By: Spencer Neff
March 6, 2019 | 6:30 AM
Spring is just around the corner, and with the change in seasons comes the return of the NTT IndyCar Series. For the 11th straight season, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg hosts the opening round of the series. It will be the 16th race at the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street course in Florida.
Last season ended with Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay in victory lane at Sonoma Raceway. Meanwhile, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon finished second on that Sonoma afternoon and clinched his fifth series title. Dixon took the 2018 championship by 57 points over Alexander Rossi.
With the triumph, the New Zealander joined A.J. Foyt as the only drivers with five or more titles (Foyt has seven). Even with his accomplishment, Dixon was quick to turn his focus to 2019.
In 2019, 38-year-old Dixon looks to earn consecutive titles for the first time. He also would be the first driver to do so since former teammate Dario Franchitti (2009-2011).
“We’ll see if we can actually defend one of these titles for a change,” he emphasized. We haven’t seemed to figure out how to repeat, so hopefully, it’s our year.
This weekend’s race sees 24 cars entered for the 2019 opener, and included in the entry list for this weekend are five rookies. 10Star DragonSpeed will make their IndyCar debut with rookie driver Ben Hanley.
During last year’s race, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports rookie Robert Wickens impressed the paddock with a stellar showing. After scoring pole for his first win, he led 69 laps. On the restart with two to go, Wickens and Rossi made contact with the Canadian driver spinning into the Turn 1 wall.
Rossi and Wickens’ contact played into the hands of Sebastien Bourdais. The Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan driver sped past as the caution was called and the St. Petersburg resident took the checkered flag for the second year.
This year, Bourdais looks to tie Helio Castroneves for most wins at the track (3). Bourdais can also break a tie he shares with Castroneves (2006-2007) and Juan Pablo Montoya (2015-2016) for most consecutive wins at the track.
“St. Pete is my home race and it is an honor to represent the city during race weekend. My first Indy car race was here in 2003 and I took the pole, but until the last two years, I really didn’t have a lot of success here,” the four-time ChampCar title winner noted.
“It took 15 years, and now I am the two-time defending champion and that feels good. I don’t feel any additional pressure to do well…but it’s nice to be able to sleep in my own bed and have friends and family at the track.”
Wickens is in the midst of recovering from injuries sustained at Pocono in August. On Tuesday afternoon, he revealed on social media that he will be attending this weekend’s race. This will be Wickens’ first appearence at an IndyCar-sanctioned race since his accident on August 18.
This weekend’s qualifying session and race will be covered live by NBCSN. There will also be live streaming of all on-track sessions available via the new IndyCar Pass. The IndyCar Pass will be available through NBC Sports Gold.
Additionally, the ever-stellar IndyCar Series radio coverage will be provided by the INDYCAR Radio Network. All on-track action can be seen live on NBCSN and/or NBC Sports Gold. RaceControl.IndyCar.com will provide live timing and scoring for all sessions.
The green flag for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will fly on Sunday, March 10 at 1:37 p.m. Eastern time on NBCSN and the INDYCAR Radio Network. Set your clocks as Daylight Savings time begins the morning of the race.
Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Fast Facts
Race weekend: Friday, March 8 – Sunday, March 10
Track: Streets of St. Petersburg, 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit (clockwise) through downtown St. Petersburg, Florida, including a runway of Albert Whitted Airport.
Entry list: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (PDF)
Race distance: 110 laps / 198 miles
Push-to-pass parameters: 150 seconds of total time with a maximum single duration of 15 seconds.
Firestone tire allotment: Seven sets primary, four sets alternate
Twitter: @GPSTPETE, @IndyCar, #FirestoneGP, #IndyCar
Event website: www.gpstpete.com
INDYCAR website: www.IndyCar.com
2018 race winner: Sebastien Bourdais (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda)
2018 NTT P1 Award winner: Robert Wickens (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda), 1 minute, 1.6643 seconds, 105.085 mph
Qualifying lap record: Jordan King, 1:00.0476; 107.914 mph, March 10, 2018 (set in Round 1 of qualifying).
NBCSN telecasts: Qualifying, 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday, March 9 (live); Race, 12:30 p.m. ET Sunday, March 10 (live). Leigh Diffey is the lead announcer for NBCSN alongside analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy. Pit reporters are Marty Snider, Kelli Stavast, Kevin Lee and Robin Miller.
Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network broadcasts: Mark Jaynes is the chief announcer alongside analyst Anders Krohn. Jake Query (Turn 6) and Nick Yeoman (Turn 10) are the turn announcers with Dave Furst, Rob Howden and Ryan Myrehn reporting from the pits. The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg race airs live on network affiliates, Sirius 216, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app powered by NTT DATA. All NTT IndyCar Series practices and qualifying are available on IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app, with qualifying also airing on Sirius 216 and XM 209.
NBC Sports Gold Live Streaming: All NTT IndyCar Series practice sessions and qualifying will stream live on INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold, NBC Sports’ direct-to-consumer live streaming product that will put more INDYCAR programming content at viewers’ fingertips than ever before. In addition, full-broadcast, same-day replays of NTT IndyCar Series races, live streams of Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires races, edited cutdowns of NTT IndyCar Series and Indy Lights races and more will be available.
At-track schedule (all times local):
Friday, March 8
10:45 – 11:30 a.m. – NTT IndyCar Series practice #1, NBC Sports Gold
2:20 – 3:05 p.m. – NTT IndyCar Series practice #2, NBC Sports Gold
Saturday, March 9
10:25 – 11:10 a.m. – NTT IndyCar Series practice #3, NBC Sports Gold
2:30 p.m. – Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg qualifying (Three rounds of knockout qualifications), NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold
Sunday, March 10
9:20 – 9:50 a.m. – NTT IndyCar Series warm-up, NBC Sports Gold
12:30 p.m. – NBCSN on air
1:30 p.m. – “Drivers, start your engines”
1:37 p.m. – Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg green flag
Fast Facts By INDYCAR; Header Image By Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR