Track Talk: Firestone Grand Prix Key Facts

We’re ONE day away from the first practice session of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar season. After a long offseason, we look at some key facts about the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

No defending winner: With 2016 winner Juan Pablo Montoya moving solely into an Indy 500 ride with Team Penske, we are guaranteed to have a different winner this year.

Only one rookie: Reigning Indy Lights champion, Ed Jones, will make his first IndyCar start with Dale Coyne racing. For the time being, Jones is the only rookie with a ride. Jones is no stranger to victory lane in St. Petersburg, winning both Indy Lights races in 2015. No rookie has ever won the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, but Graham Rahal managed to win the race in his very first IndyCar series start back in 2008.

Put your money on Team Penske: With the exception of Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, and Sam Hornish Jr, every fulltime Team Penske driver from 2006 onwards has found their way into St. Petersburg victory lane including: Helio Castroneves, Ryan Brisco, Will Power, and Juan Pablo Montoya.

And speaking of Team Penske: Three-time Indy 500 winner, Helio Castroneves, is also a three-time Grand Prix of St. Petersburg winner. Nobody else has won the race more than him.

Honda vs Chevrolet: Chevy-powered drivers have won the last five St. Petersburg races. The last time a Honda visited victory lane? 2011, when Dario Franchitti and Chip Ganassi racing won. As a matter of fact, Honda hasn’t won the race since the introduction of the Dallara DW12 chassis and twin-turbo engines. Guess who’s back with Honda? Chip Ganassi racing. Can one of the Honda-powered Ganassi drivers break through?

Make America win again: Nine American drivers are entered into this weekends race- more than any other country, and to date, Graham Rahal is the only star-spangled winner. Can anyone else break through? This writer believes Josef Newgarden has the best chance of ending the team USA drought.

The race for the IndyCar championship begins now: That’s true about any season opener, but drivers shouldn’t worry if things go wrong in St. Petersburg. Looking back at the 13 (St. Petersburg) races run since 2003, only four winners have gone on to win the championship at the end of the season. These drivers include: Paul Tracy in 2003, the late Dan Wheldon in 2005, Dario Franchitti in 2011, and Will Power in 2014.

Still stuck picking a winner? Look no further than the Indy 500. Notwithstanding Graham Rahal, Paul Tracy, and Will Power, every past St. Petersburg winner has won either the Indy 500 and/or the Indy 500 pole. If you haven’t already, I’d put Alexander Rossi back in your IndyCar pool.

Victor Genova is the host of the Media People Podcast and a freelance racing writer. You can follow him on Twitter at @VicGenova