Harry C. Risher
The 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season kicks off Sunday with the Honda Grand Prix on the 1.8 mile St. Petersburg street course. 2012 IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay will begin the defense of his title in what he calls his “home race,” but 24 other entrants will be on hand to challenge the popular Andretti Autosport defending Series champion. Hunter-Reay, who has two podium finishes at St. Petersburg including a third place finish last year, commented on the 2013 season opener, “I’m ready for what is now my home race, one of my favorite events of the year. I’m very encouraged how everything has been going (in recent testing) as a team, and we a good direction heading into St. Pete.”
Andretti Autosport comes into St. Petersburg riding the momentum of Hunter-Reay’s 2012 IndyCar Series championship with it’s other two drivers Marco Andretti and James Hinchcliffe hoping to secure their first win on the tight street course.
Standing in Andretti Autosport’s way at St. Petersburg are the traditionally powerful race teams of Penske and Ganassi. Team Penske is led by 3-time St. Pete winner Helio Castroneves. The popular Castroneves looks to repeat last year’s St. Petersburg win, and start his march to another IndyCar Title for Team Penske. Speaking of IndyCar Titles, Penske driver Will Power is probably the most hungry driver coming into the season opener. The luckless Power has finished second three straight years in his quest for an IndyCar title. Power won the pole position at St. Petersburg last year definitely knows how to get around the challenging 1.8 mile course through the city streets. While Power may be one of the favorites at St. Pete, his Penske team mate Ryan Briscoe will also be a threat to win Sunday’s race.
Ganassi Racing team mates Scot Dixon and Dario Franchitti will be in the thick of the 2013 IndyCar Title chase, and certainly be a threat to pull off a season’s opening victory at St. Petersburg. Dixon comes into St. Petersburg looking to start his quest for a third IndyCar Series Title. Having won the Series championship in 2003 and 2008,Dixon hopes the 5-year championship cycle holds true for him in 2013. Dixon’s veteran Ganassi team mate Dario Franchitti won the 2012 Indianapolis 500. The popular Franchitti looks to use his street racing skills to earn a win at St. Petersburg paving the way to his fifth IndyCar Series championship.
Other notable drivers who will be threats to win at St. Petersburg are: Graham Rahal, J R Hildebrand, Charlie Kimball, Simona de Silvestro, veteran Ed Carpenter and Simon Pagenaud.
The 2013 IndyCar Series season opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg takes the green flag at noon on Sunday and will be televised by NBC Sports.