ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Team Penske announced that the Hitachi Group has extended its sponsorship through the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Helio Castroneves will drive the No. 3 Hitachi Chevrolet in nine races this season, including the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

Hitachi also will be an associate sponsor on the three other Team Penske cars.

“I’m honored to have represented Hitachi over the last few years and look forward to more wins,” said Castroneves, who drove the Hitachi car to victory in the second race of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans last year.

Hitachi is a leading global electronics company that supplies consumer, automotive and industrial equipment. It supplies the direct fuel injection system on the Chevrolet 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 engines.

Quite a ride for celebs

Mario Andretti quickly zipped around the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit much to the delight of his passengers in the two-seater.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Major Wright and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, “SI Now” host Maggie Gray and Anthony Sullivan, aka the oxiClean spokesperson, were among the riders.

“My heartrate is above 200 right now. It’s a thrill to have a legend, Mario Andretti, give me a ride,” said Sullivan (photo below), who posed with the Bucs’ players for photos after his ride. “The most surprising thing to me was the speed, the poise, the control entering some of those turns. I thought, ‘When is he going to brake?’ It’s a whole new appreciation for driving at that level.”

Check out the Racer magazine special edition

The Verizon IndyCar Special Issue of Racer captures the excitement surrounding the start of the season with an in-depth look at many of the key storylines.

Take a look HERE.

From the did you know department

* KV Racing Technology first-year driver Stefano Coletti’s sister, Alexandra, has represented Monaco in alpine skiing in the past three Winter Olympics. She was the country’s flag bearer in 2010.

* Although he was born in Colombia, first-year driver Gabby Chaves grew up in Weston, Fla., and considers the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg his “home” race. Chaves’ father is an airline pilot.

* Takuma Sato has had a front-row seat the past two years at St. Petersburg. He earned the Verizon P1 Award in 2014 and qualified second the previous year in the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda for A.J. Foyt Racing.

* Tony Kanaan will look to extend his Indy car-record streak of 233 consecutive starts March 29. Competing in every race this season will push his career starts to 310 (seventh on the all-time list). No. 300 will be the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, which he won in 2013.

* KVSH Racing driver Sebastien Bourdais, who earned the pole for the first Indy car race on the streets of St. Petersburg, co-drove to victory in the 12 Hours of Sebring on March 21. He also co-drove the Action Express Racing Prototype to a runner-up finish in the Rolex 24 At Daytona in January.

“It’s a good way to start 2015, but I don’t believe in momentum. You still have to go out there, do the work and keep your nose to the grindstone,” he said.

* The entrant of the car in pit lane the shortest amount of accumulated time during the race will earn $10,000 in the “Firestone Pit Stop Performance” award. … The Verizon P1 Award winner receives $10,000. … The race winner will receive an engraved TAG Heuer timepiece. … The entrant of the highest-finishing car displaying an Xtrac emblem on each side of the attenuator will be awarded $2,000.

* Racing For Kids donated TVs and video game equipment during its annual visit to All Children’s Hospital this week.

Of note

Valspar has signed as an associate sponsor of the No. 14 and No. 41 ABC Supply Hondas. It is the fifth-largest paint and coatings company in the world. ... Magneti Marelli, a global automotive systems and component supplier, renewed its partnership with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. … Valpak renewed its partnership with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. ... Rising Star Racing announced a partnership with MOBÄ’ that will see the healthcare company utilize the motorsports platform as a key component of its marketing efforts.

Sports Illustrated 2-Seater