Marcus Ericsson

Before the 27 NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers hit the 1.8-mile St. Petersburg, Florida street circuit for practice Friday afternoon, they embraced the opportunity to take part in the track walk Thursday afternoon. Many observers think this walk is just that, a leisurely stroll good for photo ops.

That’s a misconception.

The track walk has become a tradition for the paddock. It’s a customary portion of the event weekend that allows drivers and team members to make their way around the entire track to see if any changes have been made since the last visit.

“You can always pick up something,” said the newest Andretti Global driver, Marcus Ericsson, who won this race last year. “You look for differences to previous years.”

On Thursday’s walk, Ericsson noticed some minor changes. Most were small details like the curbing at the bottom of a wall, but even that was millimeters in difference.

Ericsson also probably noticed some of the bumps at the apex of Turn 3 are gone. During the offseason, the city of St. Petersburg repaved approximately 125 feet of that surface.

Another notable change is to the tire barriers at Turn 4 exit, which were shortened by approximately 12 feet. That change was made to widen the area and provide more space for side-by-side racing. This was the area in last year’s race where Scott McLaughlin and Romain Grosjean entered side-by-side with 29 laps to go in pursuit of the lead on track. Neither made it out, both ending in the tire barrier.

With such a key passing area, giving the look of a widened turn could potentially allow for a racier corner.

Another on-track alternation is that the tire barriers when used around the surface this weekend have been covered by conveyor-belt material. This was done to lessen the chance of a car getting stuck in the barriers.

Outside of that, nothing else major is different. That’s a great thing, Ericsson said.

“In general, it's (the track) very similar to last year, and last year, I found my way around here pretty well,” he said.

Ericsson takes a wider view to track walks, in general. He said the walks are a great way to kick-start the weekend with the team.

“I know to go out with my engineer, my performance engineer, and just chat a bit about the weekend and a bit about the setup that we can plan,” he said. “So, it's for me more than seeing if there’s a curve difference. It’s more for me a mental thing. Like, ‘We're here to race.’ We want to get going, and this is like the green flag of the weekend for me.”

Ericsson’s new team, Andretti Global, has produced fast cars here the last couple of seasons. The car that Ericsson is driving, the No. 28 Delaware Life Andretti Global Honda, sat on pole and led 31 laps in 2023 with Romain Grosjean in the seat.

Tune into Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg at noon ET on NBC, Peacock, Universo and the INDYCAR Radio Network.