Marcus Ericsson Wins Ridiculous IndyCar Season Opener
In the opening lap of today's Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Andretti Autosport teammates Romain Grosjean and Colton Herta backed up their qualifying performances by building a quick lead over the first few corners. Then, Felix Rosenqvist and Scott Dixon both had to check up to avoid crashing out of a two-wide run through the narrowest sections of the track. That caused a chain reaction, leading to a bigger check-up from drivers further back in the field and a six-car crash that sent Devlin DeFrancesco flying into the air. That would be the tone the rest of the race followed.
A big crash at the start of the @GPSTPete.
Devlin DeFrancesco got airborne after being hit by Benjamin Pedersen. #INDYCAR pic.twitter.com/1v3z5C6zq6
— INDYCAR on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) March 5, 2023
After a lengthy red flag, Grosjean and Herta built a seven-second lead on third-placed Pato O'Ward. Herta eventually burnt through his alternate tires, falling back into third and stopping early to switch to the primaries. Grosjean stayed out for the full length of the stint, but he would lose the lead to Scott McLaughlin in the pit lane after McLaughlin stayed out longer on the primary tires. A lap later, Conor Daly found the wall and started a cycle of crashes.
On the next restart, Rinus VeeKay's crash into an outside wall led to a chain reaction that saw Jack Harvey hit his rear bumper and Kyle Kirkwood soar over Harvey's rear wheels before landing on the ground in two hard hits, first to the nose and then again to the car's tail. Kirkwood somehow continued in the race, but VeeKay retired and Harvey would later go to a nearby hospital for further evaluation.
On the next re-start, Herta saw an opportunity to get past Will Power after Power lifted in a battle with Marcus Ericsson. Herta moved to Power's outside and was clearly ahead into the next corner, but Power made contact with Herta while taking a full racing line through the corner and Herta ended up in the wall. Power would be penalized, while Herta would retire from the race.
A long green flag run followed, with Grosjean on McLaughlin's tail the entire time. McLaughlin was able to hold onto his softer alternate tires long enough to keep Grosjean behind him on the primaries before their respective final stops, but McLaughlin once again narrowly beat Grosjean out of the pit lane on colder tires. This time, Grosjean had a chance to make a move and the understanding that his tire advantage would be gone in half a lap.
What happened next made the race an instant classic.
Scott McLaughlin. Romain Grosjean. 😳 #INDYCAR | @NBC and @Peacock pic.twitter.com/ZYNQHWEIBP
— INDYCAR on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) March 5, 2023
Grosjean was able to get side-by-side with McLaughlin heading into a passing corner in turn 4, but McLaughlin held the inside line and had the advantage heading into the corner. If either lifted at that moment, there is no crash. They would also have effectively handed the win to the other driver, though, so both committed fully; McLaughlin slipped into Grosjean, neither made the corner, and both saw their races come to an unceremonious end there.
That seemingly opened the door for Pato O'Ward to win the race, and O'Ward was able to hold a lead throughout the majority of the final stint. With five laps to go, however, he slid out of the final corner and his engine suddenly stumbled. IndyCar on NBC's analysts theorized that he hit the pit road speed limiter while correcting, but, no matter the reason, the result was the same: Marcus Ericsson, who had followed close behind since the day's final restart, moved past to take the lead and never looked back.
It is yet another win in a chaotic street circuit race for Ericsson, his third such result. It joins his 2022 Indianapolis 500 victory over O'Ward to make four wins in his IndyCar career. Ericsson becomes the early championship leader, a result that could be significant given how consistently he had run over the course of the schedule in both 2021 and 2022. O'Ward, Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi, and Callum Ilott completed the top five.
Of the many other expected championship contenders in the series, only Will Power and Alex Palou found their ways back into the top ten. McLaughlin finished 13th in his crashed car, while all of Grosjean, Felix Rosenqvist, Herta, and Simon Pagenaud failed to finish the race after being caught up in crashes. Josef Newgarden, who struggled throughout the race, was forced to retire in the closing laps after his car caught fire from just outside the top ten.
IndyCar has a full month off before its next race, on the intermediate oval at Texas. With almost half of the 27-car field involved in wrecks during today's race, that long turn-around may be necessary.
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