A Weekend at the 2018 Grand Prix of St Petersburg

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!

Roar Before the 24

Last weekend I decided to take a very last minute drive down to Daytona for an event I’ve never attended, the Roar Before the 24. For those not familiar with it, the Roar is a 3 day test at Daytona International Speedway for those teams competing in the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona, which Bayley and I have attended twice, including last year. Being unable to attend the 24 this year, I needed a racing fix before she and I head to the Grand Prix of St Petersburg in March, so late last week I decided I’d give the Roar a try.

IMSA and the speedway put in a lot of effort to ensure people have a good time here. The speedway hosts Scout Days, where Scouts and their families can purchase tickets allowing them to camp in the infield, fish in the lake, and take in the various activities the Roar itself offers. Pretty cool stuff, but what about the rest of us? Well, for $15 per day (or free if you already have Rolex 24 tickets), you get to:

  • Park in the infield
  • Have full garage access to both the CTSC and WeatherTech paddock areas
  • Take guided tours of the garage
  • Participate in fan forums
  • Watch the on-track action during

So basically, you get a lot of the same benefits you can get for the 24, but for a lot less money. Sure, there’s no actual race going on, and unless you’re a Scout you can’t stay overnight, but frankly I had a blast while I was there. I spent the vast majority of my time in the WeatherTech paddock, with some walking of the infield thrown in. I can’t speak to how the fan forums or garage tours were, as I skipped both. I actually meant to check out the fan forum, but totally forgot about it while walking the paddock Saturday afternoon.

Some tips for those who go in future years:

Parking

When driving into the infield, come in through the turn 1 tunnel. Personally, I like that tunnel better, and it puts you closer to better parking. I came in this way Sunday morning, and ended up with a front row parking spot not far from where the Porsche car corral normally is during the 24. Here’s  clip of some of the on-track action while I was standing in front of my car on Sunday:

You can still get to that area if you come in the turn 4 tunnel, I just like the turn 1 entrance better. I did come in turn 4 Saturday morning, and ended up parking over by all the driver and crew rental cars. I only know this because I encountered drivers coming and going from the area more than once Saturday, including Dion von Moltke and Bruno Junqueira, which was pretty cool.

Garage

Enjoy the garage access. Seriously. Some of the best times to be in there were when the cars were heading to and from the pits, and while they were on track. Sure, seeing them all in their garages being worked on between practices is cool, but the other times I mentioned above were great as well. Watching a line of cars drive right past you while heading out to the track is really cool, and you never know what you’ll see while walking around in there while practice is underway. Teams come and go as they need to make major adjustments on their cars, and every now and then you’ll run in to a driver or team owner down there too. Here are a couple of clips of the cars coming and going from the garage.

Keep your head on a swivel when in the garage. This applies for any event, to be honest. The teams have a job to do, and they won’t hesitate to move you out of the way so they can get things done. During the more busy times, hearing the horns on their carts was a pretty common thing, and occasionally you’d hear someone getting yelled at as a moving race car was headed towards them while they weren’t paying attention. Seriously, keep track of your surroundings and stay out of their way. Want to know how easy it is to get caught up in the action? Check out my clip of the Rahal BMWs leaving the garage. I’d been recording the Vettes in the garage next door heading out when the first M6 departed. That wasn’t a big surprise, it was when the other one was pushed out to my left, which I wasn’t expecting. Fortunately I was able to (I hope) stay out of the way for it, but there was some initial surprise as the wing of the 25 suddenly came in to view right next to me :).

Food and drink

Just like the 24, you can take your own food and drink in. I completely forgot to bring my cooler with me, so I ended up buying food and drink at the track Saturday. The prices aren’t NFL-diculous, but still, I could have saved a few bucks and avoided some lines by stocking up before arriving.

Cameras

Keep at least one camera at the ready at all times. I didn’t take any serious gear this time, I just kept my iPhone gear and GoPro handy, and frankly, enjoyed using the GoPro to capture the cars. I picked up the 3-way arm for it Saturday morning, and while I liked having the additional reach, it allowed for more camera shake than I liked, so maybe I’ll pick up an arm with a gimbal for St Pete. I was also burning through battery in both pretty quickly, so had to recharge them both with my portable charger a few times on Saturday, so be sure to keep one handy. Also, if you’re bringing gear to try and get good shots of the cars on track, bring a step stool so you can get a clean shot over the fences. I used one during our first trip to the 24 in 2012, but forgot it last time and again for the Roar, and was pretty mad at myself both times. Sure, I could have left the track and gone across the street to Target to pick one up, but leave the track? Seriously?

Enjoy the facilities!

Don’t just stay near the fan zone and garage, get out and walk the infield. I walked out to speedway turn 2 on Saturday and took in some of the action on the high speed turn, then walked the lake back over to the boardwalk club. There are some great spots to enjoy the action all over the track, so don’t limit yourself to one location. My Microsoft Band claims I walked 13.1 miles on Saturday alone!

Tickets

One thing I learned the hard way, get your tickets far enough in advance for them to arrive before you go. I didn’t have much choice here, since this was so last minute, so I ordered online with will call pickup as my only choice. For Saturday that was fine, I got there shortly after 8am, and the will call window was open, so I picked up my ticket and headed in to the track. I’d originally only ordered my Saturday ticket, as I wasn’t sure if I was going to drive home that night, or wait until Sunday. Well, I’d decided to stay for Sunday, but couldn’t go ahead and buy my ticket at that point, as will call was the only thing open, and I didn’t want to wait until the regular ticket office opened at 9am. Guess what? I had to Sunday morning. I’d gone ahead and ordered online for will call pickup Saturday night, but on Sunday, will call doesn’t open early, so I had to wait until 9am to get my ticket and head in. Sure, it was only an hour delay, and the WeatherTech cars weren’t on track yet, but I like to get inside as early as possible :).

I think that about covers it. I really did find the weekend worth the 13 total hours of driving I did to and from Daytona, as the Roar ticket is a heck of a value, even if it is just testing. Getting to see the new Ganassi Racing Ford GT was a pretty good bonus too, that thing is an absolute demon (in a good way 🙂 ).

Enjoy some of my favorite pics from the weekend, and if you can make it out to the Roar and/or the 24, do it, you’ll have a blast!

IMG_5399IMG_5114IMG_5113 IMG_5158 IMG_5161 IMG_5169 IMG_5189 IMG_5192 IMG_5201 IMG_5203 IMG_5207 IMG_5245 IMG_5335 IMG_5436IMG_5407 IMG_5464 IMG_5493 IMG_5299IMG_5501 IMG_5508 IMG_5531 IMG_5534 IMG_5535IMG_5536 IMG_5577 IMG_5604

Looking Back at a Weekend of Racing – Part 2

(Continuing from Part 1)

On Saturday morning we got up around 5am, checked out of the hotel, and headed to the track. After stopping for a quick bite to eat, we arrived shortly before the gates
opened to find a bit of a chaotic scene. The DIS parking staff apparently hadn’t been given much in the way of instruction on what the various parking passes meant, so those of us holding guaranteed infield passes were held up for a bit while everything got straightened out. No biggie, after a 45-60min delay we were driving through the tunnel towards the infield!

Once parked, we headed in to the fan zone (next to the garages) to see what was going on. There was a 5k going on out on track that we managed to catch the end of, and once it ended we walked around up and down pit lane, and even walked out on the front stretch of the track, stopping to take some pictures at some cool spots along the way.

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We walked around out there until they kicked us off the track, and then headed in to the garage area. Crews were already hard at work preparing the cars, so we walked around checking out all the activity. I find it fascinating to watch a crew disassembling/reassembling major pieces of a race car, so I get locked on that pretty easily. At some point (likely at Bayley’s urging), we finally moved on to check out other areas of the infield. I don’t recall everything we did, but we hit the large infield ferris wheel and swing once during the day before the race started, and then once late at night while the race was in full swing. Honestly, both of them provide some of the coolest views at the track, especially at night during the race. They also had a fireworks show over the wheel at 11pm during the race, awesome stuff!

FW1FW2FW3FW4

One of the big events we wanted to hit was the autograph session, as we both really enjoy meeting the drivers. Travis Pastrana was co-driving Michael Waltrip’s Ferrari, and with Bayley being a huge fan of his, we waited in that line first. We got over there 45min early and ended up second in line, but by the time things started moving, he had one of the longest lines there, second only to Patrick Dempsey’s, if I recall. Travis was really friendly, and Bayley couldn’t have been happier to get her picture with him. After we finished with his line and the tables that followed, we headed over to where I wanted to be, in Flying Lizard’s line. I’d bought a team flag the day before, but completely forgot to bring it with me to the autograph session. With no time to run back to our car and get it, I just went through and got autographs on the cards they provided. In the session shots below, be sure to check out the ones from the Sahlen’s table (last two pics). That little girl was awesome, sitting there signing autographs like she’d been doing it for years!

ESMLizardsOryxPastranaSahlenSahlen2

After the autograph session, we walked around a bit more, got some food, then headed to the fenceline at the exit of the turn 3 horseshoe to get set for the start of the race. I’d come equipped with two Nikons, a D7000 and D80, and handed the D80 off to Bayley so she could try her hand at shooting moving race cars. I had a 70-200 F/2.8 VR mounted to the D7000, and was ready to get some race shots. The start itself was fairly clean, and I got plenty of pictures in the time we spent at that spot. I think we stayed there for around 45min or so, then headed out to check out other areas of the track.

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Over the course of the next 24 hours we did a lot of walking, but we did take time to relax in my car, too. We’d rented a scanner, so throughout the race one of us was usually listening in on various teams to see how things were progressing. I’d brought some food and drinks in a large cooler so we weren’t stuck eating the track food the entire time. I’d also come armed with a bunch of energy drinks to keep us awake. Not sure Bayley ever had any of the Monster, but she was a trooper anyway. During the night we were mostly out walking around the track, but admittedly did take a couple of quick naps. I think I got a total of 45min of sleep in the middle of the night, with Bayley getting just over an hour’s worth. Through it all, we hit just about every spot on the track getting plenty of pics along the way. Around 5am I headed over to the fence line near the entrance to turn 3 to see if I could get one of the more iconic shots: A car flying by with the large ferris wheel in the background. I got a couple that I liked, including one showing the glowing front brakes on the #03 Patron 458 just before sunrise.

0103BimmerPorsche

During the night, several cars ended up in the garage for various issues, including one of the two Dempsey Racing Mazdas due to a wreck shortly after 9:00pm. We’d been in the garage area an hour or so earlier, and there weren’t many fans there, but once a Dempsey car was brought in, it seemed like every fan left at the track headed to get a look, as shown in one of the shots below that was taken as they were bringing it in on the flatbed. We also walked the backside of the pits a few times at night, as it’s pretty cool to watch the crews at work. In the shot below taken from behind the fence, the driver in yellow standing there with his helmet on is Patrick Dempsey, waiting for the #40 RX-8 to pit so he can get out there for his night stint

DempseyCarR8TRGDempsey

As the sun came up over speedway turns 3 & 4 on Sunday morning, we hung out in our chairs by my car giving our feet some much needed rest.

MorningMorning2

At that point we had about 8 hours left in the race, and spent the day doing more of the same, wandering around watching the race from various places, checking out the garages and pits, etc. While it was a long couple of days, we made it to the end, as we saw the #60 Daytona Prototype of Michael Shank Racing cross the line for the overall victory, with the #44 997 GT3 of Magnus Racing taking the GT class win. Shortly afterwards we packed up and headed to our hotel to check in and clean up. After being awake for the better part of 36 hours, the idea of trying to drive straight home didn’t seem very appealing, so I’d reserved another room at the same Super 8 we’d stayed at on Thursday and Friday so we could get a full night’s sleep before heading back to Charlotte.

The Rolex 24 at Daytona is definitely one any race fan should attend, and if you do, be sure to stay for the entire race. I was surprised at how many of the cars parked around us left after it got dark. If the crews can stay up all night, the fans can too. There are a handful of ways to do the full 24 hours:

  • The way we did, just camping out in the car. There were several people around us who made fires to keep warm and cook food, etc. Take a fully stocked cooler in, and you won’t have to spend a ton of money at the concession stands.
  • Get tickets for the actual campground area. These were sold out quickly, otherwise I’d have done the same vs camping in the car. Looked like lots of partying going on in the tent area!
  • Rent an RV and park it in the infield for the weekend. This provided the best of both worlds from what I could tell, a comfy place to rest and cook food while still being at the track the entire time.

All in all it was a great time, and we’re really hoping to do it again this year as part of the Audi Motorsport Experience, with me driving my black 2009 TT Roadster down. These tickets supposedly go pretty fast, so I’ll be online when it opens Thursday evening hoping to scoop a couple of them up!

If anyone’s interested in seeing all of our pictures from the 2012 race, feel free to browse the gallery!

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