Scott McLaughlin

Friday’s practice session for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding featured an experiment.

Instead of all the cars on track for the entire session, the field was split into groups following a 20-minute “all cars” start. Each group – split by odd and even numbered pit boxes – received a pair of 10-minute segments on an alternating basis.

The drivers seemed to welcome it.

“I think it's a good idea,” Arrow McLaren driver Alexander Rossi said. “We have too many cars for (some of) these tracks. It's worth a shot. I'm proud of the series for trying to address the issue.”

Two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske said the intent of this change is to try something new. For a series boasting 27 entries but only 1.8 miles of track to work with this weekend, the numbers don’t equate to getting many clean laps for data during practice without the occasional traffic jam.

“The lap can get very congested,” he said.

That’s why Newgarden is all for this change. He also said this format provides more action for the fans. There were far too many occurrences of few cars on track with last year’s format.

“I think about a place like Detroit, and we go back there you're going have something to provide,” Newgarden said.

‘100 Days To Indy’ Update

“100 Days To Indy” documentary series co-executive producers Patrick Dimon and Adam Marinelli were at the track Friday to discuss creative planning and execution for the upcoming second season, which again airs on The CW Network.

The six-part unscripted series from Penske Entertainment takes viewers behind the scenes and onto the track with NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers as they prepare to compete for racing’s greatest prize: the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.

“Last year, (I had) never been to any race, and I remember standing in the pit lane and the engines fired up, and they just ripped out of the pit lane,” Marinelli said. “Keith Malone, who is one of our other producers, we looked at each other like, ‘This is bad ass.’ It was just like the coolest thing I had ever seen before.”

In an ever-crowding environment of motorsports docuseries, both producers say what the NTT INDYCAR SERIES delivered in the first season differentiates itself from other motorsports.

“What I find interesting is that anyone can win any race, and I think that it's a very international field, so I'm hoping that the whole world gets to see it,” Dimon said. “It's not just American drivers. It's a very international field.

“Listen, I think F1 and ‘Drive to Survive,’ we work closely with the folks that make those shows, and the show is incredible, but I think INDYCAR and NTT, obviously I'm not a race expert, but I think the racing and the action is just as compelling. I think the characters are just as compelling and accessible.

“I think, like I said, access and relating to these drivers on the screen is something that makes this show stand out.”

Season 2 premieres from 9-10 p.m. ET/PT Friday, April 26 on The CW Network.

Back to School

School was indeed back in session Friday for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. The 27 car-and-driver combinations participated in the first practice of the season in preparation for the first of 17 points-paying races, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding.

Colton Herta said his mindset on INDYCAR’s opening day was based on relishing being back in his No. 26 Gainbridge Honda fielded by Andretti Global in competition.

“Testing is good to be in a car, but it's not the same because you don't have as much of a competition aspect of it,” he said.

Herta, who turned 24 laps on the humid Florida afternoon, was eighth fastest on the speed charts with a top time of 1 minute, .9937 of a second.

Racing For Kids Kicks Off 35th Anniversary Season

Charitable organization Racing For Kids opened its 35th anniversary season with two events. The national charity supports sick and hospitalized children through motorsports.

Friday was the annual Kids at the Track Day, which featured trackside hospitality, pit and paddock tours and a meet and greet with several NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers.

On Thursday, AJ Foyt Racing drivers Santino Ferrucci and Sting Ray Robb visited hospitalized kids at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. They arrived at 9 a.m. and were warmly greeted by hospital officials and Child Life specialists, who accompanied them to bedsides of a couple of dozen young patients.

Ferrucci and Robb brought a large share of the excitement of the St. Petersburg race to the enthusiastic children as they passed out Racing For Kids hats and racing gear, signed autograph cards and posed for photos. There were smiles all around as the kids eagerly asked questions about racing and life on and off the track.

“This was a great visit,” Ferrucci said. “I am always humbled by these visits. I’ve been part of this program (Racing For Kids) for several years now, and the kids are great! It’s good being able to give back to the community.”

Robb called the kids “inspirational.”

Allaer Back in St. Petersburg – as Driver

Over the last decade, Tampa, Florida, has become quite the hockey town. The city has witnessed three Stanley Cup championships from the Tampa Bay Lightning, including two in the last four seasons. The Lightning also has made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in four of the last seven seasons.

The teams’ success and Nolan Allaer’s father working for the Lightning organization is why the INDY NXT by Firestone rookie had dreams of one day playing in the NHL.

Allaer, who has since moved back to the Detroit area, is back in St. Petersburg this weekend. Instead of putting on the pads and skates for the hometown Lightning, he’ll don a fire suit and compete with 20 other drivers in Sunday’s INDY NXT by Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

“Born in Detroit, raised in Florida, then finished being raised in Detroit,” Allaer said.

News And Notes

  • Welcome back to Barry Wanser. Chip Ganassi Racing’s team manager was on Alex Palou’s timing stand Friday after missing the final two races of the 2023 season due to cancer treatment. He’s now healthy enough to return to his role as the strategist of the defending series champion.
  • Callum Ilott, who is filling in for injured David Malukas, said the opening practice session in St. Petersburg would be a discovery session with the driver and team learning each other. They’re off to a great start. Ilott was 10th on the speed charts (1:01.0545) in the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet.
  • Romain Grosjean, the driver who replaced Ilott in the No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet, entered St. Petersburg with just one day of offseason testing. But Grosjean showed no rust and quick acclimation with his new team Friday, ending up seventh overall at 1:00.9246. Grosjean has a knack for speed at this circuit. He won the NTT P1 Award here last year and led 31 laps before being eliminated in a collision while dueling for the lead with Scott McLaughlin.