IndyCar officials are likely hoping the start of the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series season was not a precursor of things to come over the course of the 17-race 2023 campaign.
The series didn’t even get past Turn 3 of Sunday’s opening lap of the Firestone Grand Prix on the Streets of St. Petersburg temporary street course layout before a massive multi-car crash involved one-quarter of the 27 cars on the 14-turn, 1.8-mile track.
The good news was the 27 cars on the starting grid marked a record starting field for the opening race of any season in IndyCar history.
But then came the bad news.
Six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon inadvertently tapped wheels with his best friend in the series, Felix Rosenqvist, in Turn 2, triggering a brutal eight-car crash that included Meyer Shank Racing teammates Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves, as well as Santino Ferrucci, Devlin DeFrancesco, Sting Ray Robb and Benjamin Pedersen.
“Felix is my best friend and I feel really sad we made contact there,” Dixon said. “I honestly thought it was clear and felt just a smooth rub and then saw in the mirror that the traffic backed up and I figured it must have been a slightly bigger hit for him. I feel bad for Felix. We never want to see that.”
Rosenqvist concurred that his buddy didn’t mean anything intentional.
“It felt like he didn’t see I was there,” Rosenqvist said. “I never expected him to swerve out. I just tried to get out on the first couple of turns. I was just hanging there and he didn’t know I was there. It sucks. I thought we had a really good chance today. I’m really bummed about it. That’s just not the way you want to start.”
DeFrancesco, whose car went airborne upon impact, emerged from the infield care center unscathed. But he’s not totally surprised there was such a big incident in that part of the track.
“I’m fine,” DeFrancesco said. “It was a hard knock and not the way we wanted to start the season. We had our concerns of Turn 3 and made IndyCar very aware of it. There were a number of incidents all weekend … and that was the scenario that happened.
“I saw Helio spinning in front of me, I got on the brakes but there was nowhere to go, and then saw the 55 (Pedersen) coming and I knew, ‘Yeah, this is going to be a big one,’ braced up and got ready for it. It was a wild ride.”
Five cars were knocked out in the incident: Castroneves, Pagenaud, Ferrucci, DeFrancesco and Pedersen (lowest-finishing rookie in 27th place).
Robb and Rosenqvist were able to have the damage on their respective cars fixed and were eventually able to return to the race.
Marcus Ericsson went on to win the race.