Power recovers from morning crash to pace St. Petersburg practice

Will Power dug himself a hole by crashing in the first practice session for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The Team Penske driver redeemed himself by soaring to the top of the leaderboard in the second session.

Power’s lap of 1 minute, 0.9431 of a second (106.329 mph) was best among the 22 Verizon IndyCar Series drivers competing in the 2016 season opener on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit by Tampa Bay. The lap came within three-tenths of a second of the track record Power set last year on his way to winning his fifth pole position at the track.

On just his fifth lap of the first practice, Power crashed his No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet entering Turn 9, the car sustaining heavy right-side damage when it hit the wall. Power reported to his crew that he was adjusting the car’s brake bias with one hand when it hit a bump and he lost control, forcing the crew to hurriedly repair it between sessions.

“Definitely a bad start,” admitted Power, who won the St. Pete races in 2010 and 2014, “but full credit to the guys to get the car back out there, get some laps, get my head around the track and so on.

“Yeah, it was a good session. (We) ran in circles with the setup, but P1, pretty happy.”

Scott Dixon, the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series champion, was second fastest for the day at 1:00.9573 (106.304 mph) in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. Dixon has finished second at St. Petersburg three times but never won here.

“Today, (I’m) pretty happy,” said Dixon, fifth on the all-time Indy car wins list with 38. “St. Pete is a bit of a thorn in our side. Second practice, we made some wholesale changes and pretty good gains.

“I think the car has some good potential, which you can see,” Dixon added. “Hopefully we can carry that through to tomorrow (for qualifying). Definitely for us it’s always a tricky track. It’s Friday. Obviously Sunday is the day that counts. Hopefully we can start near the front and make the most of it and have a strong start to the season.”

Simon Pagenaud, Power’s Team Penske teammate who led the first practice session, was third in the afternoon at 1:01.1796 in the No. 22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet. Honda-powered drivers scooped up the next five spots on the leaderboard, led by Graham Rahal in the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda (1:01.2924).

The afternoon session was halted for nearly 40 minutes for repairs to the track surface in Turn 3. The Holmatro Safety Team and track workers patched the areas with high-quality, quick-setting concrete, allowing the practice to resume for 40 minutes.

A third practice session is scheduled for 11:55 a.m. ET March 12, with knockout qualifying including the Firestone Fast Six session to decide the Verizon P1 Award for the pole starting at 3:40 p.m. The 110-lap race – the 13th on the city street circuit that also utilizes a runway of Albert Whitted Airport – is set for March 13 (12:30 p.m. ET, ABC).

Team Penske unveils fast new look for Verizon cars

Team Penske and sponsor Verizon unveiled sleek new liveries for cars driven by Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power this season in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The cars feature a glossy silver look with red and black accents, along with the new Verizon logo prominently placed on the sidepod and engine cover.

The primary differences are in the car numbers, mirrors and camera mount above the air intake. The No. 2 on Montoya’s car is black with a red outline and the two mirrors and camera mount on his car are black. Power’s No. 12 is red with a black outline and the mirrors and camera mount on his car are red.

Power will be in the Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet at all 16 races this season, while Montoya will run the colors in nine events, including the first three.

“I think it looks great,” Montoya, the reigning Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg winner said. “It’s nice. In a way, it kind of reminds me of the old Marlboro cars (that Team Penske used to run) – both cars looking the same and small details to make the difference between the cars. It looks amazing.”

Asked if the new liveries look fast, Montoya quipped, “As long as they’re up front, they can look however they want.”

Firestone extends agreement to serve as St. Pete race title sponsor

Grand Prix of St. Petersburg officials announced that Firestone has entered into a multiyear extension of the agreement to serve as title sponsor of the Verizon IndyCar Series race on the streets of the city on Tampa Bay. Firestone assumed naming rights in 2014 and the extension runs through 2018.

“Firestone has been a valued and key sponsor for many years, and together we have been able to bring this event to new heights,” said Kim Green, owner, chairman and CEO of Green Savoree Racing Promotions, organizer of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. “They are a fundamental part of the race weekend and we are thrilled to continue our partnership and growing the event with their support.”

Firestone, whose involvement in motorsports dates back more than a century, also is the official tire of the Verizon IndyCar Series, the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and the Grand Prix of Boston powered by LogMeIn, as well as title sponsor of the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.

“Everyone at Firestone is proud to continue our sponsorship of this outstanding event,” said Lisa Boggs, director of Bridgestone Americas Motorsports. “The Firestone Grand Prix is a marquee weekend on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule and the perfect venue to kick off the season. The dedication of the Green Savoree team and the support of the St. Petersburg community are second to none, and we are honored to continue this partnership.”

Grand Prix of Boston tickets on sale

The Grand Prix of Boston powered by LogMeIn, set to debut on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule on Labor Day weekend, put tickets on sale today for fans who signed up for advance sale notice through the race website. Sales to the general public begin March 15.

Tickets for the inaugural event September 2-4 on the 2.2-mile temporary street circuit in the South Boston Waterfront area will be available at www.indycarboston.com or by calling (857) 598-5566. In addition to the Verizon IndyCar Series race, other events on the weekend schedule feature Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Lamborghini Blancpain Trofeo Series and Traax Stadium Truck Series.

“It is fitting that we put advanced tickets on sale this weekend, which is the season opener in St. Petersburg,” said John Casey, president of Grand Prix of Boston. “There is huge excitement in the IndyCar community, and it is matched by the enthusiasm we have been met with in Boston. Thousands have signed up for advance ticket sales, sponsorship interest is off the charts, and the number of people looking to find ways to participate is amazing.” 

Three-day reserved-seat prices range from $150-205, with three-day general admission $99. Paddock passes for the weekend are $60.

GEICO returns as KVSH Racing sponsor for ninth straight season

KVSH Racing announced that GEICO, the second largest passenger auto insurer in the United States, has returned as a team sponsor in 2016. It extends a partnership that began in 2008.

“GEICO has been a partner, and in fact a part of our family, for almost a decade, including the Indy 500 win in 2013,” said Jimmy Vasser, KVSH Racing co-owner. “We look forward to bringing them another outstanding month of May and thank them for their support in our efforts to not only win the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500, but an INDYCAR championship.”

Hinchcliffe joins his hometown Blue Jays for spring training game

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver James Hinchcliffe, a native of suburban Toronto, met up with his favorite Major League Baseball team in the Florida sunshine March 10. Hinchcliffe attended the Blue Jays’ spring training encounter with the New York Yankees at George Steinbrenner Field in Tampa.

Before the game, Hinchcliffe met Toronto catcher Russell Martin, who presented the “Mayor” with a Blue Jays jersey embroidered with his name and No. 5, the same as the Arrow-sponsored Honda he drives in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Firestone Racing donates $10,000 to Racing For Kids 5K run

Firestone Racing, through the Bridgestone Americas Trust Fund, is donating $10,000 to support Racing For Kids prior to tonight’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg 5K run. Founded in 1989, Racing For Kids is a unique national charity that draws on the popularity of motorsports to bring attention to the health care needs of children and child health institutions.