St. Petersburg: A Fair Opening To The 2018 Slate
While not all circuits on the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule feature the great mix of technicality, coupled with competitiveness, the street circuit layout in St. Petersburg, Florida provides a bit of both to satisfy the drivers and spectators alike.
The 1.8 mile, 14-turn design features several public roads, coupled with the number nine runway of the Albert Whitted Airport as the front straightaway. While not the most wide-open of road courses, the circuit features at least four realistic opportunities to gain positions per lap and a mix of slow and medium speed corners to challenge the 24 drivers expected to compete.
The key to victory at St. Pete is mastering turn one. Although the widest section of tarmac available offers the best shot to gain ground, it is also a primary source of agony for drivers. The obtuse, off-camber nature of the right-hander creates an unseen, funneling effect, which has caused several first turn pile-ups since IndyCar’s inaugural appearance in 2005.
Once through the opening test, the next concern is turn three, a source of controversy last year when track degradation forced officials to install a makeshift chicane to allow the cars to pass it safely. It is unknown whether the slow down section will be applied to the course in 2018; however, it should not limit the ability to make up time heading for the 90-degree turn four. Several out-braking duels have occurred here over the years, with collisions common for those who get too brave.
Following a technical run through corners five to eight, where single-file is the requirement, the right-hander at turn nine sets up the third passing zone. The target here is to avoid getting on the power too soon; Scott Dixon found out the hard way a few seasons ago, struck the inside barriers and was forced to call it a day. The run down Bay Shore Drive to the only significant left-hander at turn ten represents the better of the final two shots to overtake. The complex allows for braking deep and run wide to defend if needed.
Off of ten, the chauffeurs hit Dan Wheldon Way, which via a flat-out right-left chicane culminates at the final hairpin of turns 13 and 14. Like at turn nine earlier in the lap, the urge here is once again to avoid punching the accelerator too soon. Grip entering the main straightaway is limited, and 360 spins have been common in past editions of this race. Drivers also need to be aware of the pit entrance lane, which veers off sharply to the right.
Team Penske has handled the St. Petersburg layout the best to date, having won eight of the first 13 events here. Will Power has earned two of those triumphs and alongside Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe represent two of just three current pilots who have ascended to the top step of the podium. Sebastien Bourdais put Dale Coyne Racing in the winner’s circle last year, in turn proving that a good starting grid position may not necessarily be required to claim P1 after 110 grueling laps.
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