ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The IndyCar Series opens this weekend for the 20th edition of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Although there has been some off-season movement, most of the usual suspects return at the 1.8-mile, 14-turn downtown street course.
Watch seven riders here from the start of practice on Friday through to Sunday’s race at 12:30pm.
Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske
Despite being a three-time Australian Supercar champion, McLaughlin led just five laps in his first full IndyCar season (2021) and went into last year’s opener with questions about his potential. They disappeared as he took pole, led 49 laps and claimed his first career win.
“It’s been a great momentum shift for me,” said McLaughlin. “It’s really completely changed my career path.” McLaughlin finished fourth on points and returns as one of the favorites.
Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport
The 22-year-old Belleair resident is one of the country’s brightest racing stars with perhaps an eventual future in Formula One. For the time being, the 2021 Grand Prix winner is trying to shake off last year’s disappointing season (10th in points) and find himself to re-establish itself as a contender for the championship.
Willpower, Team Penske
The reigning series champion is always a contender here; He’s taken nine poles, two wins and four other podiums (including last year). Eventually, the 42-year-old Australian will show signs of slowing down, but that hasn’t happened yet.
Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing
The six-time IndyCar Champion has won almost everything in the series except for the Grand Prix, sort of. He has finished second four times (most recently in 2019) and led 26 laps last season. Is this the year Dixon finally breaks through?
Alexander Rossi, Arrow McLaren
The California native was the last American to compete in Formula 1 and found instant success at IndyCar, where he won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie in 2016. In 2018-19 he claimed five wins at Andretti Autosport but has since finished ninth, eighth and tenth in points.
NBC Sports analyst James Hinchcliffe called Rossi’s offseason move from Andretti to Arrow McLaren “one of the top stories” of the series. This is our first indication of how quickly this will pay off for both Rossi and his new team.
Josef Newgarden, Team Penske
The 32-year-old Tennessee native was as good as any other driver in the series. The two-time IndyCar Champion has finished second in points for each of the last three seasons and won the 2019 and 2020 Grands Prix. There’s no reason to think he won’t win on Sunday.
Kyle Kirkwood, Andretti Autosport
The 24-year-old Jupiter native has been the star of his journey to IndyCar, becoming the first driver ever to win championships in all three feeder series. But he struggled fiercely after replacing Sebastien Bourdais in the AJ Foyt Racing No. 14 Chevrolet; As a rookie, Kirkwood finished 24th in points with more falls (seven) than top 15 finishes (three).
Looking back, Kirkwood said being on a smaller team helped him last year because as a rookie at a power shop like Andretti, he “would have really been thrown in at the deep end.” How much the experience and the change of scenery help, we will see from this weekend. “A lot of eyes on him,” Hinchcliffe said.
The Grand Prix announced Thursday that Firestone and RP Funding have committed to remain the event’s title and sponsors through 2025. The race also signed a “multi-year renewal” with IndyCar and announced dates for the next two years: March 8-10. 2024 and March 7-9, 2025.
Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg
Friday-Sunday, downtown; The 1.8-mile, 14-turn circuit takes in the streets surrounding Pioneer Park, the Duke Energy Center for the Arts and the Dalí Museum, and extends to the runways of Albert Whitted Airport.
Feature Race: 12:30 p.m. Sunday TV: NBC
©2023 Tampa Bay Times. Visit www.tampabay.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.