ST. PETERSBURG — The 17th Grand Prix of St. Petersburg gets underway Sunday afternoon just afternoon. It's usually the first race of the season, but this year's race is the second race on the IndyCar schedule.
Drivers like Tampa resident and two-time Grand Prix winner Sebastian Bourdais are just happy to see the green flag fly.
"A lot of people are pretty pumped about the event," Bourdais said Friday. "We’re in the entertainment business. When you put on races and events like this and have very few people watching, it’s sad."
Bourdais said it's a good sign to see things getting closer to normal in the world of motorsports.
"It’s great to see. 20,000 [fan capacity] is better than nothing. It’s not quite where we need it, but hopefully, it’s the last one like that."
Sunday's race includes a high-profile rookie. NASCAR legend Jimmie Johnson will run in his second career IndyCar race. He finished 19th at last week's Grand Prix of Alabama, and he's excited to turn laps in St. Pete.
"Here I am at a track I’ve never driven around before in an environment I’ve never experienced," Johnson said Friday. "I’m really excited, but at the same time eager to get on track. Just to get some laps so I can sleep on it tonight and try again tomorrow."
Johnson, a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, says the difference in driving style is just as big as the difference in the cars themselves.
"In a Cup car it’s very easy to abuse the breaks and the tires. So there’s a short window at the beginning of a run where you attack, and then you have to preserve the car," he said. "In these cars, it’s the opposite. That’s something I need to re-wire in my head right now."
Drivers will get the command to start their engines Sunday at 12:35 P.M. The green flag is scheduled for 12:42 P.M.