Even though St. Petersburg is located right next to the bustling city of Tampa in Florida, it is still a quiet city. Local venues are the hot spots, and delicious restaurants line the streets. I’d say the sports events are what draw crowds to downtown St. Petersburg. The Tampa Bay Rays play at the Tropicana field located in downtown St. Petersburg, and the Tampa Bay Rowdies play at Al Lang Field not too far from Tropicana Field.
However, there is one event that is held each year in St Petersburg that draws crowds from all over the world: the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
For three days downtown is shut down, and roads are temporarily turned into a high-speed circuit. The track winds by notable buildings such as the Dali Museum, the Mahaffey Theater and the University of South Florida. Even residential high-rises get a taste of the action, getting a birds-eye-view of the racers.
Every year, this event blows me away; It is so exciting seeing the streets I drive on turned into an IndyCar track. The 2013 Honda Grand Prix that took place over the weekend was just as exciting as every other year, complete with heart-stopping action.
The first of the three days, Friday, is full of practice runs for the drivers that compete in the USF2000, Pro Mazda, Firestone Indy Lights, IZOD IndyCar Series, and Pirelli World Challenge. This day is usually spent roaming around, getting to see the ins-and-outs of how IndyCar teams work. The next day is filled with qualifications, and the first races in the USF2000, Pro Mazda, Pirelli World Challenge, and the Firestone Indy Lights main event. This is also the day that qualifications are held for the IZOD IndyCar Series.
[quote align=”left” color=”#000000″]”…They were about to witness the biggest event that takes place in St. Petersburg.”[/quote]
Sunday is when the action climaxes. The final races for the USF2000, Pirelli World Challenge, and Pro Mazda take place. Each of these races are just as exciting as the next, with the USF2000 featuring young drivers who are looking to make their way into professional racing. The Pirelli World Challenge is a race that is chalk full of incredibly tuned cars like the Audi R8, Mercedes-Benz SLS, Porsche GT3 and much more.
When the final IZOD IndyCar race takes place, that is when the crowds amass and hundreds of cameras begin rolling. As the IndyCars began rolling out to the starting line, the grandstands began filling up immediately, as they were about to witness the biggest event that takes place in St. Petersburg.
The cars started up and made their way around the track, with bright fireworks marking their progress. Once they reached the starting line, the race was on. Naturally, the first corner was incredibly intense with the racers rubbing tires, trying to get ahead of the pack.
As the laps went on, minor accidents occurred, but nothing terrible, thankfully. The most notable crash came after just 19 laps, when Dario Franchitti crashed into a wall, removing him from the race.
Positions were exchanged rapidly, even up until the final laps. James Hinchcliffe, Helio Castroneves, Marco Andretti, and Simona de Silvestro fought up until the very end. Silvestro was about to get her first podium finish, until her tires became completely bald. She chose to take a wide turn with two laps to go, allowing Marco Andretti pass and hold third place. Hinchcliffe secured his first ever IndyCar race win, with Castroneves in second, and Andretti in third.
Once the even was over, it was sad knowing that the track would soon be taken away, and life in St. Petersburg would return to normal. But of course, there is always next year!
Written by: Ed Jones
Photos by: Kiefer Woods of Autofluence.com and Antoine Spignardo of LoweredLifestyle.com