With fewer than 100 days to the season opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the cars and stars of the Izod Indy Car Series, like Tony Kanaan, (Tony Kanaan_bumper) were on the short course at Sebring International Raceway. This past week for the final two days of testing that were allowed by Indy Car rules for the current year. 16 drivers took to the 1.8 mile, 12 turn short course, on the raceway that started life as Hendrick Army Airfield, originally a World War II bomber training base. The cars looked very stable, and fast. All lap times were unofficial with Will Power turning in a fast lap of 52.84 seconds, and Rookie sensation Tristen Vautier, testing with the Schmidt-Hamilton team was just a tick slower with an impressive 52.85 seconds. The entire field of was separated by only 6 /10ths of a second.
Although the teams and drivers were not anxious to divulge just what they were working on, it was pretty obvious that a lot of what was being done had to do with preparing for the season opener in St. Pete. There were a number of spring and shock changes, and the teams were busy with quite a few wing changes and adjustments to both the front and rear wings. The technicians at the Firestone hauler were constantly mounting new tires and the teams seemed to be working with the harder compound tires. This would lead you to believe that this test session was more in tuned to getting a race set up for a 1.8 mile relatively rough, road racing circuit, very much like the 1.8 mile, 14 turn temporary street circuit at St. Pete.
None of the drivers we spoke with would admit directly to working on a set up for St. Pete, but all seemed anxious to return to the downtown waterfront of Saint Petersburg. Three time winner Helio Castroneves had this to say about returning to Saint Petersburg, and defending his 2012
title, “As every year passes by I expect the competition to get tougher, but on the other hand we keep improving so I think we have a good chance to repeat our win. I really like Saint Petersburg, the layout, the atmosphere, the fans, plus it’s the start of a new season so everyone if fresh.” Castroneves Penske teammate Will Power remarked, ”I’m really looking forward to getting back there, we had an exceptional car there this year, we didn’t have the best of races, but I’m really looking forward to it.”
KV Racing’s Simona De Silvestro was beaming about having Chevy power for the 2013 season, “ The team has been working really hard, and we expect good results, my best finish in Indy Car was at St.Pete, and my goal is to better that fourth place finish.”De Silvestro’s running mate Tony Kanaan smiled and said, “We will be good at St.Pete, can’t wait to get there.”
Simon Pagenaud summed it up like this, “ It’s always important to get the season started on the right foot, we didn’t have a particularly good race there this year, but we have worked hard on our race cars over the off season, and we would like to improve on our disappointing finish there, I really like the race course, it is a little rough but there is also a high level of grip, it’s tight and you must concentrate at all times, if you lose your concentration you will be in the wall, I enjoy that type of challenge.”
Joseph Newgarden , the pilot for the Fisher- Hartman team was really excited to get back to the streets. “Man, we are looking for good things next year, not just St.Pete but the entire season. 2012 was the team’s first season together, and of course it was my first season driving with the team, we didn’t run bad in St. Pete, we had a little trouble in practice but the race went pretty well considering it was our first race. I look forward to going back this year, the race in St. Pete is just cool, the layout of the track right next to the water, the fans, and support from the city makes it one of my favorite races, and it’s just an awesome place to run.”
With the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg scheduled to open the 2013 Izod Indy car season, this final testing session may just indicate the fans in Saint Petersburg can expect faster speeds, and tighter racing. You only need to look at the lap times this test session produced, the slowest time recorded 53.4 seconds, the fastest, a blistering 52,8 seconds. This is relative as the length of the Short course at Sebring is 1.8 miles, the exact length of the temporary street course in St. Petersburg, granted, St. Pete has 2 additional turns but they should not affect overall speed that much, and the fastest race lap at St. Pete dates back to 2007 when Marco Andretti ran a 1:02.9 second lap. Even the fastest pole time recorded in 2010 by Penske Powerhouse, and former Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg champion, Will Power was just 1:01.6 seconds. So if the lap times from this most recent test session hold true, it may be the fastest race in the history of Grand Prix.
The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is scheduled for March 22nd through March 24th. This will be a can’t miss event, Tickets are available now by visiting www.gpstpete.com