St. Pete - Saturday 2:15

Story posted - Apr 05 2008 2:16 PM

The Firestone Fast Six press conference just ended, with the IRL having all six drivers come in and sit for questions.

Tony Kanaan had said yesterday that this qualifying format was tiring and he reconfirmed that today - as did all the drivers who made it to the third round.

At one point Kanaan said, 'my engineer said I had one more lap, but I came back and said - no I don't, I'm done.'

Will Power said, "you gotta be mighty fit" for this system but also that he thinks it's a "good" system. Several of the drivers noted that they believed the system is exciting for the fans - and that's the best part.

Justin Wilson said that besides being physically difficult, the qualifying was very mentally taxing because you have to go through it three times.

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Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan are the only two drivers that have appeared in all 11 Firestone Fast Six qualifying sessions.

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RHR was especially glad to be in the Fast Six after missing most of the first practice session when his suspension failed yesterday.

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Will Power of KV Racing thought that his team would be "caught up" on the road courses if they could get two more test days. That got laughs from Justin Wilson who said "what are test days." His NHLR team has barely even tested in these cars, yet Wilson is already running up front on the road courses.

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Now, we all know that drivers are under some order via their PR people to not disparage either the Panoz DP01 or the Dallara, yet they are still getting lots of questions on comparisons. Will Power seemed to make a bit of a PR blunder when he said that the Panoz will feel like a "rocket" when he gets to Long Beach (even getting some looks from the others on the stage).

He also said the Dallara is a fine racing car. He was specifically talking about car performance, and the higher horsepower, lighter weight Panoz is probably does feel quicker than the Dallara, though Power noted the Honda has more torque off of the corner than the turbo-charged Cosworth.

In general, the media and fans seem far more concerned by these car comparisons than do the drivers who mostly seem to be simply glad that the series are merged and that they have jobs driving race cars. Though there are definitely varying opinions on what the "perfect spec" is - particularly among the media. Cheap and locked down, or wide open and varied (though that can get expensive) seems to be the choices.

The IRL will have an new IndyCar Series machine in 2010. Interesting to see what that will look like.

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It was very strange to see a Fast Six with no Ganassi drivers competing in it. Justin Wilson said that he will just take what they can get, which makes sense considering how far behind they all were last week at Homestead.

The IndyCar Series regulars in the Fast Six said they aren't counting out the Ganassi drivers - especially Dixon said Kanaan.

Dixon got messed up in the first round when a yellow erased one fast lap and traffic hurt another quick lap attempt.

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The mayor of St. Petersburg, Rick Baker, has been very visible here this weekend. He just stopped in the media center and we chatted about the future of this event. The mayor said if it's up to him, this race will be here forever. He noted a park they recently constructed between turns 11 and 12, was done so with building grandstands in mind as the supports were placed before the new grass was laid down.

He said that if a new stadium is built downtown for the Devil Rays on the footprint of Al Lang Stadium (Progress Energy Park), then he intends to have construction work around the needs of the race track (and he included potential paddock space requirements also in his comments to TSO and a CBS Radio reporter.

BTW, you can see stickers and signs around this area that say "Save Al Lang" so it appears that not everyone wants Tropicana Field redeveloped with the baseball moving right next to the Bay aka the race course.

As for the economic impact, the mayor noted he doesn't necessarily like to quote economic impact numbers because of the various multipliers that can be used. He notes that he does talk to the vendors that supply the Grand Prix and the teams, officials, media, etc. He knows from them how important the race is, and he also knows that all of the hotels are full - which we can verify personally. They are either full or expensive anywhere near the track.

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