Festivities for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg begin today in downtown and culminate with Sunday’s IndyCar Series season opener at the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street course.
Here’s what you need to know about this year’s version of one of the area’s biggest annual sporting events.
It’s bigger than usual
The field for the headlining IndyCar Series is expected to feature 27 cars. That’s the most in Grand Prix history (there were 26 entrants last year and in 2012). The event has also been able to resume the Thursday night 5K at the track for the first time since the pandemic. Its second free kickoff party will be held Thursday evening from 5:30-8 at North Straub Park.
It’s also greener than usual
That’s because of an ongoing push from IndyCar and its partners. This will be the first race to feature Shell’s 100% renewable race fuel, and it will be only the second to feature Firestone’s green alternate tires, which include rubber from the guayule desert shrub. Guayule tires are more eco-friendly for two reasons: The plants use less water than most other crops, and they’re grown in Arizona instead of the traditional rubber sources in southeast Asia, so there’s a smaller carbon footprint in getting them to teams and tracks. Drivers say they haven’t noticed a performance difference from either change, so don’t expect the on-track quality to change, either.
The schedule is deep
Ten races across six series are scheduled, with at least one race every day. IndyCar qualifying is set for Saturday afternoon before Sunday’s 100-lap race. It will start at about 12:30 p.m. and air on NBC. If you’re looking for autographs, there’s a signature session Friday from 12:30-1:30 outside the Mahaffey Theater.
The field, as usual, has a local presence
Belleair resident Colton Herta won the Grand Prix in 2021, finished fourth last season and will likely be a contender again. Gulfport’s Nikita Johnson is the youngest driver competing all weekend. The 14-year-old is driving in the USF2000 series (the second rung on the ladder to IndyCar). The No. 29 Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport Honda driven by Devlin DeFrancesco has a pair of co-owners with local ties: Clearwater Central Catholic alumnus George Steinbrenner IV and his sister, Julia, who’s co-president of the New York Yankees Tampa Foundation.
There are six former winners in the field
In addition to Herta, there’s reigning series champion Will Power, defending race winner Scott McLaughlin, two-time series champion Josef Newgarden, four-time Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves and 2008 race winner Graham Rahal.
Jimmie Johnson is gone
The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion raced here each of the past two seasons but has transitioned back to NASCAR. His ride will be taken by rookie Marcus Armstrong in the No. 11 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Two other notable driver/team changes: former Indy 500 champion Alexander Rossi has jumped from Andretti Autosport to Arrow McLaren Racing, and the excellently named Sting Ray Robb is making his IndyCar debut with Dale Coyne Racing.
Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
Friday-Sunday, downtown; the 1.8-mile, 14-turn track uses the streets circling Pioneer Park, the Duke Energy Center for the Arts and The Dalí Museum, and extends onto the runways at Albert Whitted Airport.
Main race: 12:30 p.m. Sunday TV: NBC
More info: Details on tickets, parking, event schedule and more here.