ST. PETERSBURG — Grand Prix managing director Kevin Savoree will use the weekend to broach a new long-term contract with city officials. Sunday's Indy Racing League event is the first under a two-year extension invoked by Andretti Green Promotions and the city last year, and Savoree wants to secure a venue that now defers only to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in terms of popularity with teams.
"As an annual event, you only get a couple shots at this to really start talking about the future," Savoree said. "(Sponsors) like continuity, they like long-term, they like partnership and you can't do that one year at a time. Any organization will fail if their planning is only one year out. You have to have a long-term perspective, so certainly for us, we want to talk to the city about going out into the future."
But the Rays' plans for a $450-million ballpark on the site of Al Lang Field would have a major impact on the race course and its staging areas. Savoree said the ballpark "is going to have to be" part of his discussions. Rays officials have yet to contact AGP, though Mayor Rick Baker, a race proponent, has become an informal intermediary.
"I have talked to both the Rays and the Grand Prix about the proposal situation and I think both of them understand my position and that however the proposal is ultimately structured, if it's going to get my support, it's going to have to mean that the Grand Prix continues to succeed and thrive," he said.
Savoree said "it's our absolute 100 percent desire to own and promote this race. If the city lets us know something else, that will be their decision."
PRACTICE: Two-time defending Grand Prix winner Helio Castroneves led Friday's practice with a best lap of 1 minute, 3.3068 seconds in the second session around the 1.8-mile course. Slick conditions contributed to six drivers, four of whom have raced here before, either spinning or brushing barriers. So did the presence of eight more cars than entered in the 2007 IndyCar race, Castroneves said. Tony Kanaan, who has finished third or better in every Grand Prix here, was next (1:03.3680) and Justin Wilson was fourth, best among former Champ Car drivers. Wilson topped the first practice session in 1:03.5210.
TREAD CAREFULLY: IndyCar teams might need to use special street course rain tires for the first time today in practice or qualifying; the forecast at weather.com calls for a 50 percent chance of rain. Firestone produces two types of rain tires, which have treads like their passenger car counterparts. The IRL, which contested its first street race in St. Petersburg in 2005, used rain tires for the first time last year at Watkins Glen. Speeds decrease and traction becomes an issue, but the race can be held in rain. The problem, said IRL senior technical director Les Mactaggart, is a partially dry course. Rain tires need moisture to keep them cool and degrade in as few as four laps without it.