Bayley understands my whole “spend as much time at the track as possible” philosophy, so our Saturday started early. She arrived at the hotel around 7:45am, and we immediately hopped the shuttle over to the track. After a quick walk through the paddock to watch the teams wake up the cars, we again headed to pit lane, this time for Pro Mazda and Indy Lights qualifying. Honestly, without grandstand seats to watch some of the support series action from, I think we spent more time on pit lane this year than we have the last two, and we loved every minute of it! Where else can you get this close to the action?
Following those two sessions, we headed to the Penske merchandise hauler to pick up a team flag for Bayley to get signed. As we were checking out, we heard that all 3 of their drivers would be over at the Chevy area doing a little Q&A, so we walked over to check it out.
I’d say it lasted no longer than 30 minutes, but was totally worth the walk over, and something I highly recommend keeping an eye out for when you’re at a track. These three seem to mesh well, and the stories they shared / answers they gave were entertaining. I know this was held with other Chevy drivers during the weekend, as I saw ECR post pics after the fact, and frankly I wish we’d have attended more. There were only a handful of people there for this one, and for the most part the questions from the crowd were good, save for the old timer who obviously can’t let go of the past and felt the need to use his second question (directed at Power) to insult a certain female driver retiring after the Indy 500 this year. Completely uncalled for, and you could see the Chevy guy wanting to grab the mic back from him. Will handled it with grace, answering the technical part of his question and properly dodging the rest. Thank you to Chevy for hosting those!
Once the Q&A session ended, the guys weren’t able to stop and sign anything due to another appearance happening immediately after, but that didn’t deter us on our flag mission, the advantage of pit passes is that you have more access to drivers than you would otherwise (mainly as they walk up to their pit box), so yes, the flag got signed by all 3 active Penske drivers. We only missed out on Helio, Roger Penske, and Tim Cindric. Next time!
Following the Chevy session and a quick stop at the IndyCar merch tent for another Hinch shirt followed by some drooling over that Arrow/SPM hospitality suite behind her in that pic (seriously, that place looked awesome!), we grabbed some “breakfast” (bucket o’ cheesy bacon fries) and headed for the grassy area between Mahaffey theater and the Dali museum (festival map for reference) to take in PWC qualifying. Honestly, on Friday and Saturday you can get pretty close to the action on the back straight entering turn 10 by hanging out here:
It’s definitely a favorite spot of ours for non-pit road viewing, as you’ve got a video board right in front of you so you can keep apprised of all the on-track action, while turn 10 can provide some passing and other entertainment too. We ended up hanging out there for the rest of GTS qualifying, along with the first USF2000 race before heading back to pit lane for the last IndyCar practice session before their afternoon qualifying was set to take place.
Pit lane is pretty long, especially with a solid car count this year, which made for a lot of walking. We’ve got a number of favorite drivers spread all over pit lane, so over the course of this practice alone, I think we walked the length of it at least twice, checking out the activity of all teams, including the new ones, like Carlin Racing:
We also spent some time down by the ECR pits watching the action in Spencer Pigot’s box, as Bayley’s a big fan of his:
Following morning practice we headed back to the grassy area leading in to turn 10 to eat some lunch and take in the first Pro Mazda and Indy Lights races. That was more or less a nice little break for us before IndyCar qualifying started at 2:20, which we again spent in the pits. Thankfully it wasn’t a blisteringly hot Saturday this year like it was in 2017, so spending this much time on pit lane was totally doable. Last year we got invited by Riley from IndyCar Nation to watch qualifying from the Verizon suite at start/finish, which was really awesome:
This year we wandered pit lane a couple of times trying to stay out of the way of the action while soaking it all in. That’s one thing to bring up, if you have a pit pass and aren’t part of a team, stay out of their way. Pay attention to what’s happening around you so they don’t have to honk (or yell, as I saw Super Tex do to a fireman on Sunday morning) to get your attention. They’ve got work to do and have the right of way. Don’t think they won’t run you over :).
Qualifying was a blast to watch this year, with a light sprinkling of rain making an appearance during round 2. Most of the track was fine and everyone stayed out on slicks, but the painted section at the end of the runway leading in to turn 1 ended up being pretty slippery and cost a number of the big teams a shot at the pole. In the end, a very talented rookie (if you can call someone with his background a rookie) took the top spot, as Robert Wickens ended up winning the P1 award, which was really cool to see.
Following qualifying, we headed to the Mahaffey Theater for something else IndyCar Nation invited us to, the Fast 6 press conference! That was really fun to watch, as the 6 top qualifiers made their way in to take questions from the media. One of Wicken’s last questions came from some media guy that asked whether or not he felt so many rookies doing well devalued the series. Um, what? Wickens had a great answer for him, including this bit at the end:
Once again, I send a huge thank you to IndyCar Nation for the access to this!
Bayley and I headed out after the press conference, as the IndyCar Nation team had set up a members meetup at The Avenue in downtown St Pete, which incidentally has one of my favorite burgers in the area. Shortly before we arrived, Bayley started feeling pretty rough, so we didn’t end up staying long unfortunately. We did meet a few other fans and got to say hi to Riley before heading out for the night, however.
That was pretty much it for day 2, and with an amazing morning on tap, I was happy to be able to get some rest since we had to get up really early Sunday morning for some special fun at the track, and we were losing an hour to boot. Thanks daylight savings time!
Next up on page 3, race day!!