Photos courtesy of Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by RP Funding
Like many of us, I grew up fascinated with cars and I drifted into fast and sporty ones. There, I soon discovered that the Monaco Grand Prix (simply Monaco to insiders) is the Holy Grail, the Mount Everest, the Super Bowl. In Formula One cars, it has tested the mettle for 94 years, with builders like Ferrari, McLaren, Alfa, Maserati and Mercedes.
Dashing drivers with legendary names dueled wheel-to-wheel through the hairpin turns and twisty streets of this Riviera jet-set enclave past the legendary Casino de Monte-Carlo and the Hôtel de Paris: Stirling Moss, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda and more.
“But,” you say, “why is Monaco so epic?” One of the most visible features of the Monaco Grand Prix is the sweeping curve along the Quai Albert Ier, past rows of megayachts moored stern-first to the quay, giving the guests aboard a ringside seat for the racing.
And now that concept, a twisty street race that uses the waterfront, has come to St. Petersburg. The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 8-10 will be the 20th anniversary of this event, which was the first IndyCar, formerly Indy Racing League, event to run on street courses instead of turning left around an oval like the Indianapolis 500. Running on city streets (modified with crash barriers!) past luxury condos and restaurants, it has become the Monaco of America, drawing more than 160,000 fans from around the world last year.
But it has a boating secret: The Grand Prix Yacht Club. Large yachts will moor along Bayshore Drive between turns 10 and 11, using custom docks created by Gatordocks, a Florida-based builder of docks that are not only stable but can be disassembled each year for storage.
The Grand Prix Yacht Club is reserved for those aboard the yachts, allowing guests to wander the docks and racecourse, as well as visit the Horse Soldier Bourbon Waterside Club, also on a 100- by 70-foot floating dock. You may have guessed by the name that this “Club” is a floating pub, with tents and umbrellas for shade.
Mooring on the Yacht Club docks requires a weekend package, ranging from $6,400 to $18,000 for up to 150-foot megayachts. But this isn’t just a space rental: every yacht gets up to 20 3-day VIP admission tickets, 20 paddock passes so you and your guests can mingle with the drivers, and four to eight “hot pit” passes for all the racing action. You reach the paddock and pits easily via a pedestrian bridge. But wait, as they say, there’s more.
Each yacht also receives VIP parking and, at dockside, a closed-circuit track feed so, from your cockpit, you can not only see (and hear) the cars scream past, but also see what’s going on at other parts of the course. Full electrical and freshwater hookups are provided as well.
Mike Joyce, president of Hargrave Custom Yachts in Ft. Lauderdale, which builds yachts from 76 to 186 feet, says the Grand Prix Yacht Club “is one of the best-kept secrets of Florida boating. It’s great fun for owners and guests, with exciting racing and lots going on for three days. And it’s so much easier than going to Monaco!!”
Kim Green, owner and CEO of Green Savoree Racing Promotions which puts on the St. Petersburg race, is vastly experienced in IndyCar racing with his own team having won four IndyCar championships and three Indianapolis 500 races. He knew of the magical Grand Prix of Monaco and often refers to the St. Pete event as “our little Monaco”.
He warns incoming skippers to “bring plenty of fenders” since the boats are moored just three feet apart along the docks because of the great demand. A water taxi is available to carry owners around the area, so no tenders are allowed in the water.
Don’t have your own yacht? Several Tampa-area yacht charter brokers are putting together charters specifically with the Grand Prix in mind.
Pretend you’re Robin Leach and live the jet-set lifestyle at the Grand Prix Yacht Club!
Chris Caswell is an award-winning writer and the former editor of several yachting magazines. He has appeared on Oprah as a boating lifestyle expert and hosted the Marine Voyager series on the Speed Channel.