Heavy showers postpone race
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- A river of rainwater ran through at least one section of the infield, puddles covered the course and fans spent most of Sunday running for cover.
So much for those spectacular views the Indy Racing League was looking to display in St. Petersburg.
With 6 inches of water pooling on some sections of the low-lying track, the Honda Grand Prix was postponed after a band of thunderstorms pounded the course for much of the afternoon. It was the first time an Indy Racing League event was pushed back by weather since April 2008, when Danica Patrick won in Japan.
"If we were to go out and try to race," driver Hideki Mutoh said, "maybe there would only be one car that would finish."
They'll try again Monday at 10 a.m. ET, although the National Weather Service warns that more rain was possible overnight and into the morning hours. Crews were summoned to work overnight to get standing water off the temporary street course and sections of the infield.
"It's going to be a considerable challenge," said Brian Barnhart, the president of IRL's competition and racing operations division.
IRL officials said Monday morning that, given the amount of rain that fell, the track was "in exceptional condition." There were slight modifications made to the area around turns 13 and 14, including the placing of additional barriers to ensure drivers couldn't reach any remaining standing water in that section of the course.
It rained over the track for much of the night, and was still raining lightly when teams began arriving in the morning.
Rain began falling at the 1.8-mile circuit just before 1 p.m. Sunday, and a band of strong storms arrived quickly from there. The decision to postpone was made around 4 p.m.
"We're one of the few series in the world that go racing in the rain," driver Ryan Hunter-Reay said. "And even this was a bit much."
It was a double-whammy of a weather day for racing fans. NASCAR's event in Martinsville, Va., also was pushed back by rain and now is set to begin Monday at noon.
NASCAR's start time is part of the reason the decision was made for IRL to begin at 10 a.m. ET instead of later in the day. Both races will be on ESPN networks -- a blow to some drivers, since Sunday's race was one of the few slated to be aired on ABC this season.
"No way. Really? What would we have to do, cancel a soap opera?" Hunter-Reay said. "That's disappointing."
IRL races typically go on as scheduled even when it rains, the season opener two weeks ago in Sao Paulo the most recent example. Sunday's issue was the combination of puddles on the track, which can cause cars to go airborne, and several flashes of lightning that were spotted in the area about two hours before the IndyCar race was to begin.
Plus, the National Weather Service said wind exceeding 25 mph was hitting the area, with higher gusts possible.
"It was pretty slick out there and the white lines on the runway were treacherous," said Stefan Wilson, who ran third in the soaked IndyLights race Sunday afternoon, which was to precede the IRL event. "A lot of people made a lot of mistakes in front of me."
There's several logistical issues to deal with, including continued road closures in downtown St. Petersburg -- where the circuit was set up -- and even possible adjustments to flight schedules at a small airport. Part of the Honda GP course includes one of the two runways at the city-owned Albert Whitted Airport, which was still scheduled to reopen fully by 7 a.m. Thursday.
"Me being around for so long, I've raced on Mondays quite more often than a lot of guys," Tony Kanaan said. "It's just one more day. You keep your game-plan on."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press
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