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Will Power, Scott Dixon have no fear if rain hits St. Petersburg

Helio Castroneves, left, gives fellow driver Dario Franchitti a pat on the back while exiting the track after morning practice.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Helio Castroneves, left, gives fellow driver Dario Franchitti a pat on the back while exiting the track after morning practice.

ST. PETERSBURG — Two weeks ago in Brazil, Will Power won the IRL IndyCar opener with a little help from rainy weather, and with apologies to fans hoping for sunny skies Sunday, he wouldn't mind a little more precipitation during the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

"It just makes racing better, actually," Power said. "You can pass. The poor guy on pole position is not that good, because he was hoping for a good clean race. But it mixes things up always when it rains. It's survival of the fittest in the rain."

There's a chance the 29-year-old Australian could be on the pole Sunday, as he had the fastest time in Friday's afternoon practice session with an average speed of 103.979 mph, more than 1 mph faster than the second-fastest driver, Scott Dixon.

And there's a good chance Sunday's race could be wet, as was the case for part of the 2008 race. Weather.com is calling for a 70 percent chance of rain Sunday, with afternoon showers and thunderstorms.

Count Dixon as another driver who wouldn't have a problem with that.

"It's fun for the drivers," Dixon said. "It opens up a lot more differences for strategy. People starting in the back to come up with something crazy and jump up. I think it's good for the fans because it creates really good racing. Some people adapt to changing conditions a lot quicker than others. That might be someone who's in the pack and can fight their way up."

Damage: Dario Franchitti damaged his No. 10 car during afternoon practice, sustaining moderate damage to his left front after hitting the outside retaining wall in Turn 4.

Franchitti climbed out of the car without assistance, and after 10 minutes under a yellow flag, normal practice resumed. Franchitti's car should be fine for today's qualifying.

Downside of geography: As much as Dan Wheldon loves racing in St. Petersburg — he can roll out of bed and get to the track in about 20 minutes — it does bring a bit more pressure.

"I've generated a lot of home support, which I really enjoy," he said. "You never want to let the fans down."

New deal for Hunter-Reay?: Ryan Hunter-Reay, second in last year's Grand Prix in St. Petersburg, has a five-race deal with Andretti Autosport, but that figures to change soon.

Michael Andretti, the team's chairman, president and CEO, said he hoped to have "something by the end of the weekend" to announce. Hunter-Reay was second in the opener in Brazil.

Changes for the fans: Veteran racegoers might notice some subtle changes around the course. The yachts along the waterfront are from the St. Petersburg Yacht Club rather than in a special group in formation to watch the race. A concession contract wasn't renewed, eliminating the yacht arrangement and the need for a pedestrian bridge from the track to the water. There is one fewer section of grandstand at the end of Turn 1 to accommodate a slightly larger paddock. And a beer garden near the pit entrance is new.

Taking the first step: Zach Veach, 15, from Stockdale, Ohio, was introduced as the second entry for Andretti Autosport in the USF2000 National Championship — a rung on the ladder toward developing future IndyCar drivers.

He joins Sage Karam, also 15, who is racing today and Sunday.

"It's an extreme honor to sign with a great team and a great series," Veach said. "I feel one step closer (to my dream)."

The precocious teenager heads a safe driving campaign for his peer group and is working on a book, 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Getting Your Driver's License, between working out, traveling for races, homework and Xbox with friends.

He would like to be racing in IndyCar by the time he's 18.

THIS AND THAT: Bucs RBs Cadillac Williams and Clifton Smith were among the riders in Thursday's Indy Racing Experience and are expected to attend Sunday's race. … St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster will wave the green flag to start the Grand Prix.

Will Power, Scott Dixon have no fear if rain hits St. Petersburg 03/26/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 26, 2010 9:21pm]
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