The eighteenth Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg began late this morning with a gala luncheon. Drivers from each of the series racing on the downtown streets were present. Mayor Ken Welch, who will serve as the race’s Grand Marshall, welcomed everyone. The race expects a record crowd for the three day long event.
The drivers each gave brief remarks.
I chatted with Takuma Sato, David Malukas, and Kyle Kirkwood.
Sato is enjoying his new team, Dale Coyne Racing.
“I love it. Right obviously you know some nervousness but it’s a lot of excitement in a new team new boys engineers and you know, I’m happily settling. So very, very good.”
About his rookie teammate, Sato said,
“…he’s obviously the one of the upcoming young drivers, is very bright and cheerful and he’s been quick to learn so I think we have a really good opportunity to work together.”
Sato is excited for this weekend, but thinks there are a lot of unknowns.
“Well, I would say you know, re are little unknown factors but yeah, that’s how it is and in particular for the first practice for the day.”
Sato’s teammate, David Malukas is eager to begin his Indycar career. He ha d a lot of praise for Sato, who was on his radio during the first test day at Sebring.
“Sebring was great. I mean, the first day was amazing, I think we ended up being like P two on the time. It’s like I was always surprised. Second day, we tried many different changes, because the whole goal we’re not winning Sebring. We didn’t want to chase the car to try to get ready for today. And we found some pluses somewhere like confusing, but in the end we were exactly right. After three months off, I was like really impressed with the car. I was like, What do I do? Takuma has been a big help. Oh, of course. I mean, he has so much expertise and he helped me so incredibly. Like he helped me so much the first day; he didn’t actually drive so like he had the headset on and he was talking to me telling me some information like what I should do. He’s awesome. He’s so friendly.”
Malukas is concerned about pit stops and driving on the alternate tires. About the red tires, he said,
“So I hear rumors. I heard some rumors that like actually sometimes the car’s slower with it because it’s so much grip and it’s so hard that they don’t want you to stand on it, I don’t know. Hopefully we could see like, I mean, there’s a big jump with it. Hopefully we can figure it out and hope like I still hold on to the wheel. Because I heard it gets even heavier.”
Pit stops are totally new to Malukas, but he thinks the walls and the limiter may help him.
“Oh, that’s still very new to me. We did some practice and man I’m not gonna lie I was pretty bad. Takuma did it like perfectly every time so that’s gonna be, I think, the hard part for me is getting it right. I’ve never done that my whole life. So we’ll see how it goes. I think now you know that I like an actual wall and there’s people everywhere. I think it’d be a bit easier because you know, at Sebring we’re trying to simulate a situation with tires, everything and it just wasn’t good. So we’ll see.”
Kyle Kirkwood is happy with how testing went last week and appreciates the help he has received from his A. J. Foyt Racing teammates, Dalton Kellett and Tatiana Calderon.
“Dalton has obviously a wealth of knowledge as well as engineering capabilities and Tatiana hsa a lot of experience. She n a lot of different cars, so there’s a lot of things that she’s been able to add to the team that are just like I’ve never really thought to do that.”
Kirkwood is uncertain how the alternate tires will perform.
“They changed this weekend. I don’t know what’s gonna happen. I think from my knowledge, looking at the seat they’re gonna be quicker but they’re going to go away faster. I don’t know what made you know, I’ll let you know I’ve never driven on red tire so that’s what I was wondering. Yeah, anticipation. I’ll let you know after the first practice.”