ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Will Power is so eager to get back racing on the streets of St. Petersburg, he showed up a month early.
The 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion and two-time winner of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was in the Tampa Bay city Tuesday to commemorate the official beginning of construction to build the 1.8-mile temporary street course that will open the 2017 season March 10-12.
Since his St. Pete debut in 2008, Power has seemingly owned the track. In addition to the two race wins on the circuit that combines city streets with a runway of Albert Whitted Airport, the Australian ace has netted a pair of runner-up finishes and six – count ‘em, six – pole positions. That includes 2016, when Power for the second consecutive year set the track record (1 minute, 0.0658 of a second; 107.882 mph) on his way to earning the Verizon P1 Award.
Last year’s pole was all the more impressive because the 35-year-old Australian was diagnosed with concussion-like symptoms after qualifying that forced him to sit out the race where he was the clear favorite to win. A thorough physical exam the day after the race concluded it was an inner-ear infection, not a concussion. Missing the race put the Team Penske driver in a points deficit he was unable to recover from and he finished second in the championship to teammate Simon Pagenaud.
Now healthy, armed with a new diet and better-defined workout regimen, Power (shown in the middle of the photo at right on "Tampa Bay's Morning Blend") can’t wait to attack when the Verizon IndyCar Series returns to open its season for the seventh straight year on the St. Pete circuit. It will mark the 14th Indy car race in St. Pete history.
“Although I did have the concussion symptoms (last year), I was also struggling physically as well,” said Power, who also had several food allergies uncovered during additional testing. “I was very determined to turn up this year feeling good and able to compete at the right level.”
The dry-witted Power is at a loss to explain why he has had so much success at St. Petersburg, but he’s not about to complain.
“It’s such a flowing track, it really feels like it comes naturally to me,” said the winner of 29 career races – tied for 11th all time – since he joined the Indy car scene in late 2005. “I don’t know why, it just does. It’s just a really fun, flowing track for me. It’s funny when things just click with you, it’s not that much of a challenge, it’s just fun. But it is a tough track when you think about Turns 4 through 9. It’s a pretty technical section.”
Adding to the challenge this year is the fact that much of the track surface has been repaved. It will add more grip in key areas and could put his new lap record in jeopardy.
“Being fully resurfaced, it’s going to be like a road course, which fully changes things a lot. It will make it a different track but I think it will be awesome.”
Colton Herta (on far right in photo above), the 16-year-old son of Verizon IndyCar Series team co-owner Bryan Herta who will make his Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires debut on race weekend, was on hand for the track construction event as well and is excited about the track repaving.
“It’s going to be cool,” Herta said. “It’s going to be a bit quicker this year because they repaved some sections of it. It should make for better racing and it’s going to be fun. I can’t wait to get on the track.”
The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg schedule includes the Verizon IndyCar Series race on March 12 and doubleheader race weekends for all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires to open their 2017 seasons as well. For information and to buy tickets, visit gpstpete.com.