Andretti Autosport drivers: James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and EJ Viso
Andretti Autosport drivers: James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and EJ Viso

After a six-month long hiatus from racing, the IZOD IndyCar community is rarin’ to go. Driver after driver after driver referenced the long off-season and how eager he or she is to get back to the new season and even better racing.

What could be better than the season’s opener on Florida streets for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. It’s a full bill, with Firestone Indy Lights, SCCA Pro Racing Pirelli World Challenge, Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, Cooper Tires USFF2000 and Historic Sportscar Racing.

The weather is lovely and promises sunny and warm most of the time. Although isolated thunderstorms are predicted throughout the weekend, who knows. Fingers crossed.

IndyCars have a full complement of 25 drivers running all nineteen races. Thirteen run Chevrolets, and twelve drive Hondas. One driver, TRISTAN VAUTIER/Florida Lottery/cw Schmidt Peterson Honda is the only IndyCar Rookie, but as the 2012 Indy Lights champion, he’s already run the St.Pete street course. Vautier isn’t the youngest kid on the block … or in the IndyCar paddock. That honor falls to JOSEF NEWGARDEN/Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda, who will be 23 this year. At the other end of the spectrum, DARIO FRANCHITTI/TargetChip Ganassi Racing Honda is the most senior driver. He turns 40 on Bump Day this year.

The race will run an extra ten laps, for 110 in all, totaling 198 miles/318.7 km. The 1.8 mile/2.897 km course has 14 turns.

In response to driver input, Firestone has come up with a grippier, softer alternative (red) tire, which is hoped to provide more passing and competition. Each driver gets 24 primary (black) tires and 12 reds. Five sets of rain tires are also part of the equation, if needed.

Joe Barbieri
Joe Barbieri
This race weekend will be additionally special for Firestone, as it marks the retirement of long-time Firestone Manager of Motorsports, JOE BARBIERI.

Thursday afternoon, the Dan Wheldon Memorial monument was unveiled in Albert Whitted Park, with Wheldon’s widow, Susie, and two sons – Sebastian and Oliver. Also unveiled was the Victory Circle monument, honoring the past winners of the St.Pete street race.

The Indy Lights Series St.Petersburg 100 Race has nine drivers, five Rookies.

The Mazda Ladder series, The Road To Indy, has two series running this weekend – the new Pro Mazda Championship with 12 drivers; and the USF2000 Series 31 drivers. The HSR vintage group has 25 drivers, with cars ranging from a 1961 MGA MKII to a couple of 2009 Porsche Caymans.

The largest field honors go to the Pirelli World Challenge Series, with 41 entries.

As far as I can tell this weekend, the IndyCar series is the only group with known female drivers – season’s regular, SIMONA de SILVESTRO/KV Racing Technology Chevrolet; and ANA BEATRIZ of Brazil, who was just signed by Dale Coyne Racing, for the St Pete race. Coyne’s plans for the second seat on his Honda team haven’t been made known. Both Beatriz and STEFAN WILSON, younger brother of Coyne’s regular driver – JUSTIN WILSON – tested with Coyne recently at Barber Motorsport Park. There’s talk of the two splitting the ride. Stay tuned.

So far, by mid-morning the weather is clearing, with partly sunny but chilly weather. IndyCars have two Friday forty-five minute practice sessions. All series practice and World Challenge ends the day with a qualifying session.

John Cardinale at the recent Beat Stomach Cancer Charity Walk at Sonoma Raceway. Photo by Mike Doran.
John Cardinale at the recent Beat Stomach Cancer Charity Walk at Sonoma Raceway. Photo by Mike Doran.
On another note, it with a sad heart I write that JOHN CARDINALE, VP of Media & Community Relations at Sonoma Raceway, has lost his valiant battle with stomach cancer. Sonoma Raceway hosts the August round of the IndyCar Series. RIP John.