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Inside the IndyCar Grand Prix of St. Pete: Local connections, schedules

Mark Parker

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Bellair resident Colton Herta (center) dominated the field at the 2021 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Josef Newgard (left) finished second, while Simon Pagenaud placed third. Photos by Mark Parker.

While most of the attention surrounding the 2022 Firestone Grand Prix centers on Sunday’s IndyCar race, a plethora of events will take place throughout the weekend – many with local connections.

For anyone who lives or works in the vicinity of downtown St. Petersburg, it would be nearly impossible not to realize something big is happening. Roads surrounding downtown attractions such as the Dali Museum and the Mahaffey Theater are blocked, and the sounds of race cars taking practice laps began echoing throughout the area Thursday.

Friday marked the beginning of qualifying rounds and the weekend’s first races, with the GT America series and the Mazda MX-5 Cup featuring bay area drivers.

GT America’s first race kicked off at 2:25 p.m. today, featuring cars that are relatively more attainable to the public than their IndyCar counterparts. Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Porsche, BMW, Ferrari, Audi, BMW and Mercedes are some of the iconic brands that offer fans a diverse field of configurations.

Just two Ferraris are in action, and one just had to make a short trip across the bay. Justin Wetherill drives the No. 37 Triarsi Competizione 488, and Triarsi is the family behind local supercar dealer Ferrari of Tampa Bay.

Jason Bell, a Plant City High and University of South Florida graduate and Tampa resident, will pilot the No. 2 GMG Racing Aston Martin Vantage AMR. Bell is the SRO GT America GT4 defending champion. The final GT America race takes place at 11 a.m. Saturday.

A GT America series car zooms past through the downtown waterfront streets at the 2021 Grand Prix.

The Mazda Mx-5 Cup begins at 4:40 p.m. today, and one driver has a familiarity advantage over the others.

Dante Torello, 25, grew up watching the Firestone Grand Prix and driving the streets of downtown St. Pete’s waterfront. Tornello also graduated from USF St. Petersburg, just a quick sprint from the track. The Grand Prix even borrows USFSP’s parking garage during race weekend.

Torello began racing vintage cars in 2019 and made his MX-5 debut last month in Daytona.

The MX-5 Cup’s final race begins at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Fans will get their first taste of IndyCar action in the qualifying round at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. Streamed live on Peacock, an area resident won pole position in 2021 on his way to dominating the Grand Prix the following day.

Colton Herta, 21, bought a house in Bellair in 2020 and raced like he owned the St. Petersburg track last year.

Herta started first, shattering a Grand Prix record by leading 97 out of 100 laps on the 1.8 mile-street course. Herta’s average speed of 96.55 mph was also the fastest ever recorded on the waterfront track. Herta won the race with a 2.49-second cushion, and the St. Pete resident will try to match that success in front of a home crowd beginning Sunday at 12:30 p.m. and airing live nationally on NBC.

The Grand Prix also offers off-track activities for all ages, along with a smorgasbord of food and beverage vendors. Even with Covid limitations, last year’s event featured a kid’s zone, rock climbing and racing simulators. With pandemic restrictions no longer in place, the 2022 Grand Prix looks to add to the festivities and match the estimated 140,000 people that attended the races in 2019.

The IndyCar Party in the Park kicks off in North Straub Park at 4 p.m. Saturday.. The festival features several IndyCar drivers, along with race cars representing all six racing series running on the St. Pete track. Fans can also ogle at least one IndyCar from each team.

The free event runs from 4 to 6 p.m., fireworks follow at 8 p.m. Here is the full schedule of events, beginning Saturday:

Saturday, Feb. 26

6 a.m.: IndyCar garage opens

8-8:45 a.m.: Indy Pro 2000, Race 2

9-9:45 a.m.: NTT IndyCar Series practice (Peacock)

10-10:45 a.m.: Mazda MX-5 Cup, Race 2

11 a.m.-noon: GT America, Race 2

12:30-1:45 p.m.: NTT IndyCar Series qualifying (Peacock)

4:45 p.m.: IndyCar garage closes

Sunday, Feb. 27

6 a.m.: IndyCar garage opens

8:45-9:15 a.m.: NTT IndyCar Series warmup (Peacock)

9:30-10:30 a.m.: Indy Lights race (Peacock)

10:45-11:25 a.m.: USF2000, Race 2

11:50 a.m.: NTT IndyCar Series driver introductions

12:30 p.m.: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (100 laps, NBC)

Visit gpstpete.com for more information.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

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    Biff Baker

    February 26, 2022at12:35 am

    If Herta owns a home in Belleair, then he is not a resident of St. Pete, as stated in the article.

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