Castroneves hopes to dance in Victory Lane Helio Castroneves, the winner of the past two races at St. Petersburg and the winner of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” last November, hopes to return to Victory Lane for a third consecutive season. The affable South Florida resident has led 135 laps at St. Petersburg the last two seasons. Only two drivers have ever won three consecutive races at the same track. Dan Wheldon won three in a row at Homestead-Miami Speedway (2005-07), and Scott Dixon has captured three in a row at Watkins Glen (2005-07). Castroneves finished fourth in the season opener at Homestead-Miami. Hometown hero eyes return to Victory Lane St. Petersburg resident Dan Wheldon hopes to return to Victory Lane in St. Petersburg for the first time since 2005. After winning the inaugural Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Wheldon has finished ninth in 2007 and 16th in 2006. Wheldon is coming off an third-place finish in the season opener. A crash during qualifying forced him to start 22nd. Comfortable surroundings For the nine drivers transitioning into the IndyCar Series, the streets of St. Petersburg should prove to be more comfortable surroundings. Of the nine, only two had made more than five starts on ovals prior to last weekend’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Oriol Servia recorded the best finish at Homestead-Miami (12th). Servia and Junqueira competed in Champ Car’s inaugural Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in 2003. Can one of the group break into the top 10?
Offseason changes to cars could play role at St. Petersburg The IndyCar Series introduced two changes to the cars that will have a bigger effect on street and road circuits than on ovals. In 2008, all cars are outfitted with a paddle shift system that allows drivers to shift gears without removing their hands from the steering wheel. A variable assist steering system also has been introduced. The system eases the effort required to turn the steering wheel the farther the wheel is turned. Race Notes: Three Indianapolis 500 champions are expected to participate in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg: Helio Castroneves (2001, 2002), Buddy Rice (2004) and Dan Wheldon (2005). Three IndyCar Series champions are scheduled to participate in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg: Scott Dixon (2003), Tony Kanaan (2004) and Dan Wheldon (2005). Drivers entered in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg as of March 31 have combined for 52 IndyCar Series victories, 57 pole positions and 813 starts. The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be the fourth IndyCar Series event conducted at St. Petersburg. Helio Castroneves has won the past two races, while Dan Wheldon won the inaugural race in 2005. Both are entered in this year’s race. Season-to-Date: · Scott Dixon, last weekend’s winner at Homestead-Miami Speedway, will go for back-to-back wins to start the season. He has finished second at St. Petersburg in each of the last two seasons. · Andretti Green Racing, which had a 1-2-3-4 finish at St. Petersburg in 2005, placed three of its four drivers in the top 10 at Homestead-Miami. Milestones & Records: Helio Castroneves can establish an IndyCar Series record for most consecutive seasons with at least one win should he win the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Castroneves is tied with Scott Sharp with victories in seven consecutive seasons. Helio Castroneves will attempt to make his 95th consecutive IndyCar Series start, becoming the reigning ‘Iron Man.’ Helio Castroneves can join Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon as winners of three consecutive events at one track if he wins the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Vitor Meira has gone 77 starts without a victory in the IndyCar Series, the longest drought of any IndyCar Series driver. Firestone Indy Lights Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Story Ideas: Twice as nice The Firestone Indy Lights will contest the first of four doubleheader weekends during this weekend's event at St. Petersburg. Since the format debuted in 2006 the driver who won on Saturday in St. Petersburg has won again on Sunday. Raphael Matos and Alex Lloyd swept through St. Petersburg in 2006 and 2007, respectively. Can Battistini repeat Britain's Dillon Battistini went from newcomer to the points leader in his debut weekend in the Firestone Indy Lights. The reigning Asian Pacific Formula 3 champ can claim the $5,000 Firestone Repeat Bonus should he win the first race at St. Petersburg and join countrymen Alex Lloyd and Mark Taylor as the only drivers to win the first two races of the season. Is No. 7 still lucky for Sam Schmidt? The driver of Sam Schmidt Motorsports' No. 7 car has won the drivers championship the last two seasons. Richard Antinucci, who won two road course races during a limited 2007 campaign for Cheever Racing, takes over the car for 2008. Can Antinucci be the third straight driver of the No.7 to win the title? Matos shifts gears Raphael Matos, who won the 2007 Champ Car Atlantic championship, jumps on the fast track to the IndyCar Series with AFS/Andretti Green Racing in 2008. Matos won his series debut at St. Petersburg in 2006. Can he add to his win total on the Streets of St. Petersburg? Ladies first? For the first time in series history, two female drivers will compete for the 2008 championship. Brazil's Ana Beatriz and Switzerland's Cyndie Allemann join the series as Lucas Oil Rookie of the Year candidates. Beatriz benefits from the championship experience of Sam Schmidt Motorsports, while Allemann drives for American Spirit Racing, which was one of six teams to win in 2007. Race Notes: Rafa returns Raphael Matos, who won his Firestone Indy Lights debut at St. Petersburg in 2006, returns to the track in hopes of adding to his win total. Matos is the only former St. Petersburg winner entered in the race. Another first-time winner? In two of the last three event weekends at St. Petersburg, the winning driver won his first career race. Can a new winner join Marco Andretti and Raphael Matos as a first-time winner at St. Pete? Late Joining Kiwis A pair of drivers from New Zealand will make their season debut at St. Petersburg. Marc Williams, who contested six races with Michael Crawford Motorsports in 2007, debuts with Integra Motorsports, which is affiliated with Target Chip Ganassi Racing, while Mitchell Cunningham, the younger brother of 2005 Firestone Indy Lights champion Wade Cunningham, debuts with Brian Stewart Racing. Local Lights A pair of Firestone Indy Lights teams will be racing in what is virtually a home game this weekend. Team E, which is based in Odessa, Fla., fields the entry for Bobby Wilson, who makes his home in Ocala, Fla. RLR/Andersen Racing, which is based in Palmetto, Fla., fields cars for Andrew Prendeville and J.R. Hildebrand. Milestones: · Arie Luyendyk Jr. will attempt to make his 48th and 49th Firestone Indy Lights start on the Streets of St. Petersburg, which would extend his series record. · Bobby Wilson can tie Wade Cunningham's series record for consecutive seasons with a win should he win during the Firestone Indy Lights Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Wilson has won in each of the last two seasons. · Bobby Wilson will attempt to make his 30th and 31st consecutive start, which would tie Arie Luyendyk Jr for second on the all-time list. Dillon Battistini became the sixth driver to win his Firestone Indy Lights debutwhen he won the Miami 100 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Battistini joined A.J. Foyt IV, Mark Taylor, Phil Giebler, Marco Andretti and Raphael Matos as debut winners. Weekend Schedule: Friday, April 4 7 a.m. – Garages open 9:25-10:25 a.m. – Firestone Indy Lights practice 10:45 a.m. – 12:45 p.m. – IndyCar Series practice 3:25-4:25 p.m. – IndyCar Series practice (two groups) 4:35 p.m. – Press conference (Fastest of the day) 4:45-5:45 p.m. – Firestone Indy Lights practice Saturday, April 5 6:30 a.m. – Garages open 8:05-9:05 a.m. – IndyCar Series practice (two groups) 10:05-10:35 a.m. – SWE Pole Qualifying 10:45 a.m. – Press Conference (Firestone Indy Lights front row) 10:55 a.m. -12:25 p.m. – PEAK Motor Oil Pole Qualifying 12:45 p.m. – Press onference (IndyCar Series front row) 4:45 p.m. – Firestone Indy Lights Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Race 1 (40 laps, 72 miles) 6 p.m. – Press conference (Firestone Indy Lights top three finishers) Sunday, April 6 6:30 a.m. – Garages open 8:05-8:15 a.m. – Firestone Indy Lights warm-up 8:30-9 a.m. – IndyCar Series warm-up 10:45 a.m. – Firestone Indy Lights Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Race 2 (40 laps, 72 miles) Noon – Press conference (Firestone Indy Lights top three finishers) 2:30 p.m. – Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (100 laps, 180 miles) 5:15 p.m. – Press conference (1st, 2nd, story of the day)