The World’s Fastest Spring Break Party, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg kicks of the Mazda Road to Indy season once again. With arguably some of the best weather in the country this time of year and a waterside street course, there’s little doubt as to why there’s so much excitement among the teams and drivers for this race. Not to mention, this street course has two long straight-aways, in addition to a variety of road surfaces, which will definitely bring us some high speeds and certainly add to the excitement. Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect in the East Coast “city by the bay.”
USF2000 – The Peninsula Pipeline Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
This is a tough one to pick away at. There’s a huge pack of young, hungry drivers and teams looking make their first impression known throughout the series right off the track. Expect a lot of action, tight racing, and almost unpredictable outcomes throughout the weekend. Some of the teams to watch this opening weekend are Cape Motorsports, who come to St. Pete with multiple season championships, and Belardi Auto Racing, looking really good at this year’s Cooper Tires Winterfest Championship. Keep an eye on RC Enerson, who had a fantastic run at Winterfest earning him another championship title.
Pro Mazda – The Allied Building Products Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
With a well blended field of rookie and experienced drivers, Pro Mazda has an exciting year ahead. The returning Spencer Pigot is looking like the man to beat after his stellar performance at Winterfest. Cape Motorsports have an encouraging graduation in Scott Hargrove who moves up to Pro Mazda after a championship season in USF2000. As always, the unknown variable in the Mazda Road to Indy, are the talents of those drivers who join the series from abroad. Notably, Brazilian driver Pipo Derani with Team Pelfrey showed strong skills at Winterfest, and will certainly be a driver to watch and beware as the season gets underway.
Indy Lights – St. Petersburg 100
With returning Vice-Champion Gabby Chaves now with Belardi Racing, it seems he’s going to be the target for the other teams and drivers this season. That being said, Pro Mazda grad Matty Brabham brought the goods to Winterfest this year and turned some heads. After taking the championships in USF2000 and Pro Mazda, he’s hungry for a 3-peat and is looking to be in a good position to make it happen. This field seems to have the most experienced Indy Lights drivers back on the track, but also a good enough number of talented rookie drivers to keep it interesting. Not to be outdone, Indy Lights staple Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is ready to defend their title for what is shaping up to be an Indy Lights season you won’t want to miss.
Although the veterans are expected to have the edge in each series as always, the introduction of Cooper Tires in Indy Lights as the new tire sponsor certainly adds a variable that levels the playing field as drivers and teams learn and adjust to their new shoes. Winterfest was a great season preview, but with normal temperatures, endpoints on the line, St. Petersburg undoubtedly sets the tone for the season.