to HVM Racing's Simona de Silvestro, who was 16th among 26 drivers in the afternoon in 1:02.9136.
More PRACTICE: Esteban Guerrieri, the runnerup in last year's Indy Lights race in St. Petersburg, had the fastest lap during practice. His top time, 1:07.3874, came on the final lap of his 40-minute session.
"We weren't pushing 100 percent because we want to save that for qualifying," Guerrieri said. "We were just trying to work on the car and trying to be a bit quicker. The track is getting better. We put a bit better tires and went out to do two laps with those tires, and then that's it."
WHELDON HONOR: Castroneves accepted the series' most popular driver award in the name of the late Dan Wheldon, the St. Petersburg resident who won the voting last year and died in a crash in the season finale. Castroneves finished second in the voting. "It was an honor to be in that position," Castroneves said, "especially at the place he called home."
GRASSROOTS PARTNERS: IndyCar's developmental series named the Skip Barber Racing School the official school of the ladder program. It also announced the creation of the Skip Barber IndyCar Academy, which will culminate in a driver winning a scholarship for the Skip Barber Racing Series.
The Skip Barber Racing School, with sites around the country, has long ties to developing open-wheel drivers. A scholarship is awarded to the Skip Barber series champion to advance to USF2000, an entry-level series.
The academy will allow the top 33 drivers in the yearlong program to advance to a shootout, the winner receiving a Skip Barber Racing Series scholarship.
"There's a clearly defined path from carting all the way to (IndyCar)," said Jason Penix, director of grassroots initiatives for IndyCar. "Skip Barber already has ties to the Mazda Road to Indy by awarding a scholarship for a driver to race in USF2000, and (Friday's) announcement solidifies the ladder."