St. Pete Moves to April 25; Barber Inherits Season Opener

From Indycar this morning:

INDYCAR Announces Update
to 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES Schedule
Series to return to popular Streets of St. Petersburg in April INDIANAPOLIS (Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021) – INDYCAR officials have announced the 2021 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is being rescheduled for Sunday, April 25 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The move creates a condensed, action-packed early-season schedule for 2021. The NTT INDYCAR SERIES returns to the Streets of St. Petersburg after Josef Newgarden’s thrilling win last October, which culminated with Scott Dixon’s sixth series title. NBC will remain as the television home of this year’s race on the tight, demanding street layout. “It’s not surprising that an event of this magnitude, scheduled for the first week of March, is still subject to the implications of the pandemic,” Penske Entertainment Corp. President and CEO Mark Miles said. “We’re delighted we were able to work with Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration and Green Savoree Racing Promotions to find a more suitable date, which helps consolidate the beginning of our schedule and allows us to stay on NBC network television.” Due to the move, Barber Motorsports Park becomes the host of the season opener as the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama will raise the curtain on the 2021 season. The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will mark the 18th NTT INDYCAR SERIES event in the Sunshine City. The traditional season opener since 2011 and a fan favorite on the INDYCAR schedule, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg received a three-year title sponsorship extension from Bridgestone Americas, Inc. last October. “We appreciate the officials at INDYCAR for their support in setting a new date for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and also to Mayor Kriseman and his team at the City of St. Petersburg for identifying a time when it will be conducive for more fans to attend,” said Kim Green, co-owner, chairman and CEO of GSSP, organizers of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. “We are grateful to keep the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in the springtime window and also maintain the live national broadcast coverage of the race on NBC.” An updated listing of green flag times for the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule will be announced at a later date.

Buying Time- Changes at the Front of the Schedule?

Indycar is considering pushing the opening of the season into April. The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is set to start the 2021 NTT Indycar Series the weekend of March 5-7. At that time attendance restrictions will likely still be in place. By moving the race to late April the series and Green Savoree Promotions are hoping for fewer restrictions as more COVID vaccinations will have been given by then. Green Savoree lost two races last season, Toronto and Portland. They hosted a double header weekend at Mid Ohio with just 6,000 fans a day and held the St. Pete race as the season finale with a limited number of fans.

The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, originally set for April 18, is now the season finale September 26.

The new calendar may have Barber moving back a week as well and serving as the season opener. Currently slotted for the weekend of April9-11, Barber would move to April 17-18, followed by St. Pete the following weekend. Through 2011, St. Pete and Barber were on back to back weekends.

St. Pete has not put tickets on sale as of yet with the race scheduled about eight weeks away. This tells that that something is going on. The decision needs to be made soon, since the track build would have to begin around the first if February.

Other series have either postponed or placed restrictions on their early events. Formula1 has postponed the first race, the Australian Grand prix to a yet to be determined date later in the season. IMSA has modified attendance and infield access for the Rolex 24. The Tulsa Shootout and the Chili Bowl will go on as scheduled with limited attendance and restricted fan access. The Tulsa health department will monitor the Shootout and may shut down the Chili Bowl if rules including mask wearing are not enforced.

Changes at the Rolex 24 Hours

Changes for the Rolex 24 emailed to ticket holders two weeks ago:

Unfortunately because of these required protocols, the following experiences have been cancelled:

  • Garage Access
  • Fan access to grid walk and ballfield for pre-race festivities
  • Infield Tent Camping
  • Infield Car Camping
  • GEICO Park West Tent Camping
  • Café 24 Breakfast

All 2021 Rolex 24 At DAYTONA 2-Day or 4-Day admissions are still on your account and will be available to download/print approximately two weeks before the event as we will not be mailing tickets or camping passes in 2021. This also includes your free admission to the Roar Before the Rolex 24, January 22-24. For more information on how to access your tickets using Tickets @ Home, click here. For our guests with a cancelled experience, we understand this news is disappointing and we have placed a credit on your account for the cancelled experiences.

We recognize that many factors, including your ability to travel, may have been impacted by the pandemic, and we want you to understand your options as you make decisions related to attending the 2021 Rolex 24. Please carefully read your options below based on your specific Rolex 24 At DAYTONA experience.

We thank you in advance for your cooperation in keeping everyone safe.


RV CAMPING INFO

RV Campers will be limited to six people per campsite, and all RVs must be self-contained as shower facilities will be closed. In addition, for the safety of our competitors and staff, the garages, paddock and pit road will be closed to fans, and the grid walk and ballfield access will be also be closed to fans for the 2021 event. As a result, Garage access is no longer included with the 4-day admission. We understand this news is disappointing, and we have placed a credit on your account amounting to 20% of your 4-day admissions.

Four day parking is available for $60. Cars must leave the track at the close of each day’s activities. This does not apply to race day.

Indycar Notes- Is Mario Out of a Ride? Honda Ends Fastest Seat in Sports Commitment

Photo: Mario Andretti drives the two seater before the start of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Indycar photo, Chris Jones

A story that got curiouser and curiouser finally reached its conclusion this morning.

An article in The Drive by Steve Cole Smith on October 31 indicated that !969 Indianapolis 500 winner and World Champion Mario Andretti will not return to drive Honda’s Fastest Seat in Sports, the 2 seater that leads the grid before the start of races. Smith said he learned at St. Pete that Honda is removing Andretti from the ride.

Andretti later responded with a Tweet saying this was “Fake news.”

Robin Miller of Racer magazine in a story yesterday (November 1) says that Honda has denied firing Mario. Mario also stated his desire to continue with the program, which began in 2005.

Just a couple of hours ago, Marshall Pruett of Racer reports that Honda is ending its sponsorship of the Fastest Seat in Sports. Indycar is seeking a new sponsor for the program. The question left is, will Mario Andretti still be driving?

Testing at Barber Today

21 cars will participate in the first official day of offseason testing for the NTT Indycar Series today. First time drivers taking part are three time Australian Supercars Champion Scott McLaughlin for Team Penske, seven time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson for Chip Ganassi racing, and Formula E champion Antonio Felix da Costa for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. The da Costa test is a courtesy test and not expected to lead to an Indycar ride.

The testing list, from Nathan Brown’s Twitter feed:

St. Pete Tears Down Track

My Eyes in Florida tells me that the St. Pete track is being torn down, to be rebuilt late February next year. the podiums for the race winner and championship celebrations are still up as of this morning. I would think they would leave the grandstands up as they did all summer. There is actually less time between the March 2021 race and the race two weekends ago than there was between the original date for this year and when the race was held.

Quick Thoughts (After a Deep Breath)-Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Photo: Joe Skibinski, Indycar

The Race

If Indycar wants to make St. Pete the season finale, I’m fine with that.The venue produced the finale drama that is missing from long road courses. Mistakes on a street course are costly.

I hope this race shows Indycar that double points are unnecessary for the finale.

What a great drive by Josef Newgarden, capped by an amazing pass for the lead. His win was a normal ending to a race which typified how the year 2020 has gone overall.

Photo by Chris Owens, Indycar

It was great fun watching Newgarden and Scott Dixon both doing exactly what they needed to do to have a shot at winning the title. I hope we can see this championship rivalry for a few more years.

This race had everything- leaders crashing, yellows playing with strategy, some rain, the pace car running out of fuel, the title intrigue, and the Andretti Autosport drama on both ends of the grid.

 I have never seen a team that had a complete vise-grip on a weekend destruct as quickly as Andretti Autosport did today. The team had seemed to have figured out what was ailing them early in the season the last few races and were in line for a podium sweep at one point.

With Marco Andretti not qualifying for the Leaders’ Circle, you have to wonder if we see the 98 next year.

I hope Alexander Rossi uses all of this year’s frustrations to have a monster season in 2021. Today had to be particularly heartbreaking to be on the verge of salvaging something from this year and have it go away so fast.

I think James Hinchcliffe did enough this weekend to be the prime candidate for the 26 car next year.

A couple more laps of yellow and Alex Palou might have been able to get to the end of the race. I hope he will be back next year. I really like the way he drives.

Sebastien Bourdais appears to already be helping A. J. Foyt Racing. He was in the top 10 all weekend. After getting shuffled back on pit stops and with the aid of the cautions, he worked his way up to fourth at the end. Foyt placed both cars in the top 10 with Charlie Kimball finishing eighth.

Pato O’Ward didn’t win a race this year, but I will be shocked if he doesn’t win one in 2021. Arrow McLaren SP had a competitive season. Another nice drive today for his second runner-up finish of the year.

Congratulations to Rinus VeeKay, Indycar rookie of the Year. I’m glad that he will get another year at ECR to continue to grow as a driver.

I appreciate NBC going overtime with thier coverage to allow for an interview with Dixon.

The Title

Josef Newgarden (R) congratulates Scott Dixon on winning the Indycar series title. phot from NBC on Twitter

Scott Dixon has firmly placed himself on the same plane as Foyt and Mario Andretti. He now has six championships to go along with 50 career victories. I expect him to tie Foyt with seven titles and to end up with close to 60 race wins before he is done. I have been privileged to see both Foyt and Dixon race. While they drove in different eras, each had superior talent to their peers. I may not have appreciated Foyt at the time he drove for all his accomplishments, but his career has given me the perspective and context to appreciate Dixon while he is still active.

The last four series titles-

2017- Newgarden

2018-  Dixon

2019- Newgarden

2020- Dixon

We should have maybe three more years of this rivalry.

Dixon and Newgarden completed every lap this season. It is extremely rare that one driver accomplishes this feat in a season. It is obvious why they were the title contenders and that there was only a 16 point difference at the end.

I will be back on Tuesday with my season review, which may be divided into two parts. Thanks for follow along this weekend and all season. I appreciate you so much.

Herta Leads Warm Up

Colton herta led an incident free morning warmup session for this afternoons’ Firestone Grand Prix of St. petersburg, the final NTT Indycar Series race of the season. Points leader Scott Dixon was second, and runner up Josef Newgarden finished ninth.

Pole winner Will Power was focused on fuel runs and was 16th in the session.

The race may be a fuel saving two stop race. The Pit Windows are expected to be between laps 30-35 and 60-65. I anticipate many teams to start on reds, hope for a yellow to be done with them for the day, and rub the rest of the race on the primary tires.

Race coverage begins at 2:30 Eastern on NBC, with the green flag at 2:32.

The top six:

Race Day at St. Pete- The Title and Money on the Line

Good morning. Today’s schedule: (All Times Eastern)

10:40-11:10 Warm up NBC Gold

2:32 Green Flag NBC 2:30-4:30 100 laps

A reminder – cars will be on the pace lap when the television broadcast begins.

Scott Dixon just needs to maintain his starting position to win his sixth championship. The window of possibilities for Josef Newgarden shrunk a bit when he didn’t win the pole yesterday. His eighth startoing spot will make it hard for Newgarden to get the 53 maximum points today. Both drivers need to get through turn 1 of lap 1 cleanly.

The leaders’ Circle final spot is still up for grabs. Marco Andretti will start 23. The 98 is seven points out of the Circle at the moment and will need to move up to have a chance. Sebastien Bourdais’ seventh starting spot should help the 14 car keep the final spot. Conor Daly starts 14th. The 20 car is six points ahead of the 14 in 20th.

Simon Pagenaud was headed for his best qualifying effort of the year until his late spin cost him his two best laps. Still he starts 12th, which is an improvement. Pagenaud has not let where he starts affect his racing. he could be a factor today.

Rookie of the Year

When the green flag flies, Rinus VeeKay will earn Rookie of the Year honors. VeeKay, dribving for Ed Carpenter Racing, got off to an awful start this season at Texas. He crashed in qualifying and crashed early in the race, also taking out rookie Alex Palou. The rest of the season VeeKay showed tremendous improvement, capturing a pole and a podium spot at the Harvest Grand Prix.

Notes from the Ground

I received several messages yesterday from friends at the track. My friend Ed Murray said there wer fewer vendors, which was to be expected.. he said people were complying with mask wearing.

I later saw a photo from the stands where several fans were not wearing masks. I later heard from others that track staff was reminding people about the policy.

The track claims that nearly all tickets have sold.

I wonder how much of the grandstands will remain standing for the March race.

I applaud the efforts of Indycar, Green Savoree, and the city of St. Petersburg to put this race together for a second time this year.

I’ll be back with a quick warm up recap and then my race quick toughts this afternoon.

St. Pete Qualifying- After Chaos, Normalcy Returns

Some thoughts about today’s qualifying for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which can be viewed at 8 pm Eastern on NBCSN:

It was nice to have the drama of the Fast Six again. This is only the second time this season the Fast Six has been the qualifying procedure.

It seems the black tires may be faster than the red alternate tires here. Alexander Rossi advanced from round 1 without going to the reds.

Colton Herta’s tire strategy looked good in the Fast Six but hurt him at the end.

Group two results and penalties caused a delay, partly due to an issue with timing and scoring. The delay created a lot of confusion as to who would advance. Indycar got it right in the end, though.

What a very nice run for Sebastien Bourdais in the A. J. Foyt Racing number 14. The team is definitely looking forward to beginning the season here in March.

While Scott McLaughlin starts near the back, he showed some flashes of speed in practice. He has a lot to learn about qualifying, but I think he will have a great year in 2021.

Andretti Autosport looked strong today with three cars and their technical partner Meyer Shank in the Fast Six.

Ironic that Oliver Askew got into Round 2 because Felix Rosenqvist was penalized. An angry Rosenqvist driving from the rear of the field will make for some excitement tomorrow.

I can’t remember a qualifying session where six penalties were assessed.

The Will Power/Colton Herta qualifying rivalry continues. I look for more clashes between them next year, with Herta winning a few more times.

Power’s fifth pole of the year puts him within five of Mario Andretti’s 67 career poles. Power has won 9 poles at St. Pete. Today’s was his 6th pole here in 7 years. He has won this race from the pole just once, however.

Indycar photo by Chris Jones

Strange that both title contenders , Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden failed to make the Fast Six. Dixon starts 11th and Newgarden starts 8th. Not winning the pole cost Newgarden a valuable point in his chase to overtake Dixon. Dixon still needs to finish ninth or better tomorrow, but depending on what Newgarden does, Dixon may be able to win the title with a lower finish.

James Hinchcliffe had a solid day which should help his chances to secure a seat for next year. He was strong in practice, led group 1 in qualifying, and made the Fast Six.

Tomorrow morning look for my race day preview. I’ll include some things my on site reporters have shared about the the venue.

Qualifying results:

Herta Leads Practice; McLaughlin Shows Speed

Colton Herta was fastest in the lone practice session for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. James Hinccliffe was second, followed by Alex Palou. Scott McLaughlin, in his first Indycar session, finished 10th, although he was in second place for a while.

Championship contenders josef newgarden and Scott Dixon had so-so results. Newgarden ended in 8th and Dixon 15th. Dixon hit the wall mid session and may have damaged a toe link on the right rear. he led the session for a short time.

Alexander Rossi also hit the wall at the exit of turn 2 and damaged a toe link. He returned to finish 6th.

Sebastien Bourdais was 5th in his third drive of the year for A. j. Foyt Racing.

The practice period was clean until Felix Rosenqvist spun in turn 12 with just over five minutes left. There was no damage and the session restarted with 2 minutes, 10 seconds remaining. Before anyone could get a hot lap in, Oliver Askew and Scott McLaughlin went off track with about 30 seconds left, ending the practice time.

The top 12: