Photo: Chis Owens/INDYCAR

IndyCar Weekend Preview: St. Petersburg

By Aaron Bearden, Contributing Writer

Ahead of each Verizon IndyCar Series race weekend, Motorsports Tribune offers an in-depth look at the details and storylines going into the weekend’s event(s).

Verizon IndyCar Series

Race(s): Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (110 laps, 198 miles)

Circuit: Streets of St. Petersburg (St. Petersburg, Fla.)

Track Details: Clockwise – 14 turns, 1.80 miles

Track Record: 107.561 mph (Will Power, 2016)

What Happened Last Year: Sebastien Bourdais overcame a disastrous qualifying crash to rise from last to first and claim his first win in St. Pete, establishing himself and Dale Coyne Racing as unexpected title contenders early in the season. Fellow Frenchman Simon Pagenaud followed in second, with Scott Dixon completing the podium.

Weekend Schedule

Friday, March 9

Verizon IndyCar Series Practice: 11:20 a.m.-12:05 p.m. ET (Streamed Online)

Verizon IndyCar Series Practice 2: 3:10-3:55 p.m. (Streamed Online)


Saturday, March 10

Verizon IndyCar Series Practice 3: 11-11:55 a.m. (Streamed Online)

Verizon IndyCar Series Qualifying: 2:20-3:55 p.m. (Streamed Online)


Sunday, March 11

Verizon IndyCar Series Warmup: 8:45-9:15 a.m. (Streamed Online)

Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg: 12:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

Storylines to Watch

New Year, New Faces

As is tradition, the opening weekend of the year in St. Petersburg will be the first chance for fans to see a host of young stars in the IndyCar paddock.

The names are numerous. Brazilian Matheus Leis will make his debut for AJ Foyt Racing. Former DTM competitor Robert Wickens will start his first race for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports after making his IndyCar debut in a non-race substitute role for Mikhail Aleshin at Road America.

Mazda Road to Indy Graduate Zachary Claman de Melo will compete in his first race with Dale Coyne Racing, as will Formula 2 driver Jordan King with Ed Carpenter Racing. Rene Binder will make his debut with Juncos Racing, and Jack Harvey will make his return for the first time since last year’s Indianapolis 500 as part of the new Michael Shank Racing with Schmidt Peterson entry.

Throw in Zack Veach in the first start his full season effort with Andretti Autosport, and seven of the 24 entrants in Sunday’s showdown will be listed with the tradition (R) symbol for rookies.

One race will be far too little to accurately gauge how the young stars perform, but with the group taking up nearly a third of the full field, don’t be surprised if one or more of the young prospects make a splash in St. Pete.

Old Faces in New Places

Defending Indianapolis 500 champion Takuma Sato is one of many drivers with a slightly different look for 2018. (Photo: Chris Owens/INDYCAR)

Much of the focus in St. Pete may go to the new blood in IndyCar, but the old guard have myriad changes to adjust to as well.

Defending champion Josef Newgarden needs only to adjust to a new car number – No. 1, which is reserved for the prior year’s champion. His Team Penske partners will only have to adapt to having one less teammate, with Helio Castroneves off to compete in sports car racing outside of Indianapolis and no one to replace him.

Chip Ganassi Racing returns just one driver of their 2017 quarter, with the legendary Scott Dixon returning to chase another championship. He’ll be joined by Dale Coyne Racing transplant Ed Jones, who impressed with a podium in his Indy 500 debut and showed promise throughout the year.

The team’s trio of lost drivers will all remain in the field with new organizations. Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball are off to Carlin, who are making the leap to IndyCar after a handful of years in Indy Lights. Veteran Tony Kanaan has made the move to Foyt, driving for one of the sport’s most legendary drivers.

Andretti teammates Alexander Rossi and Marco Andretti have made an offseason swap. Rossi will take over the No. 27 Honda and compete for the central organization alone for the first time in his three-year career. Andretti will switch to the No. 98 Honda, running under the Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian banner.

Defending Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato has made the leap to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Part-time 2017 competitors Spencer Pigot and Gabby Chaves are set to compete full-time this season with Ed Carpenter Racing and Harding Racing, respectively.

All told, only eight of the 24 competitors in Sunday’s Grand Prix are in the same position they found themselves in at this time last season. That should lend itself to a unique race, as teams adjust to both their new situations and the myriad changes surrounding them.

New Hardware

It’s the moment the entire field has been waiting for.

After a litany of offseason testing, the new 2018 spec aero kits will make their official race debut this weekend in sunny Florida.

The cars have been years in the making. Developments of the old aero kits were frozen in late 2016. Renderings made their way onto the internet over the course of 2017, and the car itself was tested for the first time in July.

The visually striking kits were officially released to the public in January, and teams have since been able to test the spec Dallara out for themselves in official series tests at both Sebring International Raceway and ISM Raceway.

Early impressions of the car trended positive for road and street circuits, but no one knows exactly what to expect until the tour gets a true race in the books. They’ll get a chance to do just that when the green flag flies on Sunday afternoon.

Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Entry List

Entry Car No. Driver Organization Engine
1 1 Josef Newgarden Team Penske Chevrolet
2 4 Matheus Leist AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet
3 5 James Hinchcliffe Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda
4 6 Robert Wickens Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda
5 9 Scott Dixon Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
6 10 Ed Jones Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
7 12 Will Power Team Penske Chevrolet
8 14 Tony Kanaan AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet
9 15 Graham Rahal Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
10 18 Sebastien Bourdais Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan Honda
11 19 Zachary Claman de Melo Dale Coyne Racing Honda
12 20 Jordan King Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet
13 21 Spencer Pigot Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet
14 22 Simon Pagenaud Team Penske Chevrolet
15 23 Charlie Kimball Carlin Chevrolet
16 26 Zach Veach Andretti Autosport Honda
17 27 Alexander Rossi Andretti Autosport Honda
18 28 Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti Autosport Honda
19 30 Takuma Sato Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
20 32 Rene Binder Juncos Racing Chevrolet
21 59 Max Chilton Carlin Chevrolet
22 60 Jack Harvey Michael Shank Racing with Schmidt Peterson Honda
23 88 Gabby Chaves Harding Racing Chevrolet
24 98 Marco Andretti Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda

Mazda Road to Indy Rundown

Looking to follow IndyCar’s ladder system – the Mazda Road to Indy? Here are the details for each series competing this weekend. 

Tours Racing: Indy Lights (Twice), Pro Mazda (Twice), USF2000 (Twice)

Circuit: Streets of St. Petersburg (St. Petersburg, Fla.)

Track Details: Clockwise – 14 turns, 1.80 miles.

Weekend Schedule

Friday, March 9

USF2000 Practice: 7:30-8:00 a.m. (Untelevised)

Pro Mazda Practice: 8:10-8:40 a.m. (Streamed Online)

Indy Lights Practice: 8:50-9:35 a.m (Streamed Online)

USF2000 Qualifying (Race 1): 10:45-11:05 a.m. (Streamed Online)

Pro Mazda Qualifying (Race 1): 1:15-1:35 p.m. (Streamed Online)

Indy Lights Qualifying (Race 1): 1:40-2:10 p.m. (Streamed Online)


Saturday, March 10

USF2000 Qualifying (Race 2): 7:30-7:50 a.m. (Untelevised)

Pro Mazda Qualifying (Race 2): 8:00-8:20 a.m. (Untelevised)

Indy Lights (Race 2): 8:30-9:00 a.m. (Untelevised)

USF2000 Race 1: 10:15 a.m.-10:55 a.m.

Pro Mazda Race 1: 12:10-12:50 p.m.

Indy Lights Race 1: 1:05-2:05 p.m. 


Sunday, March 11

Indy Lights Race 2: 10:45-11:45 a.m. 

Pro Mazda Race 2: 4:30-5:10 p.m.

USF2000 Race 2: 5:25-6:05 p.m. 

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Aaron Bearden is a Contributing Writer for Motorsports Tribune, handling coverage of both the Verizon IndyCar Series and ABB FIA Formula E Championship. A native Hoosier, Bearden has attended races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway since he was three years old. He can be found on social media at @AaronBearden93.