By Patrick Stephan (@TSO_Patrick)

Well, good morning from the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. This is Patrick Stephan and I will be handling the bulk of this weekend’s Mazda Road to Indy coverage. development series expert is off working one of his other gigs this weekend, helping an ESPN on ABC Pit Reporter. In the business, his job is called a “pit spotter”, but the role is basically an assistant producer, helping the pit reporter with notes, inside information, etc.

So, with Steve busy all day, I’ll be here covering the MRTI. I’ll also help a bit with the presented by Honda Racing/HPD coverage of the Verizon IndyCar Series, but I’ve also enlisted the help of veteran racing reporter Bruce Martin to help me on that side.

If for some reason you are not familiar with my style, I tend to be “conversational” in my writing and not overly formal. Also, I am happy to handle any questions that you may have, so feel free to send me a note on Twitter or heck, just send an email (

I will sum up my “getting here” yesterday in a couple of sentences. Flight left Denver at 4:00pm and arrived around 9:00pm to Tampa (TPA). Nothing overly special about the flight except that I saw some really cool clouds and we skirted a thunderstorm somewhere over Mississippi.

Glad we were flying over this storm. Somewhere over Mississippi. Photo by Patrick Stephan. The good news – we aren’t expecting any weather like that here in St. Pete this weekend.

I would talk about dinner but last night I stayed over in Brandon, FL (because it was cheaper) and the only place I could see from the hotel that wasn’t fast food was a Hooters.  Hadn’t been to one of those in a very long time.  Summation.  Food was fine, I was out quickly and happily sleeping by 11:00pm.

The drive in was tricky with morning traffic and having to make a stop for my parking pass, but – well, I’m here now and ready to cover the on track action.

After yesterday’s USF2000 session that saw a couple cars brush the wall in Turn 3, INDYCAR officials decided to make some course changes overnight.

Here is the official statement from INDYCAR:

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (Friday, March 10, 2017) – Turn 3 of the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit for the 2017 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg has been reconfigured, INDYCAR announced today.

The corner has been a fast, sweeping right-hand turn in recent years, but INDYCAR officials, in conjunction with Green Savoree Racing Promotions, decided to make modifications after several cars competing in Thursday’s support series practices crested a bump and lost control in the ensuing depression.

Approximately 180 feet of wall on the drivers’ left side has been moved back almost 40 feet. On the right side, curbing has been installed, which changes the apex and makes the corner a slower, traditional braking area.

The alterations, viewed Thursday evening by a host of Verizon IndyCar Series drivers, will be tested by Indy cars for the first time in practice beginning at 11:15 a.m. ET today. The session will stream live on All levels of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires – the three-tiered INDYCAR developmental ladder – will also run on the configuration in their sessions today.

The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is the first of 17 races on the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. Sunday’s race airs live at noon ET on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

Since I arrived a little later than planned, the USF2000 series was already on track for their first of two qualifying sessions this weekend. New this year, each Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda race will have it’s own qualifying session. So the 7:55am qualifying session was for Race #1 (8:40am on Saturday).  They will come back at 10:40am (all times are ET – Local) to qualifying for Race #2 (2:00pm on Saturday).

Unfortunately, the first thing I saw upon entering the track were street sweepers and then the #37 car of rookie Andre Castro come by Turns 5 and 6 on the back of wrecker.

His car had left rear suspension damage and was missing the rear wing.

Temperatures for the session were in the upper 60’s, and we’ve got nice bright sunshine with the morning marine layer mostly having burned off.

Robert Megennis again set the fast time. Note that with the course changes, while he was quickest of the 21 cars that went out, he was a bit slower than last night. Normally on street circuits, lap times only go down as the weekend progresses due to track “cleaning up” and “rubbering in.”

Yesterday’s quick lap was 1:14.6726, while today’s pole winning time for Race #1 was 1:15.371.

USF2000 Qualifying for Race #1 – UNOFFICIAL

P Car # Name Best Time Diff Total Laps FL Team
1 80 Robert Megennis 1:15.371 0.000 11 9 Team Pelfrey
2 22 Calvin Ming 1:15.473 0.1019 13 13 Pabst Racing
3 3 Oliver Askew 1:15.588 0.2171 14 14 Cape Motorsports
4 36 Dakota Dickerson 1:15.615 0.2438 12 12 Newman Wachs Racing
5 81 Kaylen Frederick 1:15.776 0.4055 13 9 Team Pelfrey
6 90 Parker Thompson 1:15.812 0.4409 11 8 Exclusive Autosport
7 37 Andre Castro 1:15.866 0.4956 12 12 Newman Wachs Racing
8 12 Moises de la Vara 1:15.956 0.5852 12 12 DEForce Racing
9 91 Luke Gabin 1:16.022 0.6517 12 12 Exclusive Autosport
10 11 Kory Enders 1:16.118 0.7477 13 8 DEForce Racing
11 38 Cameron Das 1:16.201 0.8300 11 11 Newman Wachs Racing
12 2 Ricky Donison 1:16.406 1.0356 14 14 Cape Motorsports
13 82 Ayla Agren 1:16.490 1.1195 13 7 Team Pelfrey
14 21 Rinus VeeKay 1:16.770 1.3994 4 3 Pabst Racing
15 7 Devin Wojcik 1:16.798 1.4274 14 13 ArmsUp Motorsports
16 20 Chandler Horton 1:16.998 1.6275 12 9 RJB Motorsports
17 23 Lucas Kohl 1:17.064 1.6927 12 12 Pabst Racing
18 34 Kris Wright 1:18.430 3.0589 13 12 John Cummiskey Racing
19 27 Colin Kaminsky 1:18.651 3.2800 5 4 Kaminsky Racing
20 8 Bruna Tomaselli 1:18.834 3.4630 13 13 ArmsUp Motorsports
21 92 Dev Gore 1:19.535 4.1640 12 9 Exclusive Autosport


Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see much of the action from the Pro Mazda session. Victor Franzoni bested the 14 car field (14 cars – we’ll take that considering this is the final season for this hardware). There are three National Class entries, Puderbach, Davis, and Finelli.

Franzoni’s quick lap this morning was 1:14.149, notably only a second quicker than the fastest lap set by Megennis in USF2000 qualifying.

Oh and I’m not the only one running behind schedule. We’re about 20-30 minutes behind at this point, with the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires cars on track now – back in a bit with those notes.

Results from Pro Mazda Practice #1

P Car # Name Best Time Diff Laps Best Lap Team
1 23 Victor Franzoni 1:14.149 0.000 17 16 Juncos Racing
2 8 Anthony Martin 1:14.303 0.1541 21 18 Cape Motorsports
3 81 Carlos Cunha 1:14.725 0.5769 20 20 Team Pelfrey
4 82 TJ Fischer 1:15.002 0.8539 20 20 Team Pelfrey
5 80 Nikita Lastochkin 1:15.538 1.3899 20 19 Team Pelfrey
6 15 Phillippe Denes 1:15.853 1.7046 20 19 World Speed Motorsports
7 14 Sting Ray Robb 1:16.301 2.1524 21 13 World Speed Motorsports
8 13 Bobby Eberle 1:16.546 2.3973 21 16 World Speed Motorsports
9 6 Max Hanratty 1:16.727 2.5787 21 13 ArmsUp Motorsports
10 44 Kevin Davis 1:17.896 3.7475 21 16 Kevin Davis Racing
11 31 Brendan Puderbach 1:19.646 5.4976 16 11 FatBoy Racing
12 60 Jeff Green 1:19.697 5.5482 20 15 Juncos Racing
13 3 Matt Machiko 1:20.993 6.8442 13 12 FatBoy Racing
14 83 Charles Finelli 1:25.232 11.0833 14 9 FatBoy Racing


Don’t miss any of the action: