Eighth Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg ready to roar

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – In its eighth year, the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg continues to expand its scope of entertainment on and off the 1.8-mile, 14-turn racing circuit.

Tim Ramsberger calls it the "World's Fastest Spring Break Party," which is more than an advertising slogan. It’s a weekend festival that has been embraced by the communities on both sides of Tampa Bay.

“We’ve sold out all our hospitality suites,” said Ramsberger, vice president and general manager of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. “We’re pacing ahead of last year’s ticket sales, so commercially we’re doing well. From a preparation standpoint, we’re ahead of schedule on the track build. We’ve installed a couple of new curbs (on the course). We’re very excited to have the new car race here for the first time in St. Petersburg.”

The circuit includes downtown streets circling Pioneer Park, the Mahaffey Theater, the new Salvador Dali Museum and extending onto a runway of the Albert Whitted Airport that is adjacent to scenic waterfront.

Click it: Weekend schedule

The Festival of States Illuminated Night Parade, featuring IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights drivers, and fireworks kick off the festivities March 22. Following practice March 23 is the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg 5K Run, Walk 'N Wheel-a-thon. Proceeds from registration benefit All Children’s Hospital and the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation. Register for charity 5K

Inside the circuit is the Bright House Networks Speed Zone – a family fun area that will include the INDYCAR Fan Village featuring interactive display of INDYCAR commercial partners, a merchandise tent, DJ entertainment and more.

The 2012 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg marks the first race for the new IZOD IndyCar Series car, which replaces the current chassis introduced in 2003. The event also marks the beginning of a new form of competition among manufacturers with 2.2-liter, turbocharged V-6 engines supplied by Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus competing for track leadership.

Some quick facts:
• The inaugural Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was held in 2005 and was won by two-time Indianapolis 500 champion and local resident, the late Dan Wheldon. Two weeks ago, a street was dedicated to the memory of Wheldon (“Dan Wheldon Way”) that is part of the race course.

• Rubens Barrichello, James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Katherine Legge will race on the course for the first time in the IZOD IndyCar Series.

• Helio Castroneves is the only repeat winner (2006 and 2007). Team Penske teammates Will Power (2010) and Ryan Briscoe (2009) also have stood on the top step of the podium.

“All three of us have already won at this race, so we know we can do it again,” he said. “It would be great to complete the podium later this month with all three of us Team Penske drivers.”

• The fastest pole time was set by Power in 2010 at 1 minute, 01.6026 seconds.

• The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg has had a number of “firsts” take place, including:
2012 - The new IZOD IndyCar Series chassis racing for the first time  
2012 - Engine manufacturer competition is reintroduced with Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus
2011 - First street/road course to see double-file restarts in the IZOD IndyCar Series
2008 - Graham Rahal becomes the youngest winner in North American Indy car history
2007 - Is first event to feature both the IZOD IndyCar Series and American Le Mans Series
2005 - First event to feature Firestone Indy Lights double-header weekend
2005 - First non-oval event for the IZOD IndyCar Series