I’m a little late getting this out considering the race happened three weeks ago, but hey, better late than never! This is the 3rd year in a row that Bayley and I have attended the Grand Prix of St Pete, and while I did write about it in 2016, I never got around to it last year for some reason, so I’ll make up for that by being extra wordy this time. One thing to note here, I’m not going to cover the race itself, there are plenty of motorsports writers who do it for a living that cover it far better than I could. If you’re looking for well-written recaps, hit up TrackSide Online or the IndyCar section of Racer’s site. I’ll be talking to our experience as fans at the track, and maybe throwing in some tips along the way!
In past years, we’ve purchased grandstand seats in turn 10, along with paddock and pit passes. This year we decided to do something different and go with a 2-race credential package through IndyCar Nation, IndyCar’s fan community. Those give you general admission access to the track, along with paddock and pit access, so we were only losing grandstand seats, which really wasn’t a big deal to us, as we prefer to check out the action from various locations around the track. As the site indicates, it also gets you a hot lap, a big added bonus in my eyes. Being an actual IndyCar-issued hard card doesn’t hurt either!
When I’m attending races, I like to spend as much time at the track as possible, so I’m usually there around the time the gates opened. On Friday I was entering alone, as Bayley had a couple of classes at Eckerd and wouldn’t be arriving at the track until around 1pm. No problem, I hopped the free shuttle from the Hollander and was on my way, arriving at the track right about 8am. Friday mornings tend to be the least busy time of the weekend, so I usually end up doing a ton of walking, trying to cover as much of the track as possible while things are quiet. When I arrived this time, the PWC area was first up. I wanted to go check out Flying Lizard’s space, as they were back with a couple of Audi R8 LMS GT4s this year. Sure, their Porsche liveries are classic, but as an Audi owner, I do love the R8 🙂
The walk over there isn’t a short one, and thanks to the security area between the PWC and IndyCar paddocks, isn’t always an easy one either. We did the walk a couple of times on Saturday last year and were less than impressed with the speed of the lone security checkpoint between paddocks used for the return trip, as the line to go through the metal detector could get pretty long. They did move the security location closer to the pedestrian bridge between T2 and T3 this year, but it’s still basically a funnel into a single metal detector. As much as I’d have liked to visit the PWC side more, that security gate made me decide to stick to only two visits, and only on Friday.
After a long walk up and down their paddock area checking out a number of teams, I headed back over to the IndyCar side to catch PWC practice and USF2000 qualifying from the pits. The best place to be for any on-track action in my opinion is the pits, as there’s nothing like hanging out back there watching the teams go to work. Honestly, pit passes may be pricey, but they’re worth every penny. The only Indycar session we didn’t take in from pit lane was the actual race on Sunday, but only because we didn’t have race mode tags allowing us to be there. One of these years we’ll figure out how to get our hands on those!
While I was down there taking in the action, I got a text from Riley, who runs the IndyCar Nation program, asking if Bayley and I wanted to sit front row for the Friday Q&A session with Helio Castroneves. Heck yea I did! This is just a small example of why IndyCar Nation is the best fan community in sports, and easily worth the price of admission. Helio’s session was being held at 12:30 in the Mahaffey Center, shortly after IndyCar practice wrapped up, so I texted Bayley to see if she’d be at the track by then. She seriously considered skipping class, but with a quiz scheduled decided to stay, so I went alone. The event was a blast, Helio’s very well spoken and has a ton of interesting stories to tell. Here’s a clip of him talking about last year’s Indy 500:
At the end, he even did a little video selfie for the promoters, which I’m visible in! Bottom of the video in the white shirt with the huge grin on my face:
About the time Helio’s session ended, Bayley arrived at the track, so I met her outside the paddock near the bridge at the gate 5 entrance. Shortly after she arrived, we grabbed some lunch from one of the stands in the main shopping district (for lack of a better term) between the Dali museum and the front stretch grandstands. The food’s mostly the type of thing you’d find at a fair/carnival, so expensive and bad for you, but super tasty. I hadn’t eaten all morning, and the foot long corn dog I inhaled really hit the spot, while destroying the diet I’ve been working on for the past two months.
After lunch, we decided to take a stroll over to the PWC/support series side again so she could check it out before the security area got overloaded. Thankfully things moved pretty well and she got to check out the whole area before we headed back over to catch more pit road action as Indy Lights qualifying was starting, followed by more PWC action and IndyCar practice session #2. Is there anything better than the sound of those cars?
After a full day at the track, mostly spent on pit lane, we headed out to get some rest before enjoying a delicious dinner at Hawkers with Bayley and one of her roommates. Day 1 was a success, and we still had two more days to go!
Up next on page 2, Saturday at the track!