St. Pete notes: Penske installs plaque in honor of Montoya

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It’s almost become a yearly tradition for Roger Penske to visit the Victory Circle monument at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg during the race weekend.

The legendary Indy car team owner and Tim Cindric, president of Team Penske, made a trip to the monument this afternoon to affix another Team Penske driver’s name on the monument’s wall of St. Pete winners.

Juan Pablo Montoya delivered the eighth Team Penske win on the streets of St. Petersburg in 2016. Since Montoya is not competing this weekend, it fell to Penske and Cindric to install the winner’s plaque on his behalf. It was the second such honor for Montoya, who also won the race in 2015. Other Penske drivers to win at St. Petersburg are Helio Castroneves (2006, 2007, 2012), Ryan Briscoe (2009) and Will Power (2010, 2014).

“When you look at that wall and you see eight drivers that have been able to put their names there is just amazing,” said Penske, who was also honored on the wall for his team’s 50th anniversary in racing last year. “We love this track and we think the environment provided by the city and the support of the mayor and city council has just been amazing. This is just a real honor for us.”

The winner’s plaque has been installed since March 2012 as a tribute to the late Dan Wheldon and the grand prix. Wheldon, a St. Petersburg resident, won the race in 2005.

Montoya is not racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series fulltime in 2016, opting to drive a fifth Team Penske car in the 101st Indianapolis 500 in May. Team owner Penske revealed today that the two-time Indy 500 winner will also compete in the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a tune-up for the 500.

“I want to get him in the car and have him run a race with the (crew) guys around him (before the Indy 500),” Penske said.

Rahal looks to recapture soggy magic of 2008 St. Pete win

When Graham Rahal won his first Verizon IndyCar Series race on the streets of St. Petersburg in 2008, it didn’t come easy.

“Particularly after the way this weekend has gone so far, I hope it rains tomorrow, we'll have a similar result,” Rahal said today, on the eve of Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. “It was a tricky day (in 2008), it started wet. It was drying. I got punted by (Will) Power on one of the restarts, I think. We had the pace. We had gone in the race from the back, got up to running third on a pretty good charge there. We knew we had the pace to run up front. It was just a matter of getting there.

“We were able to do a lot of fuel saving and get ourselves in position to take the lead on the restart from (Ryan) Hunter-Reay. I don't think anybody thought we could make it to the end. We were good on fuel. At the end when it became kind of a duel with Helio (Castroneves), (Tony) Kanaan and myself, we were able to pull off four-, five-second gaps.”

Nine years ago, Rahal crossed the finish line before his veteran rivals and became the youngest race winner in Indy car history (19 years, 93 days). For the 2017 edition, he may get his wish with weather reports calling for a chance of rain Sunday in St. Petersburg.

Whatever the weather, the cast of competitors from his maiden victory still surround him. Rahal qualified 10th today in the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Kanaan qualified sixth, Hunter-Reay 12th and Castroneves 16th.

Though Rahal’s second career race win eluded him until 2015, he’s won three times for his father’s team in the past two years. Improvements in qualifying pace and the environment at his team are the key factors he attributes to the success.

“I think it's a combination of a lot of things,” Rahal said. “You've got to be in the right circumstances and have a good team surrounding you, which we do.”

Fuzzy’s Vodka limited-edition bottles to honor military

This year’s limited edition of INDYCAR bottles offered by Fuzzy’s Vodka honors servicemen.

Fuzzy's Vodka 2017 BottlesThe Indianapolis-based company and Ed Carpenter Racing sponsor, which unveiled its latest commemorative bottle today in St. Petersburg, lists the 100 winners of the Indianapolis 500 on one side and notes the 100 years since Indianapolis Motor Speedway was closed to racing for World War I.

Fuzzy’s Vodka also announced its partnership with the non-profit Fisher House Foundation. With this partnership, Fuzzy’s Vodka pledges to donate $1 for every 2017 commemorative bottle sold this year to the foundation program that provides “a home away from home” for families of patients receiving medical care at major military and VA medical centers. The homes provide temporary free lodging so families can be close to their loved ones during a medical crisis.

Growing to 71 houses in operation, the Fisher House program has provided more than seven million free nights of lodging for families to be close to their loved ones. The program has saved more than $360 million in housing and transportation costs since the program’s inception in 1990.

“It’s such a great program to be part of,” said Ed Carpenter, whose Verizon IndyCar Series team has Fuzzy’s Vodka sponsorship and will assist with the promotion of the commemorative bottle.

“This year’s patriotic limited edition bottle recognizes those who have served our great nation,” said Fuzzy Zoeller, co-owner of Fuzzy’s Vodka. “We’re proud to be partnering with a foundation that yearly receives A+ ratings and is dedicated toward helping our veterans and their families.

“By winning on the race track and selling bottles across the United States, our goal is to make an impactful donation to Fisher House Foundation at the end of the year.”

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