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RACING FEVER HITS ST. PETE / CLEARWATER
 
(2014 - Winter/Spring Issue)

Writer: ROBERT JENKINS



One of motorsports’ most exciting races—the through-city-streets Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg—again opens the racing calendar in the Sunshine City.

The big question is: Can Toronto’s own IndyCar driver, James Hinchcliffe, repeat his victory of 2013?

“Hinch” passed three-time St. Pete champion Helio Castroneves about three-fourths of the way through last year’s spectacle, then held off the Brazilian and Marco Andretti for the checkered flag. They’ll all be sitting in their racers’ customized cockpits March 30, waiting to hear the magic words: “Racers, start your engines!”

Waiting, too, will be an estimated 100,000-plus fans, filling bleachers and suites—and even watching from moored boats. Spectators can view racing in five classes of cars during the three-day weekend, when speeds for the IndyCars can reach 273 kilometres per hour.

“We promise the fastest Spring Break party,” says Tim Ramsberger, Grand Prix General Manager. “And we don’t disappoint!”

Spectators typically are treated to brilliant blue skies as they watch the drivers navigate 14 turns around the downtown waterfront. The 2.9-kilometre course passes a city park, a marina on Tampa Bay, the Dalì Museum and condo towers. The start-finish line is along an airport runway, where drivers really hit the accelerator before braking to make a 120-degree turn.

Fan Favourites

Races in smaller classes of cars are held on all three days of the weekend. That increases the opportunities for fans to get close to the cars and their crews—and to ask drivers to pose for photos while their cars are being fine-tuned.

However it’s not all passive viewing for the fans. There’s a chance to drive go-karts on a track near the racecourse. For a real thrill, fans can put on a racing helmet and climb in behind a professional driver who steers a modified IndyCar around the actual course. Non-race attractions include a 5-K race and even a Ferris wheel.

Inside the fences, in a riot of colour and activity, vendors offer logo merchandise for most all of the two dozen or so IndyCar drivers present, plus items featuring race car manufacturers. Fans sport plastic shopping bags for the freebies that include sun visors, T-shirts, foam cup holders and more.

So before you head to St. Petersburg/Clearwater to escape the winter blahs this year, pack foam earplugs along with your sunscreen.

And in between races, hightail it over to one of the area’s award-winning beaches—including Fort De Soto Park, just named “Best Family Beach” by USA TODAY.

Travel Planner

The 2014 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg takes place March 28–30. For more information, including ticket options, visit gpstpete.com. For information on accommodation and other area events, go to visitstpeteclearwater.com.

 
 
 
 
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