IRL: St. Pete: Inaugural street course preview

IRL INDYCAR® SERIES PARTICIPANTS TAKE ON NEW CHALLENGE ON STREETS OF DOWNTOWN ST. PETERSBURG INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, March 28, 2005 -- The IRL IndyCar® Series continues its 10th season of competition with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg...

IRL INDYCAR® SERIES PARTICIPANTS TAKE ON NEW CHALLENGE ON STREETS OF DOWNTOWN ST. PETERSBURG

INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, March 28, 2005 -- The IRL IndyCar® Series continues its 10th season of competition with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, April 3 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

After completing 85,724 consecutive left hand turns, the next official turn at an IndyCar Series event will see the cars turning right for the first time on the 14-turn, 1.8-mile temporary street circuit.

It's a new challenge that the drivers and their teams are looking forward to as described in the following first-person narratives:

THE DRIVER:

Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Darren Manning is one of two current IndyCar Series drivers with experience on the St. Petersburg Street Circuit. Manning competed on the temporary street circuit when he drove for Walker Racing in the Champ Car World Series in 2003. Manning is an accomplished road racer, winning the prestigious Macau Grand Prix in 1999 and serving as a test driver for the BAR-Honda Formula One team.

"You're at top speed coming down the front stretch, which is really a bumpy airport runway, going into the right-hander at Turn 1. The turn is slow, but really wide open, so there are lots of chances for overtaking. Turns 2 and 3 also are a nice little passing section where you're really going to have to try to get absolutely flat out because they're pretty fast corners.

"Between Turns 3 and 4, the back straight is a little bumpy because this is where you're back onto the real street circuit, so you have a crest in the road and things. Turns 4-6 are all through a car park (parking lot). The area has been widened but is all a twisty complex. You're braking on a diagonal through (Turns) 6 and 7 for the double-right at (Turns) 8 and 9. There is a short chute between 8 and 9, where you can overtake, before the second right angle in a row. (Turn) 9 is really tricky on the exit. It's off-camber because you're still on the road, and you're crossing over the main road that is really off-camber because of the drainage and things.

"At turns 9-10, you're flat out down the kink in the back straight, which will be easy flat in these cars, and into a tightened-up Turn 10 to make it easier to overtake and safer. That takes you to turns 11-12, where you try to get absolutely flat going through here -- they're the fastest corners on the track -- before getting to a big loop at turns 13-14. That section is long, tight, and slippy and gets you back on to the front straightaway."

THE ENGINEER:

Chris Finch has served on the engineering staff of Fernandez Racing since Adrian Fernandez started the team in 2001. Since then, he helped Adrian Fernandez to four Indy-style victories, including three IndyCar Series wins in 2004. Finch and John Ward are currently race engineers for Scott Sharp's No. 8 Delphi Honda-powered Panoz.

"On a street circuit, you tend to not have the level of grip -- at least initially -- that you would have on a road course because it is a temporary circuit. You need to think of ways to pick up grip essentially, especially on Day One. The tires that you end up with are softer than a road course tire and that helps. At the same time, it is not the answer to all of your problems. Street circuits tend to be rougher and tend to have higher curbing so you have to be well-balanced over those so the driver can have stability over bumps and still be able to pick up grip while the car is going over all the undulations and bumps and curbs.

"St. Pete has a couple of pretty fast, sweeping corners -- especially Turn 3 -- that were an issue in the past. It was very hard to balance the car under acceleration and yet maintain full throttle. IndyCar Series cars may be slightly different, but I know with the Champ Car it was very difficult. The fast guys that had really good cars were able to do that consistently. There is a tight section, very similar to Long Beach, where it is all second gear corners, and it will be important to have good mechanical grip with the car. In the back section of the course, there is a very high-speed chicane leading into a very hard right-hand second-gear corner, and it could be difficult to balance the car through that section.

"We have had limited road course testing with these cars although we are going to Sebring (International Raceway) on Tuesday, which will help us a lot. We will be trying to find a good, mechanical balance for the race car for St. Pete. We have been there before in 2003, so we understand the nuances of the track. We had a pretty good street course setup with the Lola at the end of 2003 with Adrian (Fernandez). In the end, it is taking that kind of knowledge and applying it to the Panoz to make a good, well-balanced car.

THE MECHANIC:

A new challenge for teams is converting cars from the oval package to the road course package used. Some teams chose to test at Sebring International Raceway, which shortened the timeline for converting the cars. Among the items that need to be changed are the brakes, suspension and powertrain.

Suspension changes are needed because of increased braking and acceleration loads. Suspension uprights also have changed to accommodate larger brake calipers. Because of the larger brake calipers, the brakes have changed to increase cooling to the brakes

The road-course powertrain utilizes a limited-slip differential, which will help power the rear wheels while turning, and a faster steering rack, with more teeth on the pinion, to provide more steering input for the drivers.

Buddy Lindblom, team manager for Panther Racing, said the changes to the car did not affect the amount of work his team had to accomplish before the event.

"Getting ready for the road courses was pretty much the same for us. For our own purposes, crashing (at Phoenix) caused us more of a problem than setting up the cars for Sebring and St. Pete. We also got some parts that we didn't receive until the last minute that put us behind."

WHERE THE RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD:

Firestone's race tire development team considers the configuration of each track as it chooses the tire compound to be used at each track. According to Firestone engineers, the asphalt and concrete surfaces of the temporary street circuit will require the softest street-course tire in the Firestone inventory.

Firestone also will have the Firehawk rain tire available in the event of wet weather running.

RACE FACTS:

WHAT:
Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, third race in 17-race 2005 season

WHERE:
Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., 1.8-mile temporary street circuit

WHEN:
3:30 p.m. (EDT), Sunday, April 3

DISTANCE:
100 laps/181 miles

TV:
ESPN (live), 3:30 p.m. (EST), April 3

RADIO:
Qualifying webcast: 2:30 p.m. (EST) April 2, www.indycar.com
Race: IMS Radio Network, 3 p.m. (EDT), April 3

***

The 10th season of IndyCar Series competition continues with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, April 3 on the streets of downtown St. Petersburg, Fla. The race, the first non-oval event in IndyCar Series history, will be telecast live by ESPN and broadcast by IMS Radio Network at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) The race also will be available on XM Satellite Radio channel "XM Extreme" (Channel 152). The next Menards Infiniti Pro Series race is the Menards Infiniti Pro Series Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, April 3 on the streets of downtown St. Petersburg, Fla. ESPN2's coverage of the race will be telecast at 3 p.m. (EDT) on April 8.

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Darren Manning , Buddy Lazier , Scott Sharp , Adrian Fernandez , Chip Ganassi
Teams Panther Racing , Chip Ganassi Racing , CIP