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Thirteenth Annual Firestone Grand Prix Begins This Weekend

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Morgan Blauth/WUSF
St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman speaks at the ceremonial flag raising, which signals the beginning of the 13th annual Firestone Grand Prix.

The IndyCar season kicks off this weekend with the 13th annual Firestone Grand Prix in St. Petersburg.

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected in the city Friday through Sunday. Drivers will compete in 13 races throughout the weekend.

Mayor Rick Kriseman says the event shows St. Pete is taking its place on the world sporting stage.

"We are a vibrant community that loves sports,” Kriseman said. “This type of sport fits in perfectly with who we are: we're an international community, and this is an international sport, drawing spectators from all around the world in addition to drivers who come to us from all around the world."

Kevin Savoree, co-owner of the Firestone Grand Prix, said the growth of the event since 2005 has been “incredible.”

Kriseman said that the downtown waterfront makes this racing event unique.

“We have what no one else has, really, which is an incredibly beautiful waterfront that lays out perfectly for a racetrack,” Kriseman said. “There is no place in Tampa or Clearwater where you could set up a track that’s quite like this one.”

Local shops and restaurants are getting ready for the crowds.

Courigan's Irish Pub is right behind the racetrack on Beach Drive, and kitchen manager Barbara Burton expects to be busy this weekend. The restaurant set up an outside bar so guests don’t miss a minute of the races.

"It's a big asset for us for the Grand Prix, because everyone's going to be out here," Burton said.

Just blocks away at Station House, TeBella Tea Company manager Erin Dickerson hopes the event will bring additional foot traffic into her store, but she suspects that a lack of parking may prevent regular customers from visiting.

"I kind of foresee a lot of our customers perhaps being dissuaded from coming downtown just to getting a cup of tea or coffee from us," Dickerson said.

Kriseman said that the city works with local businesses to ensure spectators will linger in St. Pete after the races. Some places, like Courigan’s, have giveaways throughout the weekend.

“Come into downtown, feel the excitement, feel the energy, enjoy the atmosphere that comes with hosting an event like this,” Kriseman said.