For Ryan Hunter-Reay, a return to St. Petersburg, Fla., for next month’s season-opening NTT INDYCAR SERIES race, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, represents more than it does for most drivers. This is his home race and where his Indy car career began in 2003.
“This event has a special place for me for that reason,” Hunter-Reay said during Tuesday’s ceremonial start to the construction process of St. Petersburg’s downtown street circuit. “It’s the season opener and it’s a home race, so this is where all my friends and family come to, and it’s the first time in the season you are back working with your team, seeing all the spectators and fans that we love to have out.
“It’s definitely very memorable but yeah, 17 years (since the debut) makes me feel old.”
That year also was the first race for St. Petersburg. Hunter-Reay, who lives in his native Fort Lauderdale, started 12th in the 19-car Champ Car World Series field driving the No. 31 Reynard for Johansson Motorsports, then a new team owned by former driver Stefan Johansson. Unfortunately, Hunter-Reay’s race on the 62nd lap due to contact in Turn 10. Paul Tracy won.
Hunter-Reay will return to St. Petersburg next month for the event which runs March 13-15 (the race airs on Sunday, March 15 on NBCSN at 3:30 p.m. ET). Hunter-Reay will drive the No. 28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport, and he will be seeking his first win in the event after finishing second three times (2009, ’10 and ‘14) and third twice (2011 and ‘16).
With seven top-five finishes in 13 starts, plus two seventh-place finishes, Hunter-Reay has been the event’s best driver without a victory.
“Still looking for that first one,” he said. “Finished second and third a few times.”
Series newcomer and fellow Floridian Oliver Askew (No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet) visited the track build with Hunter-Reay. Askew calls Jupiter home.
Construction of the circuit began Monday and will be completed in just 23 days. From start to finish, the track will be in place for just over three weeks.
The drivers will find a pavement surface all over the 14-turn, 1.8-mile circuit. “This will be a new challenge, but everybody’s up for it,” Hunter-Reay said.
Charitable activities in the days before the race include a karting event that benefits Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and a 5K race benefitting the Police Athletic League.