IMG 1061 Lewis


ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., February 9, 2016 -- With just 31 days until on-track activity begins to officially kick off the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season, reigning Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg winner Juan Pablo Montoya was in the city Feb. 9 to oversee beginning construction of the temporary street circuit for the March 11-13 event.

Montoya, who also won the 2015 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race and finished runner-up for the season championship by virtue of a tiebreaker, donned hard hats with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Green Savoree Promotions co-owners Kim Green and Kevin Savoree to commemorate the occasion.

The construction process is a carefully coordinated effort between city officials and Green Savoree to make detours as easy as possible for St. Petersburg locals leading up to race weekend. The strategy behind which areas of the track are built first depends on traffic flow. Construction begins in areas that are typically lower in traffic, such as Bay Shore Drive, where the ceremony took place, and concludes in areas closest to Albert Whitted Airport, where the track occupies one runway.

"All of us are anxious to kick off the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season and the construction is off to a great start," Savoree said. "We couldn't do it without our great partners that we have here to work with us to build the track, the great partners that we have with the city of St. Petersburg."

Fresh off a red-eye flight from a Chevrolet test at Phoenix International Raceway, Montoya reminisced about his statement-making victory that kicked off his 2015 run for the title bid. With the scenery surrounding him featuring views of Tampa Bay, the Team Penske driver took a moment to appreciate the beauty that the drivers often miss as they speed around the 1.8-mile, 14-turn circuit.

"It's very nice to be here in St. Petersburg and see the racetrack, see the city," Montoya said. "The city is really pretty. Preparing for the first race is huge, last year was a great race for me and a great crowd. Hopefully we'll have a great crowd and a great race weekend (this year) as well."

The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg has been conducted since 2003 (with a year's absence in 2004). It has been the season opener seven times, including every year since 2011. Several active drivers besides Montoya have claimed wins at the track, including his Team Penske teammates Helio Castroneves (three times) and Will Power (twice), as well as Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe (once each).

"It's a great way to start the season," Montoya said. "We do about three or four street courses a year and this is one of the most fun ones, for sure."