Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg day 1: Power bounces back after 1st practice crash

JDC_STPETE_0696-APhoto by: John Cote

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (March 11, 2016) – Will Power dug himself a hole by crashing in the first practice session for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The Team Penske driver redeemed himself by soaring to the top of the leaderboard in the second session. Power’s lap of 1 minute, 0.9431 of a second (106.329 mph) was best among the 22 Verizon IndyCar Series drivers competing in the 2016 season opener on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit by Tampa Bay. The lap came within three-tenths of a second of the track record Power set last year on his way to winning his fifth pole position at the track.

On just his fifth lap of the first practice, Power crashed his No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet entering Turn 9, the car sustaining heavy right-side damage when it hit the wall. Power reported to his crew that he was adjusting the car’s brake bias with one hand when it hit a bump and he lost control, forcing the crew to hurriedly repair it between sessions.

“Definitely a bad start,” admitted Power, who won the St. Pete races in 2010 and 2014, “but full credit to the guys to get the car back out there, get some laps, get my head around the track and so on.

“Yeah, it was a good session. (We) ran in circles with the setup, but P1, pretty happy.”

16C_9925-1-2Scott Dixon on course during practice for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg — Photo by: Chris Owens

Scott Dixon, the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series champion, was second fastest for the day at 1:00.9573 (106.304 mph) in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. Dixon has finished second at St. Petersburg three times but never won here.

“Today, (I’m) pretty happy,” said Dixon, fifth on the all-time Indy car wins list with 38. “St. Pete is a bit of a thorn in our side.

Second practice, we made some wholesale changes and pretty good gains.

“I think the car has some good potential, which you can see,” Dixon added. “Hopefully we can carry that through to tomorrow (for qualifying). Definitely for us it’s always a tricky track. It’s Friday. Obviously Sunday is the day that counts. Hopefully we can start near the front and make the most of it and have a strong start to the season.”

Simon Pagenaud, Power’s Team Penske teammate who led the first practice session, was third in the afternoon at 1:01.1796 in the No. 22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet. Honda-powered drivers scooped up the next five spots on the leaderboard, led by Graham Rahal in the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda (1:01.2924).

The afternoon session was halted for nearly 40 minutes for repairs to the track surface in Turn 3. The Holmatro Safety Team and track workers patched the areas with high-quality, quick-setting concrete, allowing the practice to resume for 40 minutes.

A third practice session is scheduled for 11:55 a.m. ET March 12, with knockout qualifying including the Firestone Fast Six session to decide the Verizon P1 Award for the pole starting at 3:40 p.m. The 110-lap race – the 13th on the city street circuit that also utilizes a runway of Albert Whitted Airport – is set for March 13 (12:30 p.m. ET, ABC).

JGS_1550-1Photo by: Joe Skibinski

Firestone extends agreement to serve as St. Pete race title sponsor

Grand Prix of St. Petersburg officials announced that Firestone has entered into a multiyear extension of the agreement to serve as title sponsor of the Verizon IndyCar Series race on the streets of the city on Tampa Bay. Firestone assumed naming rights in 2014 and the extension runs through 2018.

“Firestone has been a valued and key sponsor for many years, and together we have been able to bring this event to new heights,” said Kim Green, owner, chairman and CEO of Green Savoree Racing Promotions, organizer of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. “They are a fundamental part of the race weekend and we are thrilled to continue our partnership and growing the event with their support.”

Firestone, whose involvement in motorsports dates back more than a century, also is the official tire of the Verizon IndyCar Series, the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and the Grand Prix of Boston powered by LogMeIn, as well as title sponsor of the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.

“Everyone at Firestone is proud to continue our sponsorship of this outstanding event,” said Lisa Boggs, director of Bridgestone Americas Motorsports. “The Firestone Grand Prix is a marquee weekend on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule and the perfect venue to kick off the season. The dedication of the Green Savoree team and the support of the St. Petersburg community are second to none, and we are honored to continue this partnership.”

Grand Prix of Boston tickets on sale

The Grand Prix of Boston powered by LogMeIn, set to debut on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule on Labor Day weekend, put tickets on sale today for fans who signed up for advance sale notice through the race website. Sales to the general public begin March 15.

Tickets for the inaugural event September 2-4 on the 2.2-mile temporary street circuit in the South Boston Waterfront area will be available at www.indycarboston.com or by calling (857) 598-5566. In addition to the Verizon IndyCar Series race, other events on the weekend schedule feature Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Lamborghini Blancpain Trofeo Series and Traax Stadium Truck Series.

“It is fitting that we put advanced tickets on sale this weekend, which is the season opener in St. Petersburg,” said John Casey, president of Grand Prix of Boston. “There is huge excitement in the IndyCar community, and it is matched by the enthusiasm we have been met with in Boston. Thousands have signed up for advance ticket sales, sponsorship interest is off the charts, and the number of people looking to find ways to participate is amazing.”

Three-day reserved-seat prices range from $150-205, with three-day general admission $99. Paddock passes for the weekend are $60.

GEICO returns as KVSH Racing sponsor for ninth straight season

KVSH Racing announced that GEICO, the second largest passenger auto insurer in the United States, has returned as a team sponsor in 2016. It extends a partnership that began in 2008.

“GEICO has been a partner, and in fact a part of our family, for almost a decade, including the Indy 500 win in 2013,” said Jimmy Vasser, KVSH Racing co-owner. “We look forward to bringing them another outstanding month of May and thank them for their support in our efforts to not only win the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500, but an INDYCAR championship.”

_9SG5858-1Photo by: Shawn Gritzmacher

Hinchcliffe joins his hometown Blue Jays for spring training game

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver James Hinchcliffe, a native of suburban Toronto, met up with his favorite Major League Baseball team in the Florida sunshine March 10. Hinchcliffe attended the Blue Jays’ spring training encounter with the New York Yankees at George Steinbrenner Field in Tampa.

Before the game, Hinchcliffe met Toronto catcher Russell Martin, who presented the “Mayor” with a Blue Jays jersey embroidered with his name and No. 5, the same as the Arrow-sponsored Honda he drives in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

16C_9943-1James Hinchcliffe on course during practice for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg — Photo by: Chris Owens

Firestone Racing donates $10,000 to Racing For Kids 5K run

Firestone Racing, through the Bridgestone Americas Trust Fund, is donating $10,000 to support Racing For Kids prior to tonight’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg 5K run. Founded in 1989, Racing For Kids is a unique national charity that draws on the popularity of motorsports to bring attention to the health care needs of children and child health institutions.

What They’re Saying: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – Day 1
Note: Today’s earlier press release contained a bad link to today’s practice results.

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA (No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “Overall it was a pretty good first day. I’m pretty happy that we were able to get in a lot of running with the Verizon Chevy and we worked on a lot of things. I had too much understeer in the car but we will work on that and make it better for qualifying tomorrow.”

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): “The No. 3 Hitachi Chevy ran strong this morning. We decided to go a different direction in the afternoon and we learned a lot of things. We ran over something on track in the afternoon session but there wasn’t any damage to the car. The Hitachi boys will keep working on it and we’re looking forward to Saturday when we can improve even more.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “First of all, I’m grateful to be back at the track and back in my first race weekend since May. The No. 5 Arrow Electronics crew guys did a great job prepping the car over the winter and we came out of the box pretty strong. The first practice was a bit rough, just getting used to the new tire and the new (aero) kit but we made some changes over lunch and seem to be at least at the sharpish end. There’s still a bunch of work to do so we’ll work hard overnight and hopefully have a strong qualifying tomorrow.”

MIKHAIL ALESHIN (No. 7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “It was my day being officially back in the INDYCAR season and it was great. The No. 7 SMP Racing team has been working all day and we found some good setup solutions. We had some issues in the first practice but the second session was much better, and for sure we’re going to continue improving tomorrow.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet): “Pretty happy with today. St. Pete is a bit of a thorn in Team Target’s side. Second practice we made some wholesale changes and pretty good gains. Put the one set of new tires on, halfway through the run and actually got some traffic. I think the car has some good potential, which you can see. Hopefully we can carry that through to tomorrow.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 11 Team Hydroxycut Chevrolet): “I think the Hydroxycut KVSH Racing car is pretty good. We are struggling a tiny bit with the balance…trying to get the lap together. Then we got some traffic on that last run of tires. It seems like we have a very small window of operating range where you have one lap to pull it off and after that it just fades away pretty quick. So we will take a look at the data tonight and decide what we want to do. It is definitely going to be quite difficult this weekend. You can tell that there are going to be a lot of cars fighting for the same spot, so we are going to have to work hard.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “The No. 12 Verizon Chevy definitely had a bad start with the accident this morning, but full credit to the Team Penske guys to get the car back out there, so I could get some laps and get my head around the track and so on. It was a good session. Ran in circles with the setup. Finished P1, pretty happy.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda): “Glad to be back in St. Pete—great atmosphere and the fans are so enthusiastic so I always enjoy this track. This year we have a new package again and the car feels fast and is fun to drive. Looking from the outside, it is quite a competitive field—the pack is very tight. But we had a very good first day and hope to have an even stronger day tomorrow.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda): “I’m pleased with the performance of the Steak ‘n Shake car there in the end. The guys did a great job getting the changes we needed done over the lunch break and putting us in a pretty good spot. We’ve got a little bit of work to do but all in all we are closing the gap.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 16 RLL/Andersen Interior Contracting Honda): “It was good to be on track in St. Pete getting my first laps around the track in an Indy car. Everything feels pretty good. We tried a few things that we can improve on for tomorrow and hopefully we can move up in the pack. This was a totally different experience for me in an Indy car. The speeds are obviously a lot higher but just the size of the car makes you really feel how close you get to the walls. I’ve got to kind of readjust my distances with the bigger car so that was probably the biggest thing to get used to. Tonight I will study all of the data, look over the video and see where I can improve compared to Graham. I will try and visualize it and come back tomorrow and hopefully put it into action.”

CONOR DALY (No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda): “We made a big step forward from Session 1 to Session 2. It was just difficult because we didn’t start in the zone that we thought we would. We just had to work from a bit of a deeper hole than we’d like, which is fine. We tried something but it didn’t work and that’s OK. The field is so close, there are six cars in the same tenth of a second so we need six or seven tenths to be in the top 5 which is not a lot, but these days it is. We just need a few more things, a few more pieces to the puzzle. It’s cool in an Indy car driving here. It’s different, I’m still getting used to it. For us, it’s just about getting the car dialed in and we need to do some work on that but that’s why we have a full race weekend.”

LUCA FILIPPI (No. 19 Sonny’s Bar-B-Q Honda): “We tried some things that we thought were going to work well but unfortunately some of them didn’t work as we wanted and as expected. So there are some things that we will keep and some we have to go back on, but we were exploring. It’s good now that we have a night to look everything over and get ready for tomorrow. The position is for sure not what we expected and what we wanted to do, but it’s just because we tried different changes and for some reason they didn’t work out as we thought. There’s no drama, we know what to do for tomorrow and we should be good for qualifying. I like this course very much. It’s challenging, so tomorrow when we all go to Firestone reds for the first time it will be a question mark for everyone so it will also be down to the drivers to take the most out of it.”

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet): “It was nice to get back on track and get back to working with the guys. It’s always fun for me getting to go to a race weekend and go through the process. It really is a process when you show up to a track. It’s how you change the car practice to practice, how you continue to develop it through qualifying and then how you race it. I think we started off a little slower than we wanted to, I think we’ll be solid tomorrow. We have a lot of smart guys. We can figure it out and be in good shape for qualifying.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet): “So far it’s been a good start to the weekend. I am super proud to represent HP Enterprise. They are new to the team and they’re here this weekend and I’m so excited to race for them here in St. Pete. On the racetrack, we’ve really just been trying to keep up with the changing conditions. It’s not easy but we’ll keep working at it and see how we do in qualifying tomorrow.”

CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda): “It’s nice to be back at the streets of St. Petersburg, back to the season. It was a positive day for the No. 26 Honda, I think. We were in the top 10 and everyone is really close. I think for tomorrow, in qualifying we’ll have to put everything together to be in the front. We still have some work to do. We are missing little tenths out there, so we will work hard overnight and see what we got tomorrow.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 27 Snapple Honda): “(The afternoon session) was pretty messy, actually. We sort of got derailed trying something new with the Snapple car, and in doing that it, messed up my last new tire run. I think before that I was top six. I think Honda made a step forward and today shows the potential, but from a team standpoint we are still working to get up there and to be the first Honda.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “Not really the first day we’d like to see here. We just ended up with too much imbalance in the car – lacking grip. We need to put our heads together tonight and come out with a better package because we have a good half-second to find tomorrow. Nonetheless, it’s good to be back at the Firestone Grand Prix here in St. Pete. We’re looking forward to the weekend and hope to get the DHL Honda up front.”

JACK HAWKSWORTH (No. 41 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda): “The ABC car was really good all day. We did some good running in both practices so it was a very successful day for us. I think we’ll just rub it tonight and give it a bit of a tune but there’s not much work to do.” (About being further down in the second practice): “I just didn’t get a lap in at the end—there was so much traffic. I think we have a very good car so I’m not worried.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda): “This afternoon session was a big step forward for the No. 98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda from this morning, in terms of little issues, me knowing the track better, and us understanding the car. This is only our third day out working together, so every time we go on track is a little bit of a learning experience still, but I would say the progression from morning to afternoon was very positive. We’re still not really close to where we want to be but we took a step in the right direction and we will keep working this evening to do the same tomorrow.”

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