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St. Petersburg to host Grand Prix for next five years

ST. PETERSBURG — The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg has the votes and political clout to assure that, for now, no matter what comes of the Rays' proposed $450-million waterfront stadium, the race will be run through 2013.

Andretti Green Promotions, which has presented the IndyCar event since its inception in 2005, announced on Sunday a four-year extension to its current contract and that sponsor Honda and the IRL are a few details away from also committing long term.

"We're here to stay," managing director Kevin Savoree said.

City Council president Jamie Bennett and the four other members who attended the news conference carry enough votes to approve the deal. The IRL is expected to sign a four-year commitment, among the longest it offers.

"As long as they get all the necessary approvals, we're willing to commit to the length they're willing to commit. This is a great event," IRL CEO Tony George said.

The city has one year left on an extension of the original deal.

The length of the deal would include the construction and opening of a proposed Rays stadium — which is several votes, a referendum and a land deal from reality — that would eat into both the course and infrastructure of the race. Though the Rays have not spoken with AGP about their stadium plans, city development administrator Rick Mussett said he would be "surprised if they didn't" understand that the race had become politically and economically important.

"This has a lot to do with promoting the city and its image, too," he said.

Rick Baker, in his last term as mayor, said the race and Rays must co-exist and that he is "very much for the success of our baseball team, but I've made it clear to all the parties that if that project does go forward, it has to go forward in such a manner in which the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg would continue to succeed as well."

Savoree said AGP is interested in this market only with the current version — or a close proximity — of the race course.

A stadium study is due to the city at the end of the month, Mussett said, adding the project is early enough in its development to allow for flexibility, specifically in two areas that would most adversely affect the race course: a large hill in what is now the Al Lang Field parking lot and part of Turns 5 and 6, and Bayshore Drive, which would be narrowed and made a pedestrian walkway but comprises the signature vista of the course. Mussett said the city has studied the nips and tucks the Long Beach Grand Prix Association has been forced to make in three decades of street racing in California.

"There is no reason why we can't two sports down here," Mussett said. "I think we will find a way to make it workable."

History of racing in St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg had several attempts at racing before finding stability with IndyCars. A look at the city's racing history:

St. Petersburg

Grand Prix

Years: 1985-90.

Car type: Trans-Am series.

Notable: This event and the competing Tampa World Challenge race did each other in after their 1990 races. ... The races encircled St. Petersburg's waterfront near the Bayfront Center.

Florida Grand Prix

of St. Petersburg

Years: 1996-97.

Car type: Trans-Am series.

Notable: The course covered 1.6 miles around Tropicana Field, then called the ThunderDome. ... After losing title sponsor Kash n' Karry, International Management Group pulled the plug.

Grand Prix

of St. Petersburg

Year: 2003.

Car type: CART.

Notable: Dover Motorsports, which runs the Grand Prix of Long Beach, backed the race. ... Veteran Paul Tracy won before 30,000 to 35,000 fans.

Grand Prix

of St. Petersburg

Years: 2005-present

Car type: IndyCar

In 2005: IRL jumped in after CART left and uses the same course, around the Bayfront Center. St. Petersburg resident Dan Wheldon won the inaugural event, Helio Castroneves won the next two years and Graham Rahal won in his series debut on Sunday.

St. Petersburg to host Grand Prix for next five years 04/06/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 9, 2008 9:37am]
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