The City Council voted Thursday to extend its contract with the GTE St. Petersburg Grand Prix through 1995, a move that race officials said would help them attract more sponsors. The agreement calls for continued city help in preparing for and staffing the race through its police, fire, public works and leisure services departments. The cost of the service will be more than $155,000 next year, rising by 5 percent annually in subsequent years.
John Cannon, president of Motor Sports Enterprises Inc., which runs the six-year-old race, told the council the grand prix "is just one more event that makes our city recognized nationally."
He downplayed the loud engine noise and traffic disruptions caused by the three-day event, which uses fencing and concrete barriers to block off most of the downtown waterfront along a two-mile course.
"It's not hard-core racing as hard-core racing might be at Daytona or Sebring," Cannon said. "It's really a festival of three days set against the backdrop of racing."
Cannon and race chairman Fazal Fazlin said they were continuing to try to appease downtown residents and business people inconvenienced or hampered by the race. Some residents in the Bayfront Tower condominium at 1 Beach Drive SE say they leave their homes on race weekend, and nearby businesses report sharp drops in customer traffic.
"This is a very difficult thing for some of our residents; it's a mighty sacrifice," conceded council member Ron Mason, one of seven council members who voted to fund the race for five more years. "It's a shame they have to leave their homes. But I think it's a valuable asset to our city and it's a very progressive thing they're doing."
Edward L. Cole Jr. was the only council member to oppose the extension, citing the disruptions it causes to residents and businesses.
Tickets: Available at participating Publix supermarkets and the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce. A three-day pass, including admission to the paddock, is $40. Today-only admission is $15, Saturday is $20, and Sunday is $20. A paddock pass is $10 extra with a daily ticket.
Today's practice schedule: 8:30 a.m. _ Toyota Atlantic; 9:15 a.m. _ Super Vee; 10 a.m. _ Trans-Am; 11 a.m. _ Racetruck; 11:45 a.m. _ World Challenge; 1:45 p.m. _ Toyota Atlantic (also qualifying); 2:30 p.m. _ Trans-Am; 3:15 p.m. _ Super Vee (also qualifying); 4 p.m. _ World Challenge; 4:45 p.m. _ Trans-Am; 5:45 p.m. _ Racetruck.
Parking: There is no official lot. Parking is available on adjoining streets (where legal) and for $5 at the University of South Florida-Bayboro lot, 140 Seventh Ave. S.