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2014 Firestone Grand Prix of St Pete Launches The IndyCar Season

By  April 11, 2014

Rough weather, heavy rain, and wind greeted the race weekend in St Petersburg this year. Despite that, Takuma Sato was able to capture pole position for the IndyCar race. On Sunday, the skies cleared up for race day and a cool breeze set in for what would be the 10th year of the running of the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg.

This was already shaping up to be a year of change for both the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg and for IndyCar itself. In terms of sponsorship, these changes are likely to be good for the races in that they’ll secure their financial futures for years to come, but from a local Tampa Bay area perspective, it has taken a little getting used to. Gone were the eye-catching liveried Honda S2000s that could previously be spotted around town at this time of year, replaced by Corvettes and Camaros with more simple livery designs which I only spotted at the race. More notably, this year was different for my photography as I was unable to volunteer to shoot for the entire weekend, so access was much more restricted. Despite that, I bring you some of my best shots from the race this year.

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Will Power dominating the streets of St Pete.

Will Power made a strong first step towards a possible championship this year, owning the lead for 74 out of 110 laps. Takuma Sato led the first 30 laps, but was passed on the outside of turn 2 in the 31st lap. Power would go on to win the race. This was despite a controversial restart on lap 82, where some drivers claimed Power was going a bit too slow and may have let off the accelerator tripping up the cars following him in the single file restart. Officials saw nothing wrong and allowed Power to continue. Sato wound up in 7thplace.

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Takuma Sato took pole position at the 2014 Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg.

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The confusion over following speeds unfortunately meant a collision for Marco Andretti and Jack Hawksworth with Marco taking evasive action right into the wall on the main straight, ending his race on lap 82. He walked away from the crash but was limping. He’s expected to recover enough to return this weekend at Long Beach.

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Marco Andretti’s car after hitting the wall on the main straight. He’s expected to recover enough to return this weekend at Long Beach.

Ryan Hunter-Reay ran a clean race and was following Will Power for most it in second place but Power never seemed to really run out of steam. In the past, he’s had some good results in St Pete but so far has not been able to pull out a win. He did however make it onto the podium this year to finish in second place.
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Helio Castroneves was able to finish 3rd while returning team mate Juan Pablo Montoya, who was expected to do well, was plagued with setup issues that kept him further back in the pack with overly aggressive tire wear. We’ll see how the rest of the season goes for Castroneves. He is a fan favorite in the Bay area, especially since he dedicated his 2012 win here to legendary driver Dan Wheldon, who lived in St Pete.

Defending race champion James Hinchcliffe didn’t seem to be back up to speed for the season yet. He was near the back for the whole race and ended up placing 19th out of a field of 22 cars.

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This is my favorite shot of the whole set. The funny thing is that I probably wasn’t even looking through the viewfinder when I took it. I lined the shot up through the fence, set the focus, and ended up getting the timing just right.

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Tomas Enge on his way to a win in the REITER Lamborghini Gallardo FL2 GT3.

In Pirelli World Challenge, the racing seemed much more tight from the bleachers, so I’m mostly just judging off of the results. The odd thing about PWC for me is that I enjoy watching it more but only know a few of the drivers by name. In the GT and GT-A class, the REITER Lamborghini Gallardo pulled off a win, with Tomas Enge behind the wheel. From there, much of what Bradley Brownell predicted in his recent Enthusiast’s Guide to Pirelli World Challenge was correct. The rumbling Cadillac CTS-V R, driven by Andy Pilgrim, came in 2nd place followed by the GMG Audi R8 driven by Andrew Palmer.

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I noticed the Turner Motorsport BMW Z4, driven by Dane Cameron, as missing from the top spots. That’s not for lack of trying. Despite finishing in 18th place due to a crash, he managed to achieve the second fastest lap time and second highest lap speed, that was less than half a second behind the winning Gallardo. If it hadn’t have crashed, it may have taken the win. K-PAX Racing’s new McLaren MP4-12C finished mid field as expected, but still managed 8th place out of 23, so not too bad.

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In GTS, Lawson Aschenbach raced to victory in the intimidating matte black colored Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro. Following him in 2nd and 3rd were Andy Lee in the Best IT Chevrolet Camaro and road racing legend Jack Baldwin in RESET-MD/Motul/Stoptech Porsche Cayman S. Just behind the podium finishers were two Mustangs, the Capaldi Boss 302R and Roush Road Racing Boss 302R. And both of the KIA Optimas made it into the top 10. Rick Bushey’s Nissan/Motul/SPL/OS Giken 370Z placed 9th. This year, I also found out that one of the mechanics that used to work at the local speed shop nearby is now part of that team.

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The Black Swan Racing SLS AMG GT3 and Absolut 911 were unfortunate casualties of the weekend. The Black Swan hit a wall late in the race. I don’t know what the Absolut 911 hit but it took a wheel with it.

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Up next is the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, which starts today. Grand Prix coverage will be live on NBC Sports Network this Sunday starting at 4:00pm ET with Indy Lights starting at 2:30pm ET. Also at just the right time, Turn 10 Studios released the Long Beach street circuit yesterday as a free track for Forza 5. So if you’ve got Forza 5 and would like to try the course out, it’s now available as a part of a free update.

For more information about the IndyCar and Pirelli World Challenge racing leagues, check out Bradley Brownell’s recent Enthusiast Guides to Verizon IndyCar Series and to the SCCA Pro Racing Pirelli World Challenge.

[Disclosure: Neither Turn 10, NBC Sports Network, Pirelli World Challenge, or IndyCar paid me for this coverage. All opinions expressed are my own.]

Full Flickr slideshow available here.

Re-published from Hooniverse, text and photography by Bryce Womeldurf
Copyright 2014 HOONART/Bryce Womeldurf

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