. PETERSBURG, Fla.—The action is fast and loud on the St. Pete waterfront. Cars are screaming down Bayshore Drive at 170 mph and hitting nearly 150 on First Street South.
IndyCars, that is—four-wheeled, 1575-lb carbon-fiber missiles pushed by 650-bhp twin-turbocharged V6 motors, capable of accelerating at multiple Gs in any direction. The purpose-built single-seat road-rockets are blasting down the streets of this beach resort city, 1.8 miles of which have been converted into a temporary race track.
For St. Pete, this is a regular thing—this weekend, as it has for a decade, the city is hosting the IndyCar Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The race takes the green flag at 3 p.m. Sunday; Friday and Saturday are used for practice and qualifying.
The weekend’s first practice session started at 10:45 a.m. and was highly entertaining as the track was cool—the sun kept ducking behind clouds—and slippery. Fans were treated to a number of lurid slides as drivers probed—and passed—the limits of adhesion.
United Fiber and Data/Andretti Autosports driver James Hinchcliffe, who won the 2013 event, was quickest in first practice, lapping the 14-corner course in 1:02.9326 at102.967 mph. AA switched to Honda power for 2014 and it seems to be working for them.
Justin Wilson, back in an IndyCar for the first time since breaking his pelvis in a wreck in the 2013 season finale in October 2013, showed that he has not lost any speed,. His best lap was only 59/10000 slower than Hinchcliffe’s—some fraction of a blink of an eye slower, basically. Wilson’s Boy Scouts-sponsored Dale Coyne Racing car is also Honda-powered.
Third in the session was Takuma Sato in the ABC Supply/AJ Foyt Racing, twelve-hundredths off the pace—a full eyeblink.
Competition was tight throughout the22-car field—the top eleven cars were within half a second of the leader and the top 18 within a second.
The afternoon session starts at 2:45 p.m., sandwiched between practice for Pirelli World Challenge, Stadium Super Trucks, Pro Mazda and USF 2000. Fans barely to look at their programs once the lunch break ends and the racing resumes.
Tickets and info are available through the St. Pete GP website. Join the crowd—surprisingly healthy for a Friday—watching these amazing cars and their equally amazing drivers maneuver through the narrow, twisting St. Pete streets at speeds which numbers cannot adequately describe—you need to see it up close and personal to really appreciate how quickly these cars go, stop, and corner.
If there is simply no way to make it in person, the race will be televised on ABC starting at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 30.