Tag Archives: Saint Petersburg Florida

Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg the debrief

What an amazing experience this year’s Firestone Grand Prix of Saint Petersburg was. I had a blast!

I signed up to volunteer as a pit & grid marshal and spend the entire event in pit lane near pit out. Occasionally during my off time I went to spectate at Turns 2 and Turn 10 as well as do a little bit of flagging from the amazing Turn 12. My favorite events of the race weekend were everything but IndyCar but since they were the big boys in town I did enjoy spectating their time on track. We didn’t have much to do during the IndyCar sessions because that series brings their own Pit people to work the event, so instead I took some pix…

So for this event the role I was assigned was more of an observer in nature than anything else. Having worked the Indy race at Pocono Raceway with Team Pocono, the paddock at Daytona for the 24 and as pit fire at VIR for IMSA, the pit lane observer role was familiar for me. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to do where I was stationed at pit out. It seems the St. Pete GP folks contracted the event “volunteers” – a separate group from CFR SCCA folks that I was part of, to do the crowd control duties. But I noticed the people were a bit timid and didn’t really stop anyone from crowding various pit boxes, or assisting much for teams bringing cars onto the pit lane from the paddock. The time went by slow because of the lack of duties, but there couldn’t be a better spot to watch what’s happening in pit lane other than maybe watching it on TV. I enjoyed the experience.

Post race we were right in the thick of things as the winning drivers walked past us towards the podium.

As we wrapped up and walked towards our worker shuttles I noticed this little Disney jem… a Mickey Mouse race car and boy do I think it looks sooooo much better than the massive billboards the actual Indy Cars have become. I’m not a big fan of the series. To me IndyCar feels a lot like the open wheel version of NASCAR where good drivers go to retire. And I’m sure the series could be improved greatly if it aspired to be more Formula 1 rather than NASCAR. Instead of one chassis supplier Dallara, there should be more variety. Optimize the wings and things for aero more than advertising space, and things would improve. Watching the crowds at this event though I can see they are not exactly struggling, so let them ride a wave of success and ignore my difference in taste of the outward appearances.

Besides the actual event, I am absolutely in love with St. Petersburg and the Gulf Coast of Florida in general. I would totally love to move to the Tampa Bay area, Clearwater, St. Pete Beach, or even Brandenton… it’s far more laid back than South Florida/Miami area and just as exotic. I’m sure there are tourism and motorsport based businesses I could make a living at. And check out some of the murals and street graffiti around downtown St. Pete, it’s simply uplifting… I want to live here!

One final highlight of the trip. I had booked a cheap motel about 10 miles north of the track. It had horrible reviews and I was cringing at the idea of staying there. After much thought I decided to change my plans and reach out to people on CouchSurfing to host me. The fella that accepted my request turned out to be awesome and I had an absolute blast staying there… just a few blocks from the track. Before heading back to Daytona after the race I offered to buy my host dinner for his troubles and he chose a really tasty option, burgers at Engine 9 downtown. It was a great experience!

… another Florida event is next on my calendar: Sebring 12 hour!

Post Card from Firestone St Petersburg Grand Prix

What a difference a year makes…

Last year I felt a little bit stuck between Turns 8 and 9 at the St. Pete GP street circuit. This year however I decided to give Pit Marshaling a try and what an incredible difference that made. I’ll write in greater detail about what that role entailed, but suffice to say I had an absolute blast. It gave me some freedom to roam around during the off time and visit some amazing stations from Turn 2 which was the nearest to my post to Turns 10 and 12 which required a bit of a walk… but that took me to the spectator area and all the cool things on offer there. I loved every minute of it!

We were off to a quiet start, literally being inside the pit lane at pit out making sure no one got in a way of cars entering the circuit.

Of course being that close to cars was an excellent perspective. Sure you see cars close at some of the turns, but they’re going rather fast. In pit lane the speed limit was 35mph and I got a great view and sound off of the passing cars like the new Panoz Avezzano GT.

I should say that the pictures were taken while off duty, and while the cars were returning to their paddock on the other side of the track through the Turn 1 opening.

So much Britishness!

There was a collection of safety cars, pace cars and course cars near pit exit that we walked past every morning. Later on during the races there was quite a collection of broken down race cars there too.

The front stretch on this street course actually is a runway of the local airport, so looking down the straight towards Tampa Bay you could see an occasional sail boat going by on the blue water, while small planes were coming in for a landing on the runway that remained active during the event. I shouldn’t say just small planes, a rather large Coast Guard cargo plane also landed which was impressive to say the least!

This was my post!

Up close to many of the drivers and the series officials.

Love all the Mazda branded race stuff on pit lane…

I thought this was cool, a train of race cars being pulled off pit lane.

Exotica!

The Panoz team didn’t do so well though the car ran strong… turns out there will be a pair of those Avezzanos racing in this series!

Central Florida Region fed the marshals real well over the weekend.

A mini Moke!

Oh and I got to flag at Turn 12 / Timeline during my off sessions!

Thanks to Craig from Canada for taking the pictures, that’s his finger you see in the top right corner.

Darren Gunn from CFR did a great job printing these large scale spotter guides for the past two events, Daytona and St. Pete!

The sun was brutal, I got fried… but these snowballs were refreshing

View of the starter stand where I’d like to end up one day…

View from Turn 10, one of the most exotic views I feel on the track

I’m sure my little nephews would enjoy this spectator attraction.

I’ll make another post fro the IndyCar specific pix.

Planning 3 Major Trips Simultaneously: Motorsport Events in Texas, Florida & California

With the excitement from the trip to the South Pacific barely starting to wear out I’m keeping the momentum going by planning 3 massive domestic trips to marshal around the country.

What’s on the agenda?

Pirelli World Challenge season opener at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas immediately followed by a trip to the Gulf Coast of Florida for a few events. I plan to drive down to Florida in my MX-5 the day after I fly home from Texas. The trip will put at least 3,000 miles on the car while volunteering my first St. Pete Grand Prix tagged along to another exciting Sebring 12 hour enduro with the IMSA WeatherTech United SportsCar Series Championship race. After a few weeks of recovery I’ll depart on a trip to California for another IndyCar Grand Prix on the streets of Long Beach.

I could hardly contain my excitement about these trips, and am currently wrecking my brains trying to organize all the travel arrangements. In a way, the flights are the easiest part of the equation. The costs to marshal are tremendous especially when the volunteers compete for the same accommodation that drivers and fans use during a race weekend. I’ve found this to be especially true in the case of St. Pete where even the cheapest hell-hole hotels are pushing $100/night. But it’s a challenge I’m happy to accept, I find the planning part almost as exciting as being trackside for the event.

PWC at COTA

For the Pirelli World Challenge season opener at the Circuit of the Americas I’ve frankensteined a trip together using a $36 AA flight from LGA to DFW and then $2.50 bus from Dallas to Austin with Megabus. On the way home it’ll be another $2.50 Megabus ride back to Dallas to connect to a $49 UA flight back to LaGuardia via Houston: DFW-IAH-LGA. I’m looking forward to my buddy Joaquin helping me out in Austin again with his monster Chevy dually.

St. Pete GP & Sebring 12h

The IndyCar season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida will be a two day drive in the MX-5 from New Jersey. I will probably break up the trip into a 12 hour and an 8 hour drive with a rest stop overnight in Columbia, SC. I am a little concerned about parking for the MX-5 while in Florida especially if I do stay at a cheapo motel, which tend to be in bad parts of town and therefore prone to crime. But fingers are crossed everything works out. I plan to camp at Sebring, as much as I dislike the idea of camping you can’t beat the price. Although my camping gear, sleeping bag, pillows, etc. will completely pack the poor little convertible.

Long Beach GP

For this trip I frankensteined a few flights to bring the price down. Because it’s a busy Motorsport weekend in the LA area the flights are priced higher than normal. My goal was to book something for under $200 round trip and I just managed to do it by booking a number of separate reservations with United. The one way NY-LA was about $150 but I cut that cost in half by booking NY-Chicago and Chicago-LA separately… $35 for LGA-ORD and $35 ORD-LAX with favorable departure times and plenty of room between the two separate bookings in case there is major travel disruption on the day of travel. The flights back home were the pricey ones and in fact I paid almost double of the cost to get there. I chose to fly out on the Monday after the race, and the cheapest option was a $132 flight from Burbank to Newark via San Francisco: BUR-SFO-EWR. I think I am pretty happy with these bookings considering the alternative was at least $75 to $100 more, or I would have had to rely on wasting an award which I would rather save up on a flight to Europe.

In the next few days I’ll continue researching accommodation for these three trips and trying to decide whether to stick to public transport in California or rent a cheapo car to get around.

I’m excited!

PS. I am especially looking forward to the lengthy trip in the Miata, after a beautiful Road Trip in New Zealand I want to appreciate driving my own car as much as the owners I met love driving theirs.

Expanding my Wish List This Year to Marshal the St. Pete GP & Sebring 12h

I am seriously considering registering as a marshal to volunteer this year’s St. Petersburg Grand Prix followed immediately by the Sebring 12 hour in Florida. Best events to marshal are those that you can do back-to-back and it doesn’t get better than this schedule in March including a street race in a beautiful Gulf Coast Florida town overlooking Tampa Bay as well as one of the most iconic endurance races in the US that is Sebring 12 hours of IMSA racing.

The last time I marshaled in Florida I had less than great time, especially the time before the last time. This involved getting kicked out of my station during the Daytona 24 hours in January of 2013. But I’m over it now and if they let me come back – that is the CFR – Central Florida Region SCCA club that staffs both of these pro-races including IndyCar at St. Pete and IMSA at Sebring, I’d be happy to return.

I would love to actually drive down for this event and do a little bit of recon work to see if I could make the move to Florida in 2016. I realize waiting and hoping for something to happen will actually never make anything happen, so this would be a good opportunity to take the first step towards this move.

Well, fingers crossed!