Thursday, March 10, 2016

Track Walk: St. Petersburg 2016

IndyCar Returns This Weekend
The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season opens from St. Petersburg, Florida for the 13th Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Scott Dixon is the defending champion after winning the 2014 title on tiebreaker over Juan Pablo Montoya. Dixon won the season finale last year and he looks to win on the streets of St. Petersburg for the first time in his career. Montoya is the defending winner at St. Petersburg and the Colombian could become the second driver to win in consecutive years on the streets of St. Petersburg. Fifteen drivers entered for the 2016 season open have won IndyCar races and nine of those drivers were race winners in 2015.

For those in the United States and Canada, do not forget Daylight Saving Time begins this Sunday and to set your clocks forward by one-hour.

Time: Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on Sunday March 13th. Green flag at 12:52 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: ABC.
Announcers: Allen Bestwick, Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever in the booth with Rick DeBruhl, Dr. Jerry Punch and Jon Beekhius working the pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice- 10:50 a.m. ET (75-minute session).
Second Practice- 3:40 p.m. ET (75-minute session).
Third Practice- 11:55 a.m. ET (45-minute session).
Qualifying- 3:40 p.m. ET.
Warm-Up- 9:00 a.m. ET (30-miunte session).
Race- 12:52 p.m. ET (110 laps)

Has Balance Been Restored? 
The first season of aero kits was scarred by the consistent disparity between the Chevrolet and Honda entries. While Honda did win six races, including two of the three 500-mile races, the manufacture was shut out for pole positions and had one front row start the entry season. Honda was allowed to make a few aero kit upgrades during the offseason in name of competitive balance.

Will those upgrades be enough for Hondas to compete with Chevrolets not just for pole positions but on street circuits? Honda won one of five street circuit races in 2015 and that was the rain-shortened Belle Isle 1 where Andretti Autosport drivers Carlos Muñoz and Marco Andretti managed their tires the best and switched to wets at the right time.

During the preseason test at Phoenix, barely anything separated the Hondas and Chevrolets but the Chevrolets still came out on top in the test with the four fastest times and eight of the top ten. While the Honda entries did not have the 2016 engine performance upgrades at the Phoenix test, the question is how much are those upgrades worth? Marco Andretti was the fastest Honda at Phoenix and was 0.0616 seconds behind the top time set by Hélio Castroneves. Will those upgrades give Andretti and the other Hondas teams that tenth of a second that could make or break the season for Honda?

Debutants and Returnees
Three drivers are set to make their IndyCar debuts at St. Petersburg while another has been around but retains rookie status and another returns after spending most of 2015 racing abroad.

Alexander Rossi comes to IndyCar after finishing second in the 2015 GP2 Series championship to ART Grand Prix and McLaren development driver Stoffel Vandoorne and Rossi made five Formula One starts with Manor Marussia. Rossi won three GP2 races last year driving for Racing Engineering.  Rossi will drive the #98 Andretti-Herta Autosport Honda after Bryan Herta Autosport formed a partnership with Andretti Autosport for the 2016 season.

Defending Indy Lights champion Spencer Pigot will make his IndyCar debut this weekend in the #16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. St. Petersburg is one of three races Pigot earned by winning the Indy Lights championship. He will attempt to run the two Indianapolis races this May. Pigot has five victories in ten Road to Indy series starts at St. Petersburg and his worst finish in St. Petersburg is fourth.

Max Chilton joins Pigot as the drivers making the climb to IndyCar from Indy Lights. Chilton started 13 of 16 Indy Lights races last year. His car failed to start prior to the Freedom 100 and he missed the two Toronto races because of Le Mans duty with the Nissan LMP1 program. Chilton won at Iowa last year and he finished fifth in the championship despite missing three races. He finished retired from race one last year at St. Petersburg after an accident with Félix Serrallés but recovered in race two to finish fourth.

Conor Daly is the fourth rookie on the grid and the Noblesville, Indiana-native will run his first full-season of IndyCar in 2016 after making five starts over the course of two seasons. Daly made his debut in the 2013 Indianapolis 500, where he finished 22nd driving for A.J. Foyt Racing. After a year in GP2, Daly's next IndyCar start would be Long Beach last year when he substituted for an injured Rocky Moran, Jr. He qualified for last year's Indianapolis 500 but failed to take the green flag after a fuel leak on the pace laps. Daly would make three more starts in 2015 substituting for the injured James Hinchcliffe. He best finished was sixth in the second Belle Isle race.

Mikhail Aleshin returns to IndyCar full-time in 2016 after spending most of 2015 driving in the European Le Mans Series for SMP Racing. Aleshin had three podiums in five ELMS starts and he made his Le Mans debut where he finished 13th in the LMP2 class, 33rd overall. Aleshin did make a surprising return to IndyCar for last season's finale at Sonoma driving for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. He finished tenth. The Russian missed two tests this offseason due to visa issues but those have been resolved and he will be in the car for St. Petersburg.

Road to Indy
The three Road to Indy series also open their 2016 seasons from St. Petersburg. A total of 52 cars are entered across the three series.

The Indy Lights grid has ballooned to 16 drivers. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports brings back Floridian RC Enerson and Coloradan Scott Anderson while promoting Pro Mazda champion Santiago Urrutia and hiring André Negrão.

Carlin brings back Ed Jones, who swept the St. Petersburg races last year on his Indy Lights debut and has promoted Neil Alberico from Pro Mazda. Félix Serrallés moves over to Carlin after running for Belardi Auto Racing in 2015.

Andretti Autosport has expanded its Indy Lights operation to three cars. Dean Stoneman comes across the Atlantic after running in Formula Renault 3.5, GP2 and GP3 the last few seasons. The team retains Shelby Blackstock from 2015 and Dalton Kellett has been promoted from Pro Mazda.

Juncos Racing retains Kyle Kaiser while Canadian Zachary Claman DeMelo replaces outgoing champion Spencer Pigot. Belardi Auto Racing hired defending Formula Three champion Felix Rosenqvist and Zach Veach, who sat out in 2015. Team Pelfrey will run two cars for Juan Piedrahita and Scott Hargrove, who is only confirmed for the St. Petersburg round.

A dozen cars are entered in Pro Mazda with two of those being National class entries.

Garett Grist finished third last year in the championship and returns with Juncos Racing as does Will Owen. Australian Jake Parsons and Argentine Nicolás Dapero join Grist and Owen at Juncos Racing.

Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing has promoted the top two finishers from the 2015 U.S. F2000 championship: Nico Jamin and Jake Eidson. Jamin won ten of 16 races, including the final six races and had 15 podiums while Eidson won four races and stood on the podium 14 times.

Team Pelfrey has entered three cars for St. Petersburg. Weiron Tan moves to Team Pelfrey as Andretti Autosport will not field cars in Pro Mazda this season. Aaron Telitz finished third in the 2015 U.S. F2000 championship and will move up to Pro Mazda with Team Pelfrey. Telitz won a race and had 11 podiums last year. Pato O'Ward returns with Team Pelfrey after finishing sixth in Pro Mazda last year with three podiums. O'Ward is only confirmed for St. Petersburg and Barber.

Mexican Jorge Cevallos will run for JDC Motorsports while the two National class entries are Jay Horak and Bobby Eberle.

The U.S. F2000 entry list has two-dozen cars on it for St. Petersburg and only two are National class entries.

Anthony Martin finished fourth last year and is the top returning driver. Martin will move to Cape Motorsports w/WTR and his teammates will be Nikita Lastochkin and Parker Thompson, two other drivers returning for another season.

Pabst Racing Servies has three entries with defending Australian Formula 4 champion Jordan Lloyd leading the way with Garth Rickards and Yufeng Luo returning for a second season in U.S. F2000.

Four cars belong to Team Pelfrey. Americans Robert Megennis and TJ Fischer are joined by Briton Jordan Cane and New Zealander James Munro. Cane is 14 years old and won four of 11 SCCA F1600 starts in 2015. Munro recently finished seventh in the Toyota Racing Series earlier this year.

John Cummiskey racing will have Ayla Årgen and Lucas Kohl as its two drivers. Austin McCusker and Sam Chastian will drive for Chastian Motorsports and Chastian is one of three teams will all-American line-ups. RJB Motorsports will have Michai Stephens and Clint McMahan. JDC MotorSports will have Tazio Ottis and National entry Robery Allaer.

Afterburner Autosport will have Brazilian Felipe Ortiz and Team USA Scholarship winner Dakota Dickerson. ArmsUp Motorsports will have Max Hanratty and bring back Victor Franzoni, who won a race last season. Australian Luke Gabin returns after finishing sixth last year. Gabin will drive for JAY Motorsports. The second National class entry is Eric Filgueiras, who will drive for Spencer Racing.

Both U.S. F2000 races will take place on Saturday. Race one will be at 8:40 a.m. ET and race two will go green at 2:00 p.m. ET.

Pro Mazda race one is scheduled for 10:50 a.m. ET on Saturday with race two set for 4:30 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Indy Lights will race at 12:55 p.m. ET on Saturday and 9:45 a.m. ET on Sunday.

Pirelli World Challenge
A week after the season opener from Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas the Pirelli World Challenge returns to St. Petersburg for the second round of its 2016 season.

Cadillac's Johnny O'Connell enters fresh off a victory at Circuit of the Americas and is the GT championship leader. Patrick Long won race one in Austin but an accident at the start of race two after contact with the Nissan's James Davison has the EFFORT Racing Porsche team scrambling to make sure Long does not miss the St. Petersburg races. Davison had finished fourth in race one but a penalty for the contact with Long relegated him to 13th in race two.

Michael Cooper and Jon Fogarty are coming off podiums in their debut weekends in the GT class. Cooper finished third in race one and was second in a Cadillac 1-2 in race two and Fogarty finished third in his first race in the #99 Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing McLaren. Nissan's Bryan Heitkotter finished second in race one at Austin but a puncture ruined his race two. K-PAX Racing Racing McLaren's Álvaro Parente and Bentley Team Absolute's Andrew Palmer were both in position for podiums in Austin but time penalties knocked them down to eight and tenth respectively in race two. Parente's teammate Colin Thompson had a respectable GT class debut with a ninth and fourth while the third K-PAX driver Austin Cindric struggled with an 11th and 14th on the weekend. CRP Racing Audi driver Kyle Marcelli finished fifth in race two.

A total of twenty GT cars are entered for St. Petersburg. EFFORT Racing's Michael Lewis is entered, as is the Acuras for Peter Cunningham and Ryan Eversley. Duncan Ende will return with TRG-Aston Martin. Andrew Davis finished seventh in race two for Calvert Dynamics Porsche and he is entered for St. Petersburg, as is Adderly Fong in the second Bentley Team Absolute entry. Only three GT-A entries for St. Petersburg: Jorge de la Torre in the #4 TRG-Aston Martin and Martin Fuentes, who swept the GT-A races at Austin in the #07 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari. DIME Racing Mercedes driver Frankie Montecalvo struggled in his first weekend in the GT class with his best finish being 11th and he will be a GT-A entry.

Four GT Cup cars are entered for St. Petersburg with Austin winners Alec Udell and Sloan Urry returning. Preston Calvert and Corey Fergus are the other two entries.

Fifteen cars are entered in the GTS class. Lawson Aschenbach finished first and second in the two Austin races while Brett Sandberg won in KTM's debut weekend. Ford's Nate Stacey finished second and fourth at Austin while Lotus driver Scott Doolittle finished fourth and third. Ginetta scored a podium in its debut weekend thanks to Parker Chase's third in race one. Chase would finish fifth in race two. Chase will be the lone Ginetta at St. Petersburg.

Aschenbach's Blackdog Speed Shop teammate Tony Gaples looks to rebound after a tough Austin weekend, where Gaples best finish was ninth. The #09 TRG-Aston Martin will be split once again by Derek DeBoer and Jason Alexandridis. DeBoer finished fifth in race one at Austin while Alexandridis finished 12th in race two. Maserati's Jeff Courtney finished in the top ten in both Austin races. Mark Klenin will return with his Maserati for St. Petersburg while Charles Espenlaub will get behind of the wheel of the #93 RT Motorsports, LLC Maserati, which Ron Ballard drove at Austin.

Lotus driver Kevin Marshall finished seventh in race two after a 14th in race one. Jack Roush, Jr. struggled at Austin, retiring in race one and finishing five laps down in 15th in race two. The Mantella Autosport KTMs will return for St. Petersburg. Anthony Mantella finished ninth in race one but was disqualified for unsportsmanlike conduct and was excluded from participating in race two. Martin Barkey finished 12th in race one and retired in race two. The addition to the GTS grid is the #73 Compass360 Racing Audi with five-time PWC champion Pierre Kleinubing set to drive.

GTS race one will be Friday at 12:20 p.m. ET with race two Saturday at 5:10 p.m. ET.

The first GT race from St. Petersburg will be at 9:35 a.m. ET on Saturday and race two will run after the IndyCar race at 3:15 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Fast Facts
This will be the first IndyCar race to take place on March 13th.

Marco Andretti will turn 29 years old on race day. He could become the tenth driver to win on his birthday. Here are the previous nine:

Dario Resta: August 19, 1916. Turned thirty-four years old and won at Chicago's Speedway Park.
Joe Boyer: May 30, 1924. Turned thirty-five years old and won the Indianapolis 500, splitting the ride with L.L. Corum.
Lou Moore: September 12, 1931. Turned twenty-seven years old and won at Syracuse.
Tony Bettenhausen: September 12, 1953. Turned thirty-seven years old and won at Syracuse.
Al Unser: May 29, 1971. Turned thirty-two years old and won the Indianapolis 500.
Nigel Mansell: August 8, 1993. Turned forty years old and won at New Hampshire.
Sam Hornish, Jr.: July 2, 2006. Turned twenty-seven years old and won at Kansas Speedway.
Scott Dixon: July 22, 2007. Turned twenty-seven years old and won at Mid-Ohio.
Dan Wheldon: June 22, 2008. Turned thirty years old and won at Iowa.

Team Penske has won seven of 12 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Hélio Castroneves has the most St. Petersburg victories with three and Will Power has won twice.

Since 2012, Chevrolet is unbeaten on the streets of St. Petersburg.

Last year, Will Power set the track record in qualifying with a lap of 1:00.6509.

Chevrolet has won the last 20 pole positions in IndyCar. The last Honda pole position was Simon Pagenaud at Houston 1 in 2014.

The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg winner gone on to win the championship four times. Those four were Paul Tracy in 2003, Dan Wheldon in 2005, Dario Franchitti in 2011 and Will Power in 2014.

The average starting position for a St. Petersburg winner is 4.1667.

Juan Pablo Montoya became the fourth St. Petersburg winner to start fourth on the grid last year. No position has produced more winners at St. Petersburg. The other three winners to start fourth were Ryan Briscoe in 2009, James Hinchcliffe in 2013 and Will Power in 2014.

The pole sitter has won at St. Petersburg twice (Castroneves 2007 and Power 2010).

Twice the winner has started 2nd (Paul Tracy 2003 and Dario Franchitti 2011).

Twice the winner has started 5th (Castroneves 2006 and 2012)

The worst starting position for a St. Petersburg winner is ninth (Wheldon 2005 and Graham Rahal 2008).

An American driver has not won the season opener since Sam Hornish, Jr. won at Homestead in 2004.

The fewest amount of lead changes in a St. Petersburg race was two in 2003. The most lead changes was ten in 2010. The average amount of lead changes is 6.1667 and the median amount is 6.5.

The average amount of caution periods at St. Petersburg is 4.667 for an average of 20.0833 laps with the median being 21 laps.

The fewest amount of cautions in a St. Petersburg race is two for ten laps. Seven cautions is the most to occur at St. Petersburg and that happened in 2009. The most caution laps was 29 laps during six caution periods in 2008 and four caution periods in 2013.

Seven St. Petersburg races have featured twenty caution laps or more.

Possible Milestones:
A victory for Scott Dixon would make him the first driver to win a race in twelve consecutive seasons.

Hélio Castroneves needs to lead 48 laps to reach the 5,500 laps led milestone.

Tony Kanaan needs to lead 41 laps to reach the 4,000 laps led milestone.

Will Power needs to lead 70 laps to reach the 3,000 laps led milestone.

Sébastien Bourdais needs to lead 67 laps to reach the 2,500 laps led milestone.

Ryan Briscoe needs to lead 58 laps to reach the 1,500 laps led milestone.

Marco Andretti needs to lead 10 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Takuma Sato needs to lead 64 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone

James Hinchcliffe needs to lead 76 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone.

Team Penske's St. Petersburg dominance will continue and Simon Pagenaud silences the critics with his first victory for the team. Chevrolet will hold a firm grasp on this race with at least four of the top six finishers and Chevrolets will sweep the front row in qualifying. A rookie will finish in the top ten. At least two top ten finishers start outside the top fifteen. There will be at least five caution periods during this race and one incident will feature a Ganassi driver. The driver who scores the bonus points for most laps led will lead at least 65 laps. Sleeper: Spencer Pigot.