Marcus Ericsson wins wild IndyCar opener after late engine trouble for Pato O’Ward Airborne wreck causes red flag on the first lap of 2023 IndyCar opener at St. Pete (VIDEO)
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida — Marcus Eriksson won a chaotic first IndyCar season by leading the final four laps of the Firestone Grand Prix in St. Petersburg after Pato O’Ward suffered an engine problem.
O’Ward finished second with a time of 2.4113 seconds and led for 23 laps before his number five Dallara-Chevrolet lost power briefly in the last corner on lap 97 of 100.
“Obviously it’s racing,” Ericsson told NBC Sports’ Marty Snyder. “I feel sorry for Pato because of the problem. This is racing. You need to get to the finish line. We had such a good weekend. The car was fantastic all the way and we tracked it down and put pressure on it and then something happened. Really proud of the team.
“It was a hell of a start to the season.”
O’Ward said his No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet’s engine stalled briefly at Turn 14 due to a backfire in the combustion chamber. According to a Chevy spokesman, this is an occasional flash that can happen with any turbocharged engine, especially those that run at high temperatures, like in the IndyCar.
“We did everything right today,” O’Ward said. “Only…. Phew. It’s always something. The boys deserve it. Yes, (Texas) is next. We’ll fight for it, and compared to where we were last year, it’s a huge step up. We gave that one away. We can’t let that happen anymore.”
Asked by NBC Sports if it was an Arrow McLaren IndyCar Team problem or a Chevrolet problem, O’Ward smiled and paused for a long time.
“We need to analyze,” O’Ward said. “It happens by accident. You cannot predict it.
“So yeah, we just need to look at it. As a result, we scored excellent points. We started the year the way we wanted, right, but at the end of the day, these are very valuable points. We just lost 10 points. We’ll look at all the data and stuff and then just make sure it doesn’t happen.”
Joseph Newgarden (17th) also had an engine fire late in the race and finished five laps behind. Chevy was unable to diagnose Newgarden’s problem at the track due to missing engine parts. Engine #2 will be inspected in the coming days after returning to the Chevy store in Michigan.
Eriksson became the fourth reigning Indy 500 winner to win the first race of the following season. This is Ganassi’s second victory in St. Petersburg and the first since Dario Franchitti in 2011.
This is the fourth career victory for Ericsson and driver Chip Ganassi Racing, the first since winning last year’s Indy 500.
“I think people forget about us when they talk about the championship,” said Eriksson, who won his first race with new Ganassi team manager Taylor Keel as his strategist. “We are here to win. We won 500 last year. We have been leading the championship for a long time. This is our mission this year. This is a good start.
“Taylor is a great fit for the team. He brought a lot of experience and energy to the team. Win on the first try, it doesn’t get any better. Great start to the season.”
Noting that each of his four IndyCar victories (the others being Detroit and Nashville in 2021) were red flagged, Eriksson scoffed at the idea.
“Today was another one of those races where a lot happened,” said the Swede, who won the first Nashville race after taking off on lap five.
“It seems with a lot going on and people making mistakes, it seems like we can keep our cool and me and the car and the strategists and the pit stops and all that. And we seem to be able to get everything together in these situations.
“All these races are very intense. This is not an easy race. There’s a lot going on. You need to be ready for strategy adjustments, pit stops, restarts. There’s a lot going on and we seem to be very good at it. This is definitely one of our strengths. Not saying we can’t win without a red flag, but it definitely worked for us.”
Scott Dixon finished third, followed by Alexander Rossi (in his Arrow McLaren debut) and Callum Ilott for a career-best fifth.
Graham Rahal, Will Power, Alex Palow, Christian Lundgaard and David Malukas rounded out the top ten.
It was a devastating day for Andretti Autosport, which took three of the first six places in qualifying, but all four of its Dallara-Honda crashed.
The latter featured pole sitter Romain Grosjean, who completed 31 laps but collided with Scott McLaughlin (leading 37 laps) in turn 4 on lap 71 of 100.
McLaughlin received an avoidable fare ticket from IndyCar.
“What happened was really obvious on TV so I won’t go into detail on that,” Grosjean told Dave Burns, NBC Sports correspondent. “I am very, very disappointed and I hope that the rules will be introduced. What a wonderful weekend. We had a super fast car and the team did a really good job, but I really don’t like that I’m talking to you when the race is on.
“It’s not racing.”
McLaughlin agreed and took all the blame in an interview with NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. He later found Grosjean in the paddock. for a personal apology.
“I’m sorry about Romain,” McLaughlin said. “He is my friend. We both went to win. I just made a big mistake. I tried to press on the cold tires, but I had no traction, I blocked the rear wheels and got hooked a little, which threw us both off track.
“Listen, I don’t race like that. I am sorry. I had many good fights with many good riders. I just made a (mistake). You have good days and bad days and I really apologize to Romain and I will go to him soon. I need to make smarter decisions.”
After a tense struggle on the track, @smclaughlin93 And @RGrosjean discuss their late race contact and share hugs.#FirestoneGP #Indycar pic.twitter.com/falIG6d6Vi
— Christopher DeHarde (@CDeHarde) March 5, 2023
Andretti teammate Colton Herta was also angered by an opponent after being squeezed into a tire barrier at turn 8 to show yellow on lap 50.
“He wanted to use the next state for the exit spot,” Gert Lee told NBC Sports about Power while watching the replay. “I don’t know what else I can do there, other than hitting the wall. Yeah. What an ass.
Two other Andretti drivers were involved in separate plane crashes in the first 42 laps as the 2023 season got off to a wild start on the streets of St. Petersburg.
Devlin DeFrancesco was fine after his No. 29 Dallara-Honda skyrocketed after being beaten on the first lap by rookie Benjamin Pedersen.
Kyle Kirkwood, who made his Andretti debut, also briefly took off, but was able to continue flying after flying over Jack Harvey (who slowed down thanks to Rinus VK).
Harvey needed help from the medical staff getting out of the car and got into trouble while sitting on the back step of the ambulance. IndyCar medical director Dr. Julia Vazier said Harvey was taken to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg out of “excessive caution.”
Rahal Letterman of Lanigan Racing later posted on social media that Harvey had been tested and released.
.@jack_harvey93 was tested and released from Bayfront Medical Center.
Thank you @indycar a team of doctors, the best in their field, and helpful Bayfront staff. #INDICAR pic.twitter.com/2fvl8BHbnh
— Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (@RLLracing) March 5, 2023
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida — Devlin DeFrancesco rose into the air but was injured in a wild eight-car crash on the opening lap of the NTT IndyCar season.
Dallara-Honda at number 29 DeFrancesco took off into the air (see video above). or click here) with a lazy half-turn after full-speed rookie Benjamin Pedersen’s No. 55 Dallar-Chevrolet ran him down in the first minute of the Firestone Grand Prix in St. Petersburg.
“I’m fine, but it was a really hard hit,” DeFrancesco, who started 18th out of a record 27 cars, told NBC Sports after Andretti Autosport was checked out at the service center. “This is not how we wanted to start the season. I saw Helio (Castroneves) spinning around and I couldn’t get past it, and then I saw Pedersen coming towards me. I said, “Yes, it will be big.”
“Just packed up and got ready for it. It’s been a wild ride.”
Big crash at the start @GPSTPete.
Devlin DeFrancesco took to the air after being hit by Benjamin Pedersen. #INDICAR pic.twitter.com/1v3z5C6zq6
— INDICAR on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) March 5, 2023
No driver was seriously injured in the incident, which caused a red flag for 19 minutes and 25 seconds.
After carefully climbing off his No. 06 Dallara-Honda, Castroneves limped over to check on Meyer Shank Racing teammate Simon Pagenaud, but the four-time Indy 500 winner told NBC Sports that X-rays of his right leg were negative.
Castroneves had ice on his right hand, and Pagenaud said he had a “little finger problem” at the time of the accident.
Helio has ice on his arm and had an X-ray done on his right knee. pic.twitter.com/Ht1PKfuKka
— Jenna Fryer (@JennaFryer) March 5, 2023
“I saw (cars ahead slow down) and honestly expected it,” Pagenaud, who started 25th, told NBC Sports. “It was such a difficult area all weekend. I slam on the brakes in this corner and turn right so sharply.
“I thought I passed, man. I thought I did it. It’s my forte to avoid accidents. We will regroup. We had a fast car.”
The accident also involved Santino Ferrucci and Sting Ray Robb.
The collision began at turn three because drivers were slowing down due to an incident several cars ahead when six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon pushed Felix Rosenquist (his former teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing) into the wall.
“Felix is my best friend, man,” Dixon told NBC Sports. “I am very sad that we got involved there. I thought I was clear. I’m really sorry for Felix.”
Rosenquist said he…