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Verizon IndyCar Series Kicks Off This Weekend in St. Petersburg

It’s a dawn of a new era for the Verizon IndyCar Series this weekend as aero kits enter the sport’s lexicon. Years of work by IndyCar engine suppliers Chevrolet and Honda have resulted in new bodywork that not only provides different looks for fans to identify each brand, but has also raised the performance index of the 24 cars on the St. Petersburg grid.

Of the pre-season themes worth following during the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Chevy and Honda have come out swinging with more powerful, revised 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 engines to do battle on road, street, and oval circuits. The proliferation of wings and flicks and other aerodynamic aids might be the most obvious change from 2014, but there’s plenty to admire beneath the engine cover as power figures have crept well over the 700hp mark at maximum boost.

That prodigious power will be needed to push the high-downforce aero kits through the air, and while top speeds might not creep up by an impressive margin at a place like St. Pete, the cornering speeds will definitely be impressive to watch. Braking has also been improved with the added downforce, and for some of the daredevils who wait to brake as long as possible, some impressive passes could be on display.

Among the drivers, defending champion Will Power is an automatic threat for the win in his No. 1 Team Penske Chevy, and with his new teammate Simon Pagenaud in the sister No. 22 Chevy, an instant rivalry has been sparked.

Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon will look to overcome the slow starts that have put the team behind the curve the past two seasons, and there are plenty of other contenders to follow this weekend. Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay is expected to lead Honda’s charge, and Graham Rahal, who is coming off a challenging 2014 season, looks primed for a big reboot in the No. 15 RLL Honda.

Add in the return of Simona de Silvestro with Andretti, Sage Karam’s debut with Chip Ganassi Racing, and an exciting rookie class with 2014 Indy Lights champion Gabby Chaves and GP2 veteran Stefano Coletti, among others, and there’s plenty to absorb in Central Florida.

Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Race Notes:

Race 1 of 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season (March 27-29). Twelfth Indy car race in St. Petersburg, Fla.; 11th under INDYCAR sanction. Was first non-oval race in Verizon IndyCar Series history (April 3, 2005)

Tickets and event information: www.gpstpete.com

Twitter: @GPSTPETE, #FirestoneGP; @IndyCar, #IndyCar

Weather forecast: Sunny with highs of 70 (F) March 28-29

24-driver entry list for Verizon IndyCar Series race weekend

TV: ABC telecast starts at 3 p.m. (ET) March 29. Allen Bestwick is chief announcer, with Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever Jr. the analysts. ESPN also distributes Verizon IndyCar Series race telecasts through a combination of ESPN networks and syndication to more than 197 countries, and the new ESPN Player brings fans across Europe, the Middle East and Africa (excluding the UK, France, Italy and South Africa) live and on-demand coverage as a new channel on the digital subscription service. Visit ESPNPlayer.com for information.

Web: Live streaming video of Verizon IndyCar Series and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires practice and qualifications in conjunction with real-time Timing & Scoring and the IMS Radio Network broadcasts is available on www.IndyCar.com. Timing & Scoring, results, news, video and more is on the INDYCAR 15 app for all carriers. Download it today.

Radio: Paul Page is the chief announcer alongside analyst Davey Hamilton for the IMS Radio Network. All Verizon IndyCar Series races are broadcast live on the IMS Radio Network, Sirius 213, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com, and on the INDYCAR 15 app.

Verizon IndyCar Series qualifying is broadcast on Sirius 213, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com, and the INDYCAR 15 app. Verizon IndyCar Series practice sessions plus Indy Lights practice and qualifying are on IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com, and the INDYCAR 15 app.

Get in the game: Fantasy racing returns to the Verizon IndyCar Series with the launch of the #INDYRIVALS Fantasy Challenge driven by Firestone. INDYCAR’s newest fantasy game allows fans to become team manager by fielding a four-driver lineup for each Verizon IndyCar Series race with a stockpile of prizes on the line each week as the stars of the series go wheel-to-wheel for race wins. Sign up today.

Circuit: 1.8 miles, 14 turns
Race laps: 110 (198 miles)
Pit box dimensions: 44 x 16 feet
Race day fuel: 70 U.S. gallons of Sunoco E85 (70 gallons for practice/qualifying)
Tire allotment: Seven sets of Firestone Firehawk primary tires and three sets of alternates. Same specification as the 2014 race at St. Petersburg.

Verizon IndyCar Series on-track times (all times Eastern):
Friday, March 27:
12:30-1:45 (Practice 1)
4:15-5:30 p.m. (Practice 2)

Saturday, March 28:
12:30-1:15 p.m. (Practice 3)
4:15 p.m. (three rounds of qualifications, including Firestone Fast Six)

Sunday, March 29:
Noon-12:30 p.m. (Warm-up)
2:30 p.m. (2:50 p.m. pre-race, 3:37 p.m. green flag)

Qualifications: Three rounds of knockout qualifying to determine the Verizon P1 Award winner and set grid. Twelve cars from Segment 1 (six quickest from Groups 1 and 2 of 10 minutes of track time) advance to 10-minute Segment 2. Top six from Segment 2 advance to 10-minute Firestone Fast Six session.

Points: Driver, entrant and engine manufacturer receive points corresponding to their finish in the race (manufacturer points are awarded to the top three race finishers). Bonus points for driver/entrant also are awarded for Verizon P1 Award (1 point), leading the most laps (2 points) and leading a lap (1 point). Engine manufacturer bonus points are awarded for Verizon P1 Award (1 point) and leading the most laps (2 points).

2014 winner: Will Power of Team Penske by 1.9475 seconds over Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport after qualifying fourth. There were seven lead changes in the race.

Takuma Sato, driving the No. 14 ABC Supply car for A.J. Foyt Racing, earned the Verizon P1 Award (1 minute, 1.8668 seconds; 104.738 mph). "We’ve been on the St. Pete podium too many times in the past without a win, now we have our sights set on a victory and starting the 2015 season the best way possible," said Hunter-Reay, who will make his 170th Indy car start.

Of note: The INDYCAR Fan Village, filled with interactive exhibits and displays, is located next to Al Lang Field. A Verizon IndyCar Series autograph session is scheduled from 2:15-3:15 p.m. March 28 (preceding qualifications) at the INDYCAR Fan Village.

Helio Castroneves is the only multiple winner at St. Petersburg (2012, 2007, 2006).

Power started from the pole in 2010-13, winning in 2010. Team Penske has won six of the races.

Five drivers (Gabby Chaves, Sage Karam, Stefano Coletti, Francesco Dracone and Luca Filippi) will compete on the street course for the first time in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

At 20, Karam will be the youngest ever to drive an Indy car in Chip Ganassi Racing Teams' 26-year history (Scott Dixon was 22 in 2002) as well as the youngest driver in the field.

All three rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy open their seasons during the weekend (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires races at 2:25 p.m. March 29 and 12:45 p.m. March 30; Pro Mazda races at 1:30 p.m. March 28 and 9:450 a. March 30; USF2000 races at 10:15 a.m. March 28 and 8:55 a.m. March 29).

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson is the grand marshal. Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Alex Cobb is the honorary starter.

A Fast Friday Community Block Party is a free event and open to the community starting at 5:30 p.m. on Central Avenue between 2nd and 3rd Streets. Top finishers in the Firestone Grand Prix 5K presented by Modern Business Associates, which benefits All Children's Hospital, will be recognized at 8:15 p.m.

He said it: “St. Petersburg is one of the best places to kick off the season," three-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon said. "The track itself it always fantastic racing with big braking zones going into turn one. It’s also very wide, great for starts, restarts and overtaking throughout the race. I think it’s definitely been some great racing over the years and this year I expect the same. I haven’t won there either, so I need to work on that one. I’ve had three or four podiums but have never won.”

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