Photo: Scott McLaughlin at the post race press conference.
Race weekends just don’t get any better than the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding that concluding with a very good race yesterday.
Scott McLaughlin won his first Indycar race by hitting the correct pit strategy and holding off defending series champion Alex Palou by 0.5 seconds. The race was a fascinating ix of pit strategies, complicated by the race’s only caution flag, which happened at the start of the first pit window.
The race, however, was just one part of what made the final weekend of February so special. The crowd was definitely a record. I have been going to this race since 2013, and I have not seen a crowd this size in St. Pete. Indycar officials say attendance was up 49% from the 140,000 in 2019, the last pre pandemic race. In 2020 and 2021, the race had a limit of 20,000 fans each day.
I have never seen the turn 10 bleachers so full, and the general admission area in front of the Mahaffey Theater was packed.
The atmosphere at the track on Sunday felt like Race Day at IMS.
Party in the Park
The Grand Prix added a free event for fans Saturday afternoon. Party in the Park featured giveaways, including a two seater ride, show cars, and driver interviews. The event was well attended. I was pleased to see so many families there.
Sirius XM I’s Indycar channel conducted driver interviews at the event. Tony Kanaan and Conor Daly were guests when I arrived.
After sunset fireworks lit up the harbor.
Ancillary events like Party in the Park are essential to the community involvement needed for a successful street race. The St. Petersburg race has grown steadily since I began attending. This year the event has begun to approach the level of Long Beach. I hope this trend continues.
The season opener at St. Pete is always a time to see friends that you haven’t seen all winter. In 2022, the reunions were more special. I saw some dear friends I hadn’t been able to see in three years due to the pandemic. I am now more eager for the month of May, when I will be able to see even more friends in person.