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Grand Prix of St. Petersburg crowd hits record numbers

The attendance was as big, if not the biggest, in the event’s history.
Attendance at this weekend's Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg appeared to hit record levels.
Attendance at this weekend's Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg appeared to hit record levels. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Feb. 27

ST. PETERSBURG — The crowd at this weekend’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg met, if not exceeded, marks from before the pandemic.

Advance ticket sales were a record, and the number of hospitality suites were back to the levels they were before the Great Recession. The Grand Prix does not typically announce official attendance figures, but the grounds looked to be the biggest ever at the event, which began in 2003.

IndyCar Series officials told the Indianapolis Star that the crowd was up 49 percent over the three-day weekend from the previous record, set in 2019. Attendance that year was estimated at 140,000.

“It was great to see such a good crowd …” said two-time Grand Prix winner Will Power, who finished third Sunday. “I think everyone’s enjoying themselves, and it’s great to see fans again, great to do autographs and autograph sessions and see full stands.”

Fans were back at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Fans were back at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Attendance at the previous two races here was capped at 20,000 per day because of coronavirus restrictions.

Herta’s hiccup

Belleair resident Colton Herta, the defending race winner, quickly moved from third to second in the opening corner but never could challenge for the lead.

An apparent miscue in the pits didn’t help. On his first stop, Herta’s No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda didn’t get a full tank of fuel. That forced him to pit slightly earlier than the three drivers he finished behind (winner Scott McLaughlin, Alex Palou and Power).

The fourth-place run is still the best season-opening result the 21-year-old has ever had (eighth, seventh and 22nd).

Jimmie Johnson struggles

Jimmie Johnson spun out during Sunday's morning practice.
Jimmie Johnson spun out during Sunday's morning practice. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

NASCAR legend Jimmie Johnson remained a non-factor at his second Grand Prix. The seven-time Cup Series champion finished a lap down and 23rd in the 26-car field. He also drew some barbs from Power for continuing to race contenders hard, despite running near the back of the field.

Johnson had at least three issues during the weekend, including a spinout in Turn 10 during Sunday’s morning warm-up session.

Related: Why Jimmie Johnson’s NASCAR success hurt him in IndyCar, Grand Prix

Nuts and bolts

Dallas Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott gave the command for drivers to start their engines for the Indy Lights race.

Matthew Brabham won the race after one Andretti Autosport teammate, Hunter McElrea, wrecked from the lead and another, Christian Rasmussen, ran out of gas while leading with two laps left. It was Brabham’s first race in the top feeder series since 2015.

Penske power

Scott McLaughlin and Will Power both finished on the podium Sunday for Team Penske.
Scott McLaughlin and Will Power both finished on the podium Sunday for Team Penske. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

McLaughlin’s win was the 11th for Team Penske at the Grand Prix:

2006: Helio Castroneves

2007: Helio Castroneves (from the pole)

2009: Ryan Briscoe

2010: Will Power (from the pole)

2012: Helio Castroneves

2014: Will Power

2015: Juan Pablo Montoya

2016: Juan Pablo Montoya

2019: Josef Newgarden

2020: Josef Newgarden

2022: Scott McLaughlin (from the pole)

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