After a thrilling opening round of the NTT Indy Car Series at Barber Motorsports Park last Sunday, which saw Chip Ganassi driver Alex Palou take his first career IndyCar win. The series heads to the tight confines of the Streets of St. Petersburg for the first street course race of the 2021 season.
Event History: While there has been racing in St. Petersburg, Florida since 1985, the series had been racing on the current layout of the Grand Prix course since 2003, back before the CART/IndyCar merger in 2008. The first win was taken by Forsythe Racing and Paul Tracy. After a hiatus in 2004, the series returned in 2005, and the event was won by Dan Wheldon. There are five current drivers in the series who have won at St. Petersburg. Joesf Newgarden has won the last two times here in 2019 and 2020. Joining him are the likes of Will Power, Graham Rahal, James Hinchcliff, and Sebastian Bourdais.
Track Facts: The Streets of St. Petersburg is a 1.8 mile, 14 turn road course that has 5 right turns and 9 left-hand turns that incorporates some downtown roads of St. Petersburg and a runway of the nearby Albert Whitted Airfield. That section of the runway is the widest part of the racetrack that also holds the pits and paddock area for teams to use. This track has three main passing opportunities. A heavy braking zone into turn one, where a driver can start a pass and complete it as they exit the turns one and two right-left switchbacks. Coming out of two, there is a kink that is listed as turn three, but the next main opportunity to pass is the heavy braking zone of turn four, a sharp 90-degree right-hand corner which leads into the more technical and tight turns five through nine. Coming out of turn nine leads you on to the longest section of the course, which leads to the third hard-braking zone of turn ten. After that, the course leads on to Dan Wheldon Way (Turns 11,12, and 13), which leads into a carousel of turns thirteen and fourteen, which completes a lap at St. Petersburg.
2020 Event: The 2020 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which was originally intended to be the inaugural race of the season, was postponed until the last race of the season, which saw Josef Newgarden take his second straight win at the track and his fourth win for the 2020 season. As this being the championship race of the season, the championship came down to a battle between Newgarden and Scott Dixon. Even though Newgarden won the race that gave out double points, the third-place finish of Dixon secured his sixth IndyCar Series Championship.
Race Prediction: For this weekend of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, I think you would have to start with Josef Newgarden. As previously mentioned, Newgarden has won the past two times the series comes to town and in impressive fashion last year by having a margin of victory of 4.5 seconds over second-place Pato O'Ward. Which leaves me to the young Mexican driver. O'Ward has shown speed last year at this race and was the fastest car last week at Barber, but once caught in traffic it seemed he just couldn't find passing opportunities. But also look out for the veteran Will Power, who finished second last week, but is the fastest car in the Penske stable right now. But my prediction may not come out of left field to you, it's not even a surprise. I think Josef Newgarden makes it three in a row this weekend in St. Petersburg.
Weekend Schedule: On-track activity in preparation for the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg begins on Friday afternoon for the first practice session. Moving to Saturday, we will see the final full practice session and qualifying as well as Indy Lights Race 1. On Sunday, we will have IndyCar warmup as the last chance to adjust the car. Then moving on to Indy Lights Race 2. Then at Noon Est, Coverage will begin for the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on NBC. You can catch Indy Lights, practice, and qualifying on NBC's streaming service Peacock.