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Reducing errors key to IndyCar race in St. Petersburg, Graham Rahal says

ST. PETERSBURG — Sunday's Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will feature a laundry list of new features.

A new car, the DW12 Dallara. New engine manufacturers in Chevrolet and Lotus. New drivers such as Rubens Barrichello replacing old ones such as Danica Patrick.

With so much uncertainty heading into the IndyCar series opener, veteran Graham Rahal said he expects the first checkered flag to go to the driver who makes the fewest mistakes.

"I think it's going to take reliability," said Rahal, who earned his first series win here in 2008. "I think it's going to take using your head. There's going to be a lot of adrenaline going. People are going to make mistakes. And of course the best team around you."

Remembering Wheldon: The race will continue to honor St. Petersburg resident Dan Wheldon, the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner who died in a crash at Las Vegas in October.

His sister, Holly Wheldon, will wave the green flag Sunday and present the winner's trophy, Grand Prix general manager Tim Ramsberger said Thursday.

"That'll be one small way of us paying tribute to Dan and his family," Ramsberger said at a media luncheon to kick off the race weekend.

Race officials are also wearing orange ribbons to honor Wheldon and benefit the Alzheimer's Foundation of America. Fans will be able to buy the ribbons at the track this weekend.

Heavy traffic: The field in the World Challenge sportscar event is one of the largest, with 50 cars entered in the combined class sprint races for GT, GTS and Touring Car this weekend.

With so much congestion, patience is going to be needed to navigate the street course.

"In a street race like this with so many cars, you have to be careful or else you're going to kiss the wall," said Andy Pilgrim, who competes in the GT class with teammate Johnny O'Connell. "Everybody has to be patient. You want to take some chances, but you want to get out of here with some points."

The GTS class is the largest with 20 cars entered followed by GT and Touring Car, which each have 15.

Moving on up: Last year was a memorable one for Zach Veach. He released his first book, 99 Things Teens Wish They Knew Before Turning 16. He also did well racing in the USF2000 series, winning one race and earning three pole positions.

Now 17, Veach continues his climb up IndyCar's developmental ladder by moving to Star Mazda this season. He already has adjusted well to the new series with victories in the first two rounds of the Formula Car Challenge during the Goodyear Winter Series.

"There were some adjustments jumping to a new series, but I started off well in winter testing," Veach said. "This weekend (in St. Petersburg) will be a challenge. It's a big field, 23 cars. There are lots of good drivers and everyone is so close in time."

Charity 5K: The track will host its third annual 5K tonight at 7:15 for walkers, runners or wheelchairs. Proceeds benefit All Children's Hospital the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation, which was set up after the Indy Racing League driver was paralyzed in a practice crash in 2000 at Walt Disney World Speedway, near Orlando.

Registration begins at 3 p.m. and costs $30.

Matt Baker can be reached at mbaker@tampabay.com.

Reducing errors key to IndyCar race in St. Petersburg, Graham Rahal says 03/22/12 [Last modified: Thursday, March 22, 2012 6:34pm]

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