It's finally race week and we're about 72 hours from Verizon IndyCar Series machines rolling off the grid to begin practice on the streets of St. Petersburg. It seemed like a fast offseason, but it's supposed to snow Sunday in my hometown of Indianapolis, so I'm not complaining!
The entry list is out for the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg. I love the Verizon IndyCar Series and the driver versatility required by the schedule. Between road courses, street courses, short ovals, superspeedways and elevation changes, no series offers more diversity throughout its season.
Such variety, however, is not limited to the courses. The entry list features 21 drivers who hail from five continents and 11 nations. Ryan Hunter-Reay was born in Texas, which claims to be a "whole 'nother country," but I'm not adding it to the total.
There are a lot of things I love about race weekends, but seeing international fans waving flags and expressing pride in a fellow countryman is always a favorite spectacle for me.
Last season, Simon Pagenaud won the championship in a breakthrough season that was very clearly on the horizon. The Frenchman has been strong since his rookie campaign, but it was a joy to see his focus, determination and talent come together with the consistency necessary to win a series title. I am intrigued by two drivers who could have similar rises this year: Josef Newgarden and Mikhail Aleshin.
Newgarden is finally in the ride that seemed to be his destiny – piloting a familiar Chevrolet for Roger Penske. There is no doubt he has the skill to be competitive from the first fall of the green flag. How long it takes the Tennessean to acclimate to his new team will be a story to watch.
Aleshin has always been fearless, as evidenced by his comeback from a scary accident at Auto Club Speedway while preparing for the finale of the 2014 season. The Russian was fast from Day 1. Strategic maturity and knowing when to tighten the reigns have been the only question marks. Aleshin returns to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, one of the three teams featuring the same driver stable from a year ago (Chip Ganassi Racing and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing are the others).
It seems like things were slowing down for him and allowing him to hit his stride in 2016. That sounds odd to say about a racer. It's a good thing in this case.
While in St. Pete, I'm hoping to finally take in the Salvador Dali Museum. It's usually closed on race weekend, but it provides the backdrop for the street circuit near the St Petersburg Pier. I am fascinated by Dali, and not just because he kept an anteater as a pet. I live the cerebral challenge presented by his surrealism and imagery. One of Dali's most famous works is his 1931 "The Persistence of Memory."
I consider myself fortunate to embark on the 2017 season and to create new memories from our travels. I'm glad you're along for the ride.
Veteran broadcaster Jake Query is a member of the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network team and will offer his musings Tuesdays on IndyCar.com.