ST. PETERSBURG, Florida - After months of preparations, race weekend for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is finally here.
Events surrounding the season-opening race for the IndyCar series begin Thursday morning in St. Petersburg and continue through Sunday evening.
While Sunday's 12:30 p.m. Grand Prix is the highlight of the weekend - one that beams video of Downtown St. Pete to over 200 countries - locals have become fond of a number of other traditions over the event's seven-year history.
Before they take to the 1.8-mile street course Downtown, several drivers will visit All Children's Hospital Thursday morning. "Racing for Kids" includes autographs and picture-taking with the drivers.
Thursday evening, the annual Festival of States Parade will roll through the streets of St. Pete at 7 p.m., followed by fireworks and party in North Straub Park, where drivers will interact with fans.
Friday, practice starts for the half-dozen different races scheduled to take place over the weekend. There is also a 5k race for runners at 6:15 p.m., where racers will actually complete a lap (by foot) on the 14-turn street course.
Saturday, practice continues, as does qualifying for several of the races. The first race (World Challenge series) takes place as well.
And on Sunday, it's all racing as five different series take to the track, including the marquee event at 12:30 p.m. The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is the first event in the IndyCar season.
A number of Downtown St. Pete streets will be blocked off throughout the weekend, while others will be crowded from traffic. Event organizers suggest parking North or West of Downtown and taking shuttles.
Through race weekend, the following roads will be closed or have limited access:
- CLOSED - First Ave. S. from First St. to Bayshore
- LIMITED ACCESS - on Second Ave. S from First to Second St. S
- CLOSED - Beach Dr. from Central Ave. to First Ave. S
- CLOSED - First St. from First Ave. S to Fifth Ave. S;
- LIMITED ACCESS - First St. S from Fifth Ave. S to Eighth Ave. S AND Sixth Ave. S from Second St. to First St. from March 25 through March 27
Since mid-February, Bayshore Dr. S.E. from First Ave. S. to Fifth Ave. S./Dali Boulevard at First St. S., along with Albert Whitted Park, has been closed to motorized and foot traffic. Following Sunday's race, officials expect those areas to return to normal usage by April 8.
Albert Whitted Airport is slated to remain open through race weekend, but with limited access via Sixth Ave. S. Those needing to get to the USF-St. Petersburg campus, Coast Guard Station, Port of St. Petersburg and Demen's Landing will be able to access those areas without incident; however, the boat ramp will be closed.
Two major race-related events will also affect downtown traffic flow for a period of time on Thursday and Friday nights, March 24 and 25.
On Thursday, the Honda Grand Prix Illuminated Night Parade, produced by the Suncoasters of St. Petersburg, steps off from Central Ave. and Fifth St. at 7 p.m., travels east on Central Ave., north on Second St. N., east on First Ave. N., and north on Beach Dr. before ending in North Straub Park (Fifth Ave. N.E.). Prior to the event, Central Ave. to Second Ave. S. will be closed to traffic between Fifth and Eighth Sts. for parade staging. At 6:30 p.m., the remainder of the parade route at Fourth St. will close. Following the parade, entries will disperse north on Beach Dr. and east on Seventh Ave. N.E. into the North Shore pool parking lots by approximately 8:45 p.m. Second St. will not be accessible to motorists from Central Ave. to First Ave. N. Parking spaces along the parade route will not be accessible around 2 p.m. Thursday so crews can begin clearing the route of vehicles for the street closure.
5K Run Information:
On Friday, traffic restrictions will be in place along Bayshore Dr. N.E. between Central Ave. to Fifth Ave. N.E., and on Fifth Ave. N.E. from Bayshore Dr. east to Seventh Ave. beginning at 5 p.m. for the second annual Racing to Recovery Sam Schmidt Foundation 5K Run. The Racing to Recovery event gets underway at 6 p.m. with participants proceeding south on Bayshore Dr. to First Ave. S.E., then leave city streets to follow the Grand Prix racetrack before exiting onto northbound Bayshore Dr. and finishing at Vinoy Park around 7:15 p.m. Motorists will see delays at Second Ave. N.E. and Bayshore but will be allowed to cross Bayshore Dr. when it's safe to do so. Guests of the Renaissance Vinoy Hotel and residents of Vinoy Place and Vinoy Condos will have normal access from Beach Dr. at Fifth Ave. For more information, visit www.grandprix5k.com.
With more than 25,000 parking spaces within a mile of the temporary race course, city officials expect fans to find hassle-free parking for the duration of Grand Prix weekend. Parking options include:
- For $5 all day on Friday and $10 all day Saturday and Sunday, you may park your vehicle in one of the city's two downtown parking garages, both just a short distance from Gate #1. Parking garages include South Core (enter from the north side of First Ave. S., between Second and First Aves. N.) or BayWalk, (enter from Second St. N.). Private lots, garages and on-street parking will also be available and race fans are urged to obey all posted parking regulations.
•Trop Park-n-Ride Shuttle
- Race fans can hop aboard a free shuttle which will run from Tropicana Field parking lots to the racetrack. Shuttle stops will be located near the Hilton on Fourth Ave. S. between Second and Third Sts. within a one-block walk of Gate #5 and on 10th St. between Second and Third Aves. S. The Tropicana Field Shuttle will operate Friday through Sunday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and can be identified by the red Grand Prix Shuttle signs in the windshields. Parking at Tropicana Field will cost $10. A printable route map is available on the Events page at www.StPeteTrolley.com.
•Take the Trolley
- The Downtown Looper and Central Ave. Shuttle will provide quick, affordable service for race fans needing a ride to the track. The Downtown Looper will provide service Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to midnight and on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Central Ave. Shuttle runs from 6:20 a.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday and from 6:20 a.m. to 9:10 p.m. on Sunday. Fans can ride either trolley for just 25 cents per person. The fee drops to 10 cents for seniors, disabled persons or Medicare cardholders and children five and under ride free. You need exact change to ride either the Looper or Central Ave. Shuttle. A printable route map is available at www.stpetetrolley.com/SchedulesFares.html.
- All permanent on-street accessible spaces are available on a first-come, first-served basis at no charge; some have time limits, but most are available for all-day parking. An additional section of metered parking on Central Ave. between First and Second Sts. will be temporarily reserved as free parking for those holding valid Disabled Person Parking Permit placards. These spaces will be available on a first-come, first-served basis Friday through Sunday. Other areas with accessible disabled parking include city garages, the USF garage and Tropicana Field at the prevailing rate. The USF garage is recommended for those with limited mobility wishing to enter Gate #5 (Fifth Ave. S.), while the South Core garage would be the best choice for those wishing to enter Gate #1 (First Ave. S.) Both the Downtown Looper and the Central Ave. Shuttle are wheel-chair accessible and the Tropicana shuttles include dedicated wheelchair-accessible trolleys.
- Two entry gates will allow race fans to enter the track with ease - one at First Ave. S. and another at Fifth Ave. S. and Second St. Both gates offer wheelchair access and will allow intermittent track crossings. Crossing times will be posted at each gate.
- A special "motorcycle corral" on Central Ave. between First and Second Sts. will be available for motorcycle parking on Saturday and Sunday. Spaces will be first-come, first-served and cost $5. Permanent space for motorcycle, moped and bicycle parking will be located on First Ave. N. between First and Second Sts. and on Second St. between Central Ave. and First Ave. S.
•Ride Your Bike
- In addition to the more than 75 permanent bicycle racks located throughout downtown, a large number of temporary bicycle racks will be available outside each entry gate for those wishing to conserve energy.
- Taxi stands will be located on Second St. S. between Third and Fourth Aves. S. and on Sixth Ave. S. on the south side, just west of Second St.
As in past years, the city mobilizes a crew of "Street Ambassadors" who greet race fans outside the race circuit at Gate 5 (Second St. S. and Fifth Ave. S.) Ambassadors will direct visitors to the track, local restaurants and businesses, parking and transportation and will be able to answer any variety of race and city-related questions.
New Online Ambassador Program:
A new feature this year includes the City's Smart Phone Online Ambassador. By scanning a QR code (at Ambassador location, ticket booths and on Ambassador ID badges), smart phone users may access the online www.stpete.org/mobilegp Web site, with access to race schedules, maps, parking, transportation, emergency information and a list of other events going on throughout downtown. Throughout the weekend, the city's Online Ambassador will be posting updates on Twitter. Questions from the race circuit can be Tweeted to "@stpeteevents" for a quick response.