Seven months after starting and stopping, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is scheduled to take place again this week.
Here’s what you need to know about the IndyCar Series event, held annually since 2005:
When is it?
Friday-Sunday. Gates open at 8:45 a.m. Friday for six different practice sessions and four rounds of qualifying for various series. Gates open at 8:15 Saturday for a day that includes five races and IndyCar qualifying for Sunday’s main event, which starts at 2:30. The full schedule is here.
Are fans allowed?
Yes. Race organizers told the city they plan to allow up to 20,000 fans at the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street course. A limited amount of general-admission tickets went on sale last week. The race’s website has more ticketing information. The site also details all of its COVID-19 protocols, including a requirement for all spectators to wear masks.
Have fans been allowed at similar events?
Yes. At least four other tracks have hosted IndyCar races with limited capacities. A good comparison is a September double-header at the Mid-Ohio Sports Course because it was put on by the same company (Green Savoree Racing Promotions) that runs the Grand Prix. Local and state health officials in Ohio told the Tampa Bay Times that they saw no COVID-19 spikes, outbreaks or clusters related to the race.
Isn’t this race normally held in the spring?
Yes, and it was. Kind of. The Grand Prix held a few practice sessions in March before shutting down in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. It was scheduled to be IndyCar’s season opener but will instead be the series' championship race.
If it’s the championship race, who is in the mix for the series title?
Two drivers: Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden. Dixon is a five-time series champion and one of the most accomplished athletes of his generation in any sport. His 50 career wins are third all-time behind legends Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt, but he has never won the Grand Prix.
Newgarden, however, has. He’s the reigning Grand Prix winner and defending series champion. He enters with a big gap to close. IndyCar calculates 19,872 different scenarios between the two drivers, but here’s the easiest way to look at it: Dixon can clinch the championship by finishing ninth or better.
What other drivers should I know about?
Belleair resident Colton Herta is third in points and one of the rising stars in the sport. St. Petersburg’s Sebastien Bourdais is back in the field after a very late start to the season. And former series champion Will Power has won the pole here eight times in 10 years.
When is the next Grand Prix, after this weekend?
March, as usual. The race is set for March 7 and will return to its spot as IndyCar’s season opener. It also likely will be the IndyCar debut of seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.