Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Rewind

Photo courtesy of IndyCar Series

2003 Race Winner (2/23/2003) – Paul Tracy

The inaugural Grand Prix of St. Petersburg opened the 2003 CART Champ Car World Series season and was dominated by Paul Tracy. He took the lead on lap 36 in his Player’s Forsythe Racing Team Ford and never looked back winning by 12.136 seconds.

“I’ve won just about everything, but not a championship. That’s what everybody’s goal is, is to win the championship,” said Tracy after the race. “We need to focus on trying to be consistent, win races, finish well, then hopefully that will come.”

Paul Tracy would go on to win the season championship. And, the 1.8-mile, 14-turn Bayfront course has remained virtually unchanged minus some new paving and the addition of Dan Wheldon Way.

Watch Paul Tracy’s 2003 victory in sunny St. Pete.

2004 – No Race

2005 Race Winner (4/3/2005) – Dan Wheldon

It was a 1-2-3-4 sweep for Andretti Green Racing with the late Dan Wheldon leading the charge followed by teammates Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti, and the pole sitter Bryan Herta. Wheldon led 10 of the 100 laps and later won the Indianapolis 500 and the series championship that season.

The 2005 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg also made history as the first-ever street race for the Indy Racing League and the first event promoted by Kim Green and Kevin Savoree, who still own and operate the event today, as well as co-owners of Andretti Green Racing at the time.

A stretch of the St. Petersburg street circuit is now known as “Dan Wheldon Way” and a winners monument erected near the course in memory of this popular winner and local resident.

Watch Dan Wheldon’s memorable win again

 

2006 Race Winner (4/2/2006) – Helio Castroneves

The first of three of Helio Castroneves’ wins in St. Pete for the legendary Team Penske driver came with the race ending under a late caution flag. Castroneves led three times for a total 40 laps after starting fifth.

 

“Boy, I was really hauling out there today. I had to go as fast as possible throughout the entire race; it was 100 qualifying laps,” said Castroneves. “The car was great today, it was another fantastic job by the team. Once I got in front, man, I just kept driving it ‘like I stole it’.

 

He continued, “I just want to thank all the fans that came out today and the race organizers. This is an awesome event and I’m already looking forward to coming back here next year.”

 

Watch Helio Castroneves win for the first time in St. Pete.

2007 Race Winner (4/1/2007) - Helio Castroneves

 

Helio Castroneves goes back-to-back on the streets of St. Pete in 2007 winning from the pole position. It’s the most dominant victory by a driver in the history of the race with Castroneves leading 95 of the 100 laps.

 

It was not as easy as it seemed though for the driver known as “Spiderman” for his post-race fence climbing celebrations. He fought off gearbox problems especially in the late laps to bring his Team Penske machine across the line first.

 

"Almost everything was working perfectly. The gears started to wear a little and I had to be careful to not make any mistakes, especially on the brake point where the gears were tough,” said Castroneves. “It was a great weekend. We worked very hard and it paid off in the end."

 

Watch Helio Castroneves climb fences again by the Bay.

2008 Race Winner (4/6/2008) – Graham Rahal

 

History was made at the 2008 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg by second-generation IndyCar driver Graham Rahal. He became the youngest ever to win an Indy car race at age 19 years, 93 days old. It was also the IndyCar Series debut for Rahal racing for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing at the time.

 

 “It was a tough start for us, the spin after the tap from Will [Power] put us really back. But the team never gave up and I had a great car. From that point on everything worked perfectly,” said Rahal who started ninth in a time-limited race cut short by 17 laps due to rain. “I knew we had the pace to pull away from the field if I could get to the front, and the team made great calls from the pits. At the end, I knew Helio [Castroneves] was right there, but if I kept calm we could pull away again. Everything just worked out so well, this is awesome!”

The next year Rahal would also stake claim as the youngest driver to win a pole position on the same track.

 

Watch Graham Rahal’s historic accomplishment.

 

2009 Race Winner (4/5/2009) – Ryan Briscoe

 

For the first time in Indy Racing League history, the season began on a road course and not an oval. Ryan Briscoe would lead 46 total laps and the final 14 on the way to a 0.4619 of a second margin of victory over Ryan Hunter-Reay and the late Justin Wilson, who had led the most laps on the day with 52.

 

"We've led laps here and had been in position to win, but we'd never gotten the job done. I saw an opportunity and went for the win,” said Briscoe. The victory marked Team Penske's 30th victory in Indy Racing League competition. 

 

Briscoe would go on to win two more times and claim four pole positions on the season for Team Penske. It would be his best in IndyCar competition and placed him third in the final championship standings just one point out of second.

 

Watch Ryan Briscoe’s 2009 season opening win.

 

2010 Race Winner (3/29/2010) – Will Power

 

Due to torrential rains falling on the circuit on Sunday, the race got postponed to Monday for the second race of the 2010 IndyCar season. Team Penske’s Will Power ended up dominating the weekend starting from the pole position, but did have his struggles early falling back into the field trying to find grip with low tire temperatures. 

 

Leading 50 laps on the way to victory and overcoming much on track drama with 23 percent of the laps run under caution, Power left the weekend with a 44-point advantage in the championship standings after also winning the season opener in Brazil. 

 

“It’s just great. This has been a fantastic start to my first full season with Penske Racing, and I’m really happy for all my guy,” said Power. “We won the pole, led the most race laps, and got the victory. Race weekends don’t come much better than this.”

 

Watch Will Power’s fantastic finish to the weekend.

2011 Race Winner (3/27/2011) – Dario Franchitti

 

The tradition of the coastal destination city of St. Petersburg properly began as the host of the IndyCar season opener and staking its claim as a crown jewel event. The reigning IndyCar series champion Dario Franchitti would start his title defense strong by notching his 27th career Indy car win.

 

“This is a great championship, with a lot of quality teams and drivers. So you’ve got to fight all the way, and that’s exactly what this team does time after time,” said Franchitti post-race. “The key to our race was making the outside pass on Will [Power] on the second re-start. The car was running like a dream. It’s a great time to be an IndyCar driver. The series is on the ‘up’ and this will be a fantastic season.”

 

Franchitti led 94 of 100 laps on the way to the checkered flag - second only to Castroneves’ 95 laps led in St. Pete in 2007 - winning by a comfortable 6.7 seconds margin. The Target Chip Ganassi driver would indeed repeat as the 2011 IndyCar Series champion.

 

Watch the 2011 IndyCar Season Opener in St. Pete.