The cold, dark and vast vacuum of IndyCar’s off season is finally about to be penetrated – ironically, not on Florida’s space coast, but rather in the western city of St. Petersburg. Spinning, revolutions and centrifugal forces will be on full display during this important inaugural mission of 2018.
No, you’re not tripping. The Firestone Grand Prix will see the most colossal class of rookies since the dawn of man. Aping the veterans, they’ll be strapping into brand new rocket ships for the first time next weekend. An asteroid sized chunk of the field has never raced an IndyCar in anger, much less in the unforgiving confines of St. Pete. These FNGs’ race odyssey begins in earnest with the blastoff of a new age in IndyCar.
Most of this generation were in diapers in 2001, as were their parents in 1968 when Kubrick’s mind blowing film 2001: A Space Odyssey debuted in theaters. Considering their boundless inexperience, let’s just hope come Sunday they don’t forget their friggin’ helmets.
Image from redbubble.com
In the hostile space that is the streets of St. Pete – where the zero gravity toilet is in fact one’s driver suit – both men and machines will be mightily tested. Considering the brand new, unproven equipment, hopefully there aren’t any lethal computer malfunctions. Don’t expect the most thrilling racing on the narrow, walled and pot-holed “track” – think the plodding Mission to Jupiter sequence – as St. Pete’s a typical black hole of a street circuit. Admittedly, after six straight months of radio silence, at least it’s something.
Previous survivors -er, winners include Sebastien Bourdais last year and the retired Juan Montoya prior to that in agonizing repeat fashion. Will “cosmically crude” Power’s also won twice, while comedic Canuck James Hinchcliffe even managed a rare winback in 2013. Going back what seems millennia, legacy Graham Rahal won his first ever IndyCar race there in 2008 – a stellar feat he wouldn’t duplicate for seven long years. That’s some evolution.
With the introduction of attractive new cars expect a stunning visual display (a vast majority of the liveries notwithstanding), though depending upon with whom you’re watching probably not a lot of dialogue. For the first time in years, there won’t be any nosy, meddling Russians to contend with, either. The idiots on Twitter will have to be led astray by bots from somewhere other than Putin’s pockets for a change.
Will a shiny new star child emerge from among the numerous newbies? Not if the monolithic Team Penske has its say. Obviously, Sunday’s contest amongst teams and drivers will prove to be a major bone of contention. It remains wide open to interpretation whether this year’s opener will wrap with another baffling ending.