(Our intrepid IndyCar contributor Matt Lennon offers his exclusive preview for the upcoming 2010 Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg Indy event, scheduled to occur this weekend. Who does he think will take the spoils?)
After a drama-filled opening round in Brazil two weeks ago, the IndyCar series finds itself back on familiar ground as the streets of St Petersburg in Florida play host to Round 2 of the 2010 championship this weekend.
The bumpy Tampa Bay harbourside layout has always provided an interesting challenge due to multiple surface changes, but the 1.8 mile track is generally well-received by the majority of the drivers for its mix of fast and slow corners, good overtaking opportunities and the general challenge of setting up the car to best ride the bumps.
This is where the majority of incidents occurred during last year’s race. Dan Wheldon and Hideki Mutoh met with disaster here in the 2009 event.
After successfully navigating through Turn 4, a short straight and a slow left- hander are next in the path of the drivers. Another left-right sequence follows next before a right-hander where drivers then head towards the harbourfront, before turning right at Turn 9 and running along the palm tree-lined waterfront at speed. A left turn then leads to the fastest corner complex of the lap, where last year, rookie Rafael Matos learned an important lesson the hard way – don’t make Danica Patrick angry.
Rafa was either trying a very daring attempt at passing, or simply thought his car was about half the width it actually was. He managed to avoid scraping the wall, but collected Patrick instead, launching her into the tyre barriers at high-speed. Both were unharmed, but Danica was none too please and was soon giving the likable Brazilian a rather large piece of her mind.
The corner Danica and Rafa were attempting to share is a high speed left kink which demands constant car control at high speed and over a very bumpy asphalt surface. Upon exiting the kink, drivers stand on the brakes for the final corner, a slow 180 degree hairpin that leads back onto the start / finish straight. This corner will also present a final overtaking opportunity for the bravest of the brave desperate to make up a position towards the end of the race.
With every race comes some sort of musical chairs among the drivers in the Indycar Series. Sponsorship dollars have provided Richard Antinucci a return to competition, driving for Team 3G, who were unable to compete in Brazil.
Sarah Fisher Racing also makes their first appearance of the year, with Graham Rahal, – the 2008 winner of the St Petersburg race – making his first appearance of the year and hoping to impress to secure further employment in 2010.
In Sao Paulo, both of my two predictions occurred, those being the first-lap accident and the eventual winner in Will Power. My prediction for St Pete is for all cars to make it through the first corner without incident.
My tip for the race win is Ryan Hunter-Reay. Only a slightly miscalculated fuel strategy prevented the Andretti Autosports driver from taking the top step on the podium in Brazil. A team as well-drilled and professional as Andretti will not make the same mistake twice, and will take their first victory since the 2008 Iowa race. I am sure that Hunter-Reay, who due to sponsorship funds, is not even confirmed to take part in the entire season, will seize his opportunity and stand up to be counted for a full-time race seat.
[Circuit map via Auto Racing 1]