The Warm-up: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

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The NTT INDYCAR SERIES is back in action today for the first street circuit of the season, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on the action-packed streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

The capacity-capped crowd of 20,000 and the NTT INDYCAR SEIRES athletes that hit the road this afternoon are in for a great day of racing that could be affected by rain, at least in the morning.

There's a 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms before 11 a.m., according to the National Weather Service. That could create full-wet conditions during the morning warm-up, scheduled for 9:05 a.m. (ET) and live on Peacock Premium. 

Hopefully the rain never comes or is gone by the time the green flag waves to start the 100-lap race at 12:42 p.m. (ET). But if there are showers or storms in the morning, will the track have dried by the race start? Will drivers start the race on Firestone slick or wet tires if the track is damp?

Tune in to the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg at noon (ET) live on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network. You can catch radio broadcasts live on network affiliates, Sirius 211, XM 205, INDYCAR.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile App powered by NTT DATA.

Here’s what you need to know to get ready for today’s action.

Fours Are Wild

In four of the last eight Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg races, the winning driver has started fourth.

Granted, that happened in four consecutive years from 2013-16, but it proves a larger trend in the St. Petersburg street race: the winner of today’s race is likely to come from the top five. Only three times in the last 10 years has the winner rallied from a starting spot outside the top five: Sebastien Bourdais started 21st in 2017 and 14th in 2018, and Josef Newgarden won from the eighth starting spot last October.

However, the pole position rarely translates to a win: only twice in the history of this race has a driver won from the pole: Helio Castroneves in 2007 and Will Power in 2010.

All things considered, if we were in charge of your INDYCAR Fantasy Challenge driven by Firestone team, we’d put some extra merit on fourth-place starter Simon Pagenaud in the No. 22 Menards/Australian Gold Team Penske Chevrolet.

Twice as Nice

It seems that lately in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, if you’re going to win one, you might as well win two!

The last three drivers to win at St. Petersburg have gone back-to-back: Juan Pablo Montoya won in 2015-16, Bourdais in 2017-18 and Newgarden in 2019-20.

Those three aren’t the only multi-time winners here. Castroneves conquered the streets of St. Pete in 2006-07 and in 2012, and Power won in 2010 and 2014. Clearly, this track favors the victors it already knows. So, will Newgarden break the street and score his third consecutive win, or will another driver try to keep the back-to-back streak alive?

If you’re looking for who that might be, look no further than Andretti Autosport.

In the 2020 race, three Andretti Autosport drivers combined to lead 72 of the 100 laps between Alexander Rossi (led 61), Colton Herta (nine) and James Hinchcliffe (two) until misfortune struck and these drivers failed to reach victory circle.

In practice this weekend, Herta and Rossi proved strong. Herta was third fastest in first practice and fourth fastest in second practice, while Rossi was fourth and second, respectively. Herta scored the NTT P1 Award for pole position and will line up first in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda, while Rossi will roll off the grid 11th in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda. Meanwhile, Hinchcliffe, who starts 12th in the No. 29 Genesys Honda, is a former St. Petersburg winner from 2013.

It’s All Strategy

Firestone is supplying nearly 1,400 race tires for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, featuring the same compound and construction as used in the 2020 edition of the street course race.

Cara Adams, director of race tire engineering and production, Bridgestone Americas Motorsports, said this course is challenging on tires due to the varying speeds, the asphalt-to-concrete transitions and bumpy nature of the downtown St. Petersburg streets.

Each entry receives six sets of primary “black” tires, four sets of alternate “red” tires and five sets of rain tires if needed. After two practice sessions, NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers were left wondering which tire was going to be better for today’s race. The primary tire seemed to last longer than expected, and the alternate tire seemed to take longer to provide more speed and grip than it was assumed it would.

Tires will play a big factor in race strategy this afternoon, as will fuel. If a team wants to engage in a two pit stop strategy, they need to make it at least 32 laps before pitting. For those using a three-stop strategy, expect drivers to hit pit road as soon as Lap 25.

From the fans