Alexander Rossi: Fans’ Passion Helps to Make IndyCar Season Opener at St. Petersburg Special

This weekend’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg marks the official start of the 2020 season for NTT IndyCar Series.

The unique 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit has been a mainstay on the calendar since 2005, blending sections of downtown with the runway of Albert Whitted Airport. The event had been run at 110 laps in previous years, but has now been officially shortened to 100 laps for 2020.

The race is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday and will be televised by NBCSN.

While other events—namely the Indianapolis 500 and the Grand Prix of Long Beach—are firmly established as crown jewel events in IndyCar, St. Petersburg has quietly built up its own respected tradition as one of the strongest events on the 17-race calendar.

“I think it just has the combination of everything,” said five-time series champion Scott Dixon, 39, driver of the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. “It’s the first one. I think the circuit itself is a really great layout. It has opportunities to pass. Typically it’s been one of our longest races. They made some adjustments to the actual race this year.

“The city really embraces the race, too, which I think is really special. It’s just the general size of the event, the viewing areas, the downtown atmosphere. What Green Savoree (Racing Promotions) have turned it into, it’s been an all-around top race to go to.”

Additionally, the five-time series champion and 2008 Indy 500 winner believes the challenges help make it a wildcard of sorts.

“For me it’s more about being a really tough track from the driver’s side,” said Dixon, a 46-time race winner in IndyCar (third all-time), but none at the Florida-based circuit. “Quite technical and quite difficult to get right. It’s one that I’ve always wanted to win, still trying to tick that box. Definitely a challenging race, one that we’ve seen in the past that for whatever reason can kind of flip the field.

“We’ve had a lot of winners from the back of the pack at that place. I think that’s more prominent to maybe just the start of the race and people kind of finding where they should be at that time, too. I don’t know. I think it will create fantastic racing. It’s a circuit that drivers really love.”

For Alexander Rossi, a seven-time IndyCar race winner, including the 2016 Indy 500, there is added significance to the quality, as well as the quantity, of the fans in attendance.

“Yeah, I would add to that most city races, street races, that we go to, there’s kind of a buzz and an atmosphere that comes along with that,” said Rossi, 28, driver of the No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda. “St. Pete is no exception. I think just the fan turnout is always really strong. Not just people in numbers, it’s a really knowledgeable fan base. That’s always exciting for us.

“You obviously have people that either love you or hate you. Hey, that means people are passionate about it and excited to be there, which is a great thing for everyone participating and the series as a whole.”

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