With an actual pre-race article we are FINALLY here! 2014 is upon us and the entire indycar circus is hunkered down in the St. Petersburg paddock ready to battle from the first sight of green on Friday morning. Firestone takes over from Honda as the presenting sponsor of the event with 2014 marking the 11th edition of the early season staple. The short 1.8 mile airport circuit is always an exciting way to open the season and 2014 should be no different. Let’s just hope the guys can repeatedly navigate through turn one without crunching too many cars this year.
Five Things to Watch
Rain – Nearly every year this event has been contested, rain has affected some portion of the weekend. Some kind of rain is nearly inescapable in Southern Florida during the early spring months, and from the look of the forecast, 2014 will be no different. While Firestone has hinted at an updated full wet, I believe they will only have the intermediate from last year available for this first portion of the year. Unfortunate, because the current drizzle tire does not do well in the monsoons of Florida. Here’s to hoping for sprinkles instead of torrential rain if the skies must open this weekend.
Tires – Speaking of Firestone, we do know that the dry weather slicks have been worked on during the offseason. Drivers reported slightly higher grip and wear during winter testing and Firestone has stated that the gap between the black primary tires and red alternates will be even wider for 2014. Increasing mechanical grip is never a bad thing and I look forward to the drivers having a more racey compound to work with. We saw Simona struggle with rooted tires in the closing laps of the 2013 race, and I’m sure we will see similar sights this year.
Engines – Adding an extra dimension of complexity to the tire management issue is the increased horsepower from both power plants. Honda has whispered figures of 725 plus, while Chevy has been coy citing 675 horses. Right. Over two years into development. Riiiight. Truthfully, the figure from both manufacturers could be close to 750 in full on street circuit mode. Those slightly softer tires will be asked to do deal with even higher forces than their 2013 counterparts. Even on in-car video released from the Barber test, the engines sound meaner than last year. Slowly but surely were getting more power and the long runway of St. Petersburg will be the perfect place to see what they can really do.
Track Record – 2003 saw the fastest lap ever turned at the seaside facility; a 1:00.928 in the fire breathing Lola/Cosworth wheeled by none other than Sebastien Bourdais. The 2011 pole time was 1:01.9625 and for 2012 it was 1:01.3721. The DW12 has been inching closer and closer to the ultimate lap and 2014 could be the year. Given the quicker tires, stronger engines and over two years to massage the aerodynamics, we could see the old CART record fall by the close of Saturday. Enough dry running to do this is a tall order, but we could still see records fall all year long.
Montoya – Strap in for a year of Juan Pablo Montoya fanboying… Fair warning. I’ve already written in a multitude of places that Montoya will be the man to watch in 2014. And it all starts this weekend. I know, I know. Rubens Barrichello, AJ Allmendinger, Sebastien Bourdais and Takuma Sato are guys who have all had trouble just jumping into an indycar and finding immediate success. However, JPM is a top echelon driver who can and will compete at the absolute highest levels of any motorsport he chooses to apply his trade to. Don’t give me NASCAR crap, I ain’t got time for that.
Pole – Will Power – Prove me wrong. Please. Seriously. I need to have another confident pick on a street circuit! I could wish anyone I want to pole I want, but Will Power. Come on man.
Winner – Simon Pagenaud – The Frenchman takes his first steps in becoming a serious title contender this year.
Epic Performance – Juan Pablo Montoya – OK, I admit it may take a few races to get his legs under him, but anything less than a podium would be a disappointment.
Biggest Loser – Helio Castroneves – He needs but a single championship to solidify himself into indycar lore, but a tough race in St. Pete will start his championship bid on the wrong foot.
We have talked 2014 and the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to death, it’s time to kick the tires and light the fires. A long off-season is rushing to an end and the beautiful Florida paddock is always the perfect place to kick the season off. The off-season shake-ups will be put to the test and Honda’s trick twin turbo steed will finally turn its first wheels in anger, I could not be any more excited. Strap in for another amazing edition of indycar and the GP of St. Pete.