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Along the Bay, from idle days to Indy cars

Mechanics put the finishing touches on cars prior to the Indy Racing Experience Thursday. Events for the 2018 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg go through the weekend, with race day on Sunday. [Danese Kenon | Times]

Most of the year, dog walkers and joggers revel in the quiet and take in the views along Bayshore Drive in St. Petersburg.

But for a few days each spring, people give way to cars. Fast cars. Really fast cars.

Mario Andretti - yes, that Mario Andretti - likes the 1.8-mile course that cuts near the Dali Museum and Al Lang Stadium and down a runway at Albert Whitted Airport. His family has never missed a Firestone Grand Prix. This year, his grandson Marco is expected to race Sunday.

"It becomes a really special challenge to be able execute on a street course," Mario Andretti said, "because there's no shoulder or anything that can forgive you and yet you have to be inches away from the wall all the time."

He said this on Thursday afternoon, after a drive around the track that sounded like a swarm of angry bees. He talked about how each course has a different personality. And how he refers to this as "Florida's Monte Carlo."

Sébastien Bourdais, a French driver who now lives in St. Petersburg, likes the attractions by the water when he's not racing, but he enjoys seeing the city transform.

"Blocks go down, fences go up and all of sudden, it turns into a racetrack," he said. " It's pretty cool."