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Defending champ Will Power gearing up for Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Indy car driver Will Power, winner of last year's Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, reflects during an interview Tuesday in St. Petersburg. "I love to race in St. Pete,'' he said. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Indy car driver Will Power, winner of last year's Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, reflects during an interview Tuesday in St. Petersburg. "I love to race in St. Pete,'' he said. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published Feb. 25, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is back in its familiar spot, both on the downtown streets and on the IndyCar schedule.

The open-wheel racing series was scheduled to open its season March 8 in Brasilia, but the Brazilian promoters canceled in January.

So on the weekend of March 27-29, St. Petersburg will host the IndyCar opener for the fifth consecutive year and sixth in the past seven instead of being the season's second race.

Defending race and series champion Will Power, appearing in town Tuesday for the ceremonial beginning of construction on the 1.8-mile downtown street track (construction actually began Monday), said that though he was looking forward to starting the season in Brazil, there are benefits to opening in St. Petersburg.

"It actually gave the teams more time with this body kit," Power said of aerodynamic changes to the cars being introduced in the series. "We weren't going to be running that at Brazil so it was going to be pretty tight, getting back (to America) and testing.

"We all would have loved to have raced down there, but circumstances have it that we couldn't."

Aero kits will let manufacturers Chevrolet and Honda alter the basic Dallara IR-12 chassis to their liking by adding or subtracting bits of bodywork depending on the type of track. Chevrolet, the manufacturer that Power's Team Penske organization uses, rolled out its first aero kits last week in Indianapolis.

Power said the difference will be noticeable in St. Petersburg.

"You're going to see a new lap record for sure here," Power said. "We have more horsepower, the cars will be faster in the corners, faster on the straights. They're going to look very different. They're going to look pretty cool, a lot of little winglets and so on."

So as anticipation for those possible records starts to build, Kevin Savoree, co-owner and president of St. Petersburg race promoter/organizer Green Savoree Racing Promotions, said the event here won't be affected by the Brazil cancelation.

"We look at this as a franchise," said Savoree, whose company also promotes the IndyCar races at Toronto and Mid-Ohio. "They're all very special. They bring their own uniqueness.

"We were always portraying this as the first North American event, which obviously it was. We're the same date, so everything's the same for us."

Power can only hope St. Petersburg is the same for him and Team Penske. He outdueled teammate Helio Castroneves to win here last year, the first of his three victories on the way to his first series championship after a few near-misses.

"I love the track, love the area," Power said. "It's a track I like and I'm fast at, and the team's very successful there, too."

Power has good reason to reflect on his and Penske's success here. The team has won in St. Petersburg six times — Castroneves in 2006, '07 and '12, Power in 2010 and last year, and Ryan Briscoe in 2009. All other teams have combined for four IndyCar wins here.

As for the future, Savoree said it hasn't been decided whether St. Petersburg will be the long-term series opener. But he expressed optimism over what the city has to offer in the 11th annual event.

"I think St. Petersburg as a city and as a destination provides a great opportunity for fans, and for the sponsors to come out and entertain," Savoree said. "And we'll hold that up against anybody in the country."

It didn't sound like Power would disagree.

"St. Pete? Perfect opener, the weather's lovely. Usually," Power added wryly on a foggy morning.