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St. Petersburg dedicates Dan Wheldon memorial

Susie Wheldon, wife of the late IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon, holds their son Oliver at the unveiling of the Dan Wheldon memorial, located at Turn 10 on the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg course. Susie Wheldon will wave the green flag to start Sunday’s race.

LARA CERRI | Times

Susie Wheldon, wife of the late IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon, holds their son Oliver at the unveiling of the Dan Wheldon memorial, located at Turn 10 on the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg course. Susie Wheldon will wave the green flag to start Sunday’s race.

ST. PETERSBURG — A permanent marker was placed at Dan Wheldon Way on Thursday as his widow, Susie, her children and the full complement of IndyCar drivers turned out for the dedication.

Wheldon, a St. Petersburg resident who won the inaugural Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and two Indianapolis 500s, was killed in October 2011 in a racing crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

"I feel like I can't thank this community enough, not only the people of St. Petersburg but also my racing family," Susie Wheldon said. "Just the continued love and support over the past 17 months, you guys have literally lifted me up."

The monument, by artist Ron Whitney, is a concrete slab with a plaque on the front. Susie Wheldon and sons Sebastian and Oliver, who still reside in St. Petersburg, placed their handprints in the concrete Wednesday after it was laid.

Dan Wheldon Way is at the end of Bayshore Boulevard and is also known as Turn 10 during race weekend on the racetrack's downtown streets. Last year it was the scene of Helio Castroneves' emotional victory celebration as he climbed and tapped the Dan Wheldon Way sign affixed to the fence. Fans attending this weekend can find both the Wheldon monument and the new "Victory Circle" monument between the Turn 10 grandstand and main stretch grandstand.

Mayor Bill Foster, St. Petersburg City Council Chairman Karl Nurse and council members Bill Dudley, Jim Kennedy and Charlie Gerdes also attended Thursday's dedication.

TRACK RECORD? Penske Racing's Will Power set a track record last year, racing through the 1.8-mile circuit in 1 minute, 1.3721 seconds to snag his third consecutive pole.

Don't be surprised if more records fall this weekend.

"Right now on street courses, we feel it's going to go faster," three-time race winner Castroneves said.

New Firestone tires led to faster speeds in last week's tests at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama. There, Power trimmed three seconds off Castroneves' pole time from 2012. Twenty-five drivers broke the track record there, so St. Petersburg's curvy course could see fast times when practice begins today.

"Being in the car, you always want to go faster," KV Racing's Simona de Silvestro said. "If we see that during the year, and every year we come back and we go faster and have faster lap times, I think that's a good thing."

SIMONA STARTS OVER: After a fourth-place finish here in 2011, de Silvestro entered with high hopes last spring. But she struggled all season with the ill-fated Lotus engines. Mechanical problems ended her races five times, and her best finish was 13th.

"As a driver, you want to win races. You don't get to do that when you don't have the power," de Silvestro said of 2012, her final season at HVM Racing. "But at the end of the day, you have to look at the bigger picture, and something really good came out of it."

This year she joins 2004 series champion Tony Kanaan at KV, with Chevrolet power.

HOME FOR HUNTER-REAY: With Homestead off the IndyCar schedule and plans shelved for a street race through Fort Lauderdale, defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay considers St. Petersburg his home course.

The Fort Lauderdale resident finished 16th in the track's first event, the 2003 CART race, and said he's glad the Grand Prix has continued to grow.

"I'm just so proud of the development it's come through," Hunter-Reay said. "It's in a perfect location. It represents Florida, the state I love, very well. This is one of the big ones on our schedule."

Lucky Track: After two years in USF2000, Spencer Pigot is taking the next step in the Road to Indy developmental series by moving to Pro Mazda.

There are adjustments dealing with cars that are faster and have stronger brakes.

But Pigot could make a smooth transition in Pro Mazda, considering his previous performances on the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg track. Pigot won three of his four races the past two years here in USF2000.

"This is a great event, especially for me," Pigot said. "For some reason, I've always been able to do well at this track."

In his Pro Mazda debut, Pigot finished second at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

"We obviously want to go out and win races," Pigot said. "But the biggest thing is to stay consistent and keep scoring points. I think we have a good shot to win this weekend."

St. Petersburg dedicates Dan Wheldon memorial 03/21/13 [Last modified: Thursday, March 21, 2013 10:12pm]

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