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INDYCAR Starts 2016 Season on the Streets of St. Petersburg

Twenty-two Verizon IndyCar Series entries are itchy to take to the streets of St. Petersburg in anger and drop the green flag on the 2016 season. In what is shaping up to be a historic season that features the epic 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race presented by PennGrade Motor Oil and includes a return to two other tracks with extensive Indy car legacies after years away, the journey begins in earnest this weekend.

The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg rises as the season opener for the sixth consecutive year. Practice sessions on the 1.8-mile temporary circuit set on city streets and a runway of Albert Whitted Airport are set for March 11, qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award for pole position the following day and the 110-lap race scheduled for March 13 (ABC, 12:30 p.m. ET).

All practice sessions and qualifying will be streamed live at racecontrol.indycar.com.

Tantalizing storylines have been building over the winter, with answers beginning to be revealed this weekend. Among the burning topics:

Can Scott Dixon launch the effort to defend his Verizon IndyCar Series championship? The driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet collected his fourth league title in dramatic fashion, winning the 2015 season finale, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, to wind up in a dead heat with Juan Pablo Montoya atop the point standings. Dixon earned the championship by virtue of his three races wins to Montoya’s two.

One of Montoya’s 2015 wins came at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Will the Team Penske driver use this year’s opener as a springboard to the championship that eluded him?

James Hinchcliffe makes his competition return to the cockpit after suffering serious injuries in a practice crash last May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The “Mayor” has looked solid in preseason testing, but is he ready to resume a spot at the front in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda?

With approval from INDYCAR, Honda was permitted to make revisions to its 2015 aero kit for street courses/road courses/short ovals to bridge a competitive deficiency gap to Chevrolet. In addition, both manufacturers are permitted to designate changes to three areas of their aero kits for 2016. How will that shape the competition?

Three drivers – Max Chilton, Spencer Pigot and Alexander Rossi – will drive an Indy car for the first time in a competitive situation this weekend. A fourth, Conor Daly, has not driven an Indy car at St. Petersburg. Who among this promising crop of newcomers will stand out?

The Firestone Grand Prix is just the first of 16 races on the 2016 calendar. It won’t guarantee a championship – as Montoya learned after winning here a year ago – or lose one – as Dixon was able to recover from a 15th-place St. Pete finish to capture the crown.

But it’s certainly a place everyone in the Verizon IndyCar Series enjoys to start the season.

“It’s been around for a long time, it’s a beautiful place, the atmosphere is great,” Montoya said. “Places like this are the home for INDYCAR. Here, Long Beach, hopefully Boston can become one. It’s just tradition. Once it becomes tradition, people love it. This place is becoming a little bit of tradition, in my opinion.”

Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg facts:

Race 1 of 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season. This is the 13th Indy car race in St. Petersburg, Fla., dating to 2003. It was the first non-oval race in Verizon IndyCar Series history (April 3, 2005).

Tickets and event information:
www.gpstpete.com

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

TV: The ABC telecast starts at 12:30 p.m. ET March 13. Allen Bestwick is chief announcer, with Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever Jr. the analysts. The broadcast will also be streamed live on WatchESPN. ESPN distributes Verizon IndyCar Series race telecasts through a combination of ESPN networks and syndication to more than 198 countries and 103 million homes.

Radio: Mark Jaynes is the chief announcer alongside analyst Davey Hamilton for the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. All Verizon IndyCar Series races are broadcast live on network affiliates, Sirius 212, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app.

Verizon IndyCar Series qualifying is broadcast on Sirius 212, XM 209, IndyCar.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app. Verizon IndyCar Series practice sessions plus Indy Lights practice and qualifying are on IndyCar.com, and the INDYCAR 15 app.

Fantasy racing returns to the Verizon IndyCar Series with the launch of the INDYCAR Fantasy Challenge driven by Firestone. It allows fans to become a team manager by fielding a four-driver lineup for each Verizon IndyCar Series race with a stockpile of prizes on the line each week. Sign up today at fantasy.indycar.com.

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