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St. Petersburg revs up for Firestone Grand Prix weekend

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The ‘burg is open for business, with fast cars and fun on the waterfront as the 2015 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg takes place through Sunday.

When the green flag drops on three days of legal street racing at the inaugural event for the IndyCar circuit, downtown becomes one of racing’s most beautiful road courses.

Visitors and viewers alike will get spectacular trackside waterfront views, as the race broadcasts on ABC TV beginning at 3 p.m.

FOOD, FUN AND SUN RACERS

St. Petersburg’s downtown dining and retail district is open during and after the race, offering a number of special discounts and race-themed festivities. The city’s Tropicana shuttle and Looper Trolley will also operate for extended hours, until 10 p.m. all three days.

New this year is the Sun Racer, a signature-themed cocktail available at participating locations throughout downtown, and both the EDGE and Grand Central districts during race weekend.

FAST FRIDAY AND GRAND PRIX 5K

Grand Prix weekend kicks off with live music, food and family fun at the free Fast Friday Community Block Party beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Located on Central Avenue between Second and Third Streets South, Fast Friday serves as the official awards ceremony setting for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg 5K, which begins at 7:15 p.m. in Vinoy Park. The race’s waterfront course includes a portion of the track, before returning to the finish line. Firestone Grand Prix joins with Modern Business Associates (MBA) as sponsors of the 5K; proceeds benefit All Children’s Hospital.

WELCOME TO THE SPEED ZONE

Inside the track is the Bright House Speed Zone, where autograph seekers can experience a chance encounter with drivers in the IndyCar Fan Village. On the track before the race will be the excitement of motocross and the best of Baja with Robby Gordon’s SPEED Stadium Super Trucks, featuring high jumps, crossovers, whoop sections and tight corners on the 1.8-mile course.

GRAND PRIX SPECIAL EVENTS

Also at the event will be visits from leading Bay Area athletes, including Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Alex Cobb. Cobb will serve as the race’s honorary starter by waving the green flag, while three-time Pro Bowl and Tampa Bay Buccaneer wide receiver Vincent Jackson will serve as the 2015 Grand Marshal, leading the driver parade during pre-race ceremonies and make the call to drivers to start their engines.

In addition to the IndyCar and Indy Lights Series races, fans also have an opportunity to watch racing’s up-and-coming stars during the ProMazda, USF2000 and Pirelli World Challenge (PWC) series. Race fans can look for St. Petersburg resident and IndyCar driver Sebastien Bourdais or USF2000 driver Ayla Agren, also a St. Petersburg resident, on and off the track.

TICKETS

Tickets for the Firestone Grand Prix are still available. Choose from one, two and three-day tickets, group discounts for 10 or more, reserved seating or general admission and paddock passes from $20 to $135. Purchase tickets by phone at 877-283-5385 or www.gpstpete.com; prices include all taxes and service charges. Tickets purchased on-site at Gate 1 (First Street and First Avenue) or Gate 5 (Second Street and Fifth Avenue S.) will incur additional fees.  For more information, visit www.gpstpete.com.

GET THE INSIDE SCOOP

Need to know what’s going on inside the track? Look for the city’s crew of volunteer Ambassadors from the city of St. Petersburg, the St. Petersburg Chamber and Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater, outside of Gate 5 (Second St. S. and Fifth Avenue S.), at Gate 1 (First Avenue SE and First Street), at downtown shuttle stops, and around the track handing out maps and providing fans with directions, parking and ATM locations and other city information.

STAY SOCIAL

Stay on top of the action at the track and learn what’s going on in downtown St. Petersburg using the official Grand Prix hashtag #FirestoneGP. Follow @StPeteFL, @VSPC, @GPSTPETE, @IndyCar, @WCRacing, @ProMazda or @USF2000 for the latest updates and standings and show support by using #EmbraceTheRace while sharing photos and comments on Facebook.

WAIT! THERE’S MORE

The Dali Museum will be closed during Grand Prix weekend, March 27-29, and patrons are invited to visit The Dali when it reopens Monday, March 30, at 10 a.m. Through April 1, free patron parking is available in the Dolphin parking lot with complimentary transportation to and from the museum. Shuttles run from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. with stops approximately every 15 minutes through April 1. Minibus service is also available from the Dolphin lot; hours of operation are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Museum parking lot is expected to reopen April 2.

Meanwhile, the Mahaffey Theater Box Office will close during Grand Prix weekend, reopening Wednesday, April 1.  Theater tickets may be purchased at www.themahaffey.com or at (727) 893-7832.

For other events in St. Petersburg this weekend, visit www.stpete.org/events.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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