IndyCar St. Petersburg Results: Marcus Ericsson's Late Pass the Difference
Marcus Ericsson’s 2022 season was highlighted by a win in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indianapolis 500.
And now, just one race into the 2023 season, the Swedish driver kicks off the year with yet another highlight performance.
Ericsson captured his fourth career IndyCar victory—and his third on a road or street course—with Sunday’s NTT IndyCar Series season-opening triumph in the Firestone Grand Prix on the Streets of St. Petersburg.
The Husky Chocolate-sponsored driver roared past Pato O’Ward with two laps left to take the lead and sailed on to the win.
Although the NBC Sports crew believed O’Ward inadvertently hit the pit road speed limiter, the Mexican driver instead said in a post-race interview that it was a small but very brief fire in the engine that caused the car to temporarily shut off as the field was closing in on finishing Lap 98 of the 100-lap event.
O’Ward said the fire self-extinguished and the motor was able to re-start, but by that point, Ericsson accepted the gift handed to him and sail on to the win.
“It was our day, that was my thought, and obviously that’s racing,” Ericsson said when asked what he thought when he saw O’Ward suddenly slow. “I feel bad for Pato for having an issue, but that’s racing. You need to get there to the finish line.
“We were having such a good weekend, the car was fantastic all the way through, and we were hunting him down, putting the pressure on him and that’s when things happen. It’s a hell of a start to the season.”
It was only the second time in 20 years that a Chip Ganassi Racing driver has ever won the season-opening event at St. Pete, the other time being 2011 by Dario Franchitti.
“I think people forget us in some conversation as well when they talk about a championship,” Ericsson said. “We’re here to win. We won the 500 last year, we were leading the championship for a long time. That’s our mission this year.”
O’Ward finished second, followed by Ericsson’s teammate, Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi was fourth in his debut race for Arrow McLaren Racing, and Callum Ilott was fifth. Sixth through 10th were Graham Rahal, defending 2022 series champ Will Power, Alex Palou, Christian Lundgaard and David Malukas.
“We did everything right today and it’s always something,” a visibly frustrated O’Ward said. “We gave that one away. We can’t have that happen anymore. I know we’re second (place), but yeah.”
Ericsson leaves St. Pete in the lead of the IndyCar standings. O’Ward is second, 10 points back, followed by Dixon (-15), Rossi (-19), Ilott (-21), Rahal (-23), Power (-25), Palou (-27), Lundgaard (-29) and Malukas (-30).
Pole Sitter Romain Grosjean Fails to Finish
Pole-sitter Romain Grosjean led the first 31 laps and appeared to be one of the favorites to win Sunday’s race, hoping for his first-ever IndyCar win, and first win since his last triumph in 2011 in Formula 1.
Grosjean came into Sunday’s race with four podiums since coming to IndyCar in 2021, with three runner-up and one third-place prior top finishes. He really had high hopes that he’d finally reach victory lane Sunday afternoon.
Until Lap 73, that is.
Grosjean collided with Scott McLaughlin as the duo went into Turn 4. Race leader McLaughlin had exited pit road after a stop for service and was coming back on-track with cold tires, while Grosjean, who did not pit, tried to get past him to assume the lead.
McLaughlin tried to protect his position, made contact with Grosjean, sending the latter into a tire wall. McLaughlin lost control and also piled into the tires, as well. While he was eventually able to resume after being towed out of the tires, the contact with Grosjean ended McLaughlin’s chance of winning the season-opening race for the second year in a row.
The incident was the culmination of an especially frustrating day for Andretti Autosport majority team owner, Michael Andretti, as he saw all four of his organization’s cars involved in incidents, if not knocked out of the race prematurely.
“I’m very, very disappointed and I hope there’s going to be rules put in place,” Grosjean told NBC Sports. “We had an amazing weekend with a super-fast car, but I’m really annoyed. … Today, what we saw on-track was not racing.”
When asked if it wasn’t racing, what was it, Grosjean said with a smirk, “I don’t know, you tell me—but not racing.”
McLaughlin expressed his feelings to Grosjean.
“First and foremost, I’m very sorry to Romain,” McLaughlin said. “He’s a friend of mine and I know we were both going for the win there. I just made a big mistake. I tried to push on cold tires and just didn’t have the grip on the inside like I had on the greens.
“I just took us both out. Look, I don’t race like that. I apologize. I just made a slip-up. You have those. You have good days and bad days and I really apologize to Romain. I need to be better than that and make better decisions. Ultimately, I was just racing for the win there. I knew we could have had a chance if we could have gotten in front of him in Turn 4 there. I’ll go man up and go see Romain (and apologize in-person).”
McLaughlin was defending winner of this race. It was his first IndyCar career win and the first of three eventual wins he’d earn in the season, finishing fourth in the overall standings.
Optimistic Alexander Rossi Makes Good First Impression with New Team
Alexander Rossi made his debut with his new team, Arrow McLaren, with a strong fourth-place finish.
After seven seasons with Andretti Autosport, the California native parted ways with his former team and is looking forward to a big rebound from his final season with AA in 2022.
Rossi scored his first win since 2019 when he captured the second Indianapolis Grand Prix of the 2022 season, finishing eighth in the overall final season standings, his best showing since he was third in 2019 (was ninth in 2020 and 10th in 2021).
Sunday’s fourth-place finish left Rossi very optimistic of further things to come.
“Yeah, I’m real happy with that,” Rossi said. “Days like today are about maximizing what you have. I think the car was good, it missed a little bit in ultimate pace, but where we came from on Friday, the whole Arrow McLaren organization did an amazing job bouncing back from that.
“Pato (O’Ward) was in contention to win. Obviously, Felix (Rosenqvist) had a strong car and it was unfortunate what happened to him. So really a good start to the season and I think we’re only going to get even stronger from here.
“Today was really only our fifth day of working together, so it’s only going to continue to evolve. I’m really proud of this organization and can’t wait to improve upon our weaknesses.”
Jack Harvey's Slide Continues
Last season began with great excitement and anticipation for Jack Harvey. He had shifted from Meyer Shank Racing to a promising new ride with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and was looking forward to the best season of his IndyCar career.
Unfortunately, Harvey went from his best career IndyCar season—12th— in 2021 with Meyer Shank, to a career-worst 22nd in his first season a year ago with RLL.
Harvey finished 13th at St. Pete in last year’s season opener and would have just one better finish (10th at Nashville) in any race in the rest of the season.
Fast forward to Season No. 2 with RLL for Harvey and any off-season hopes for improvement were dashed Sunday as the English driver finished a disappointing 21st. Harvey was involved in a hard multi-car wreck on Lap 43 involving David Malukas, Kyle Kirkwood and Rinus VeeKay. While Malukas and Kirkwood were able to continue, Harvey and VeeKay saw their respective days done prematurely.
Harvey was transported to a local St. Petersburg-area hospital for “further evaluation,” according to IndyCar medical officials.
Harvey appeared to be having breathing problems after the incident, sitting for several minutes on the rear bumper of an ambulance before he was transported first to the infield care center, and then on to the hospital for observation and treatment.
Follow Autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski