March 28, 2011
Once again this year I traveled over to the West coast of Florida to attend the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Indy Racing League race. Kathy could not attend this year due to conflicts with her work schedule, so I headed over alone for the long race weekend.
Simona de Silvestro
I was lucky and able to score a free upgrade on my rental car and got a brand spanking new Mustang convertible, meaning I cruised the vast majority of the seven hour drive over to St. Pete with the top down and the bright beautiful Florida sunshine beating down. It was a great drive. Upon arrival, I checked in to the Larelle House, the wonderful little b & b where Kathy & I stayed last year. It is an easy walk to the downtown area where the race track twisted along the downtown waterfront.
The 1.8 mile track utilizes both a runway from the Albert Whitted airport as well as downtown city streets, it features 14 turns and is a pretty tight course. This year the St. Pete Grand Prix is the opening event of the Indy Car series and there have been all sorts of off-season driver changes and drama, making this one of the most anticipated and interesting season openers in years.
Jason & Marco Andretti
I was there for the opening practice Friday morning, having secured a special pass to the Izod Indy Car Performance Pit from the Indy Car Nation club. This new special area is located at the south end of pit row and offers a great view of pit action and the first turn. I was able to get some decent photos and have a front row seat to watch the practice sessions.
During a break in the action, I checked out the brand new Salvador Dali Museum which is located in the infield of the track just outside of turn 10. The beautiful new facility replaces the old museum, which Kathy & I had visited just last year. It is an amazing piece of architecture and houses many of Dali’s most significant artwork. It also happens to have a spectacular view of the track from both the second and third story. It was a cool diversion from the racing.
I spent the day at the track watching practice, hanging out in the pits and paddock before heading back to the Larelle House for a quick shower before heading over to nearby Vinoy Park to participate in the Sam Schmidt St. Petersburg Grand Prix 5K race. Though tired from a day at the track, I could not miss walking in this 5K, which made its way along the beautiful St. Pete waterfront before taking a full lap around the 1.8 mile track.
It was a beautiful evening and perfect for the race, which allowed me to get an up close and personal view of the track and pits, only a few minutes after the cars had finished running for the day. The race raised money for Sam Schmidt’s paralysis foundation. Schmidt is a former driver, now team owner who was paralyzed in a racing accident. It was a wonderful cap on a fantastic first day at the races.