For the first time in the history of the Indy Car Series the season will kick off not on a traditional oval but on the challenging streets of St. Petersburg.
For years the IRL’s Indy Car Series has started their season on the high-banked oval of the Homestead-Miami Speedway.
This year, the Homestead race will now end the season, and the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg street course will host the debut of the 2009 season.
This will also mark the debut of VERSUS Television Network’s coverage of the Indy Car Series.
The St. Pete street is an excellent choice to start the season as the course combines high speed sections with tight and twisty sections that challenges the drivers like few other tracks could.
Actually calling St. Pete a street course is a misnomer. The 1.8-mile, 14-turn track is actually a combination Street and Airport track. When the drivers are taking the green flag at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg they are roaring down the wide open runway of the Albert Whitted Airport.
It is this runway that makes up the main straightaway where the Indy Cars will reach speeds close to 180 mph.
Often racing two, three and even four wide down the straight, the Honda powered Indy Cars jostle for position as they funnel into the tight turns one and two.
This is where the track transitions to a traditional street course with concrete barriers, leaving no room for error.
Exciting turn two the drivers enter another high speed stretch through turn three which is more a high speed bend where they never let up on the accelerator before getting hard on the brakes for a series of tight right and left hand bends from turns four to nine.
For the fans this is the best opportunity to watch the Indy Car drivers battle with their steering wheels, wrestling their cars right and left.
The cars then leave the slowest part of the track and then enter one of the fastest. With the beautiful backdrop of Yachts floating on Tampa Bay, the Indy Cars race along the waterfront from turn nine, through a slight left hand kink, hitting speeds approaching 160 mph before standing hard on the brakes for turn 10.
A quick right and left greets the drivers as they set up their cars for the most important corners, turns 13 and 14 which makes up the hairpin before the main straightaway.
As it is on any road course, the corner leading onto the fastest straight is the most important as it is were the most time can be gained or lost. What makes St. Pete’s so important is that it also one of the best place to make a pass.
The drivers must not also concentrate on making the perfect line through the hairpin but also do it with one eye on their mirrors.
That is one lap of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Seems easy? I forgot to mention that they are doing it cocooned in a cramped cockpit wearing a heavy driving suit in the hot Florida sun.
Each lap also consists of dozens of gearshifts, heavy braking and cornering forces reaching 3 to 4 G’s per lap. Also, the St. Pete race is 100 laps long.
VERSUS has selected a race that has the perfect combination of speed and a test of driver skill to launch their Indy Car Series coverage.
You can watch the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, live on April 5 at 2 p.m. on VERSUS.