Economy Puts Hurt On St. Pete Grand Prix
ST. PETERSBURG - The difficult economy is taking a bite out of this weekend's Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Only 17 cars are entered in Saturday's Acura Sports Car Challenge, the first half of what's supposed to be a twin-feature event. The Audi and Porsche prototype teams that staged a dramatic battle in last year's Challenge are not returning. Audi pulled out of the ALMS, except for this month's 12 Hours of Sebring, and Porsche followed suit with its Spyder cars. With only six cars entered n the prototype categories and none in the GT1 touring class, the race will have a different feel. Last year's Challenge had 28 cars, including 12 of the exotic prototypes, competing on the tight downtown street course.Michael Andretti, co-promoter of the grand prix, said he feels sorry for the ALMS because the series is almost solely supported by auto manufacturers and, as such, has taken a bigger hit than other series. "Having said that, I think they're still going to put on a good show," Andretti said. "The beauty of their series is they have a few races within a race, and in at least one of them, you're going to have a competitive show." The entry list for Sunday's Indy Racing League race will be released Tuesday and likely will have 20 or 21 cars, depending on whether Conquest Racing reaches a deal with Alex Tagliani. That would be down five cars from last year, when the IRL bulged after unifying with Champ Car, but up three from 2007. A large field is expected for the Indy Lights series support races. "Between the two series, Lights and Indy cars, we're going to be bringing 48 to 50 cars down there," said Brian Barnhart, the IRL's president for operations. Most of the top teams and drivers from Indy car racing are coming, the notable exceptions being Helio Castroneves, who is doubtful because of his legal problems, and Rahal Letterman Racing, which lost its Ethanol sponsorship. Ryan Hunter-Reay, Bobby Rahal's former driver, has reached an agreement in principal to drive a second car for Vision Racing.