Arie Luyendyk Jr. and Lauren Burnham

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – The weekend after fans of ABC’s “The Bachelor” learned the controversial end to Arie Luyendyk Jr.’s season as the leading man on the reality series, the former Indy car driver was all smiles when he showed up for INDYCAR’s season opener, The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, on Sunday.

Understandable, because his new fiancée, Lauren Burnham, attended, too, and even agreed to be Mario Andretti’s celebrity passenger in Honda’s Fastest Seat in Sports, the Indy car two-seater ride that leads the field to the green flag at every Verizon IndyCar Series race.

Lauren Burnham“That was amazing. I had to close my eyes a couple of times because I was so freaked out, but it was so fun,” Burnham said of the thrill ride with the Indy car legend at the wheel. “It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Very cool.”

While Burnham had attended an INDYCAR race previously, she had never taken a ride in an Indy car. So, before she climbed in the car with racing icon Andretti, she took an early-morning ride with Luyendyk Jr. driving around the 1.8-mile temporary street course to get the feel of it.

The happy couple, who plan to wed sometime this year, also stopped to snap photos with fans and answer question for reporters.

Going out in public together is new to them because “The Bachelor” requires secrecy from its cast until the season is over. Considering that Luyendyk first proposed to another contestant, Becca Kufrin, and then changed his mind and is now engaged to Burnham, they said they weren’t sure what kind of reaction to expect.

“Since we’ve been out in public the past few days, everyone has been supportive,” Luyendyk said. “It’s been really sweet.”

Bourdais’ 2017 St. Pete win commemorated with plaque

Sebastien Bourdais has lived in St. Petersburg, Florida for nearly his entire Indy car career. Saturday, he left another indelible mark on the city.

The four-time Champ Car champion became the latest St. Pete Indy car winner to install a commemorative plaque on the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg winner’s monument at the track. The tradition began in 2012 by the grand prix as a tribute to the late Dan Wheldon, who won the St. Petersburg race in 2005 and made the city his home soon after.

“It’s an honor,” said Bourdais, who was also presented an official street sign with his name on it by St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman as a memento of the 2017 win. “Last year was a very special day and it just leaves a trace that will never go away. I’m really proud of what we did last year and happy to help celebrate it again today with helping add to a part of St. Pete’s history.”

After winning the race again on Sunday, Bourdais will have a second plaque etched with his name to place before next year’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, scheduled for March 10, 2019.