Scott McLaughlin ‘mans up’ after crashing Romain Grosjean; Will Power also contrite Marcus Ericsson wins wild IndyCar opener after late engine trouble for Pato O’Ward
SAINT PETERSBURG, Florida. It was a battle royal between last year’s winner Scott McLaughlin and this year’s pole winner Romain Grosjean at Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix in St. Petersburg.
It was clear Team Penske’s McLaughlin and Andretti Autosport’s Grosjean had the top two cars in Sunday’s race. This is exactly what racing fans want to see: the top two battle it out all the way to the checkered flag.
McLaughlin, who won the opening race of the NTT IndyCar Series in St. Petersburg last year, led a record 37 laps. Grosjean, who took Saturday’s pole position by four tenths of a second over teammate Colton Hertha, was in the lead for 31 laps.
It seemed that the outcome of the race will be decided in a real battle after both drivers make their last pit stops.
Grosjean made a pit stop on lap 71, which he hoped would be the last stop of the race. Around later, McLaughlin became the leader.
As Grosjean pulled off the front straight at full speed, McLaughlin left the pit lane on cold tires and the two cars crossed into the pit lane in a side-by-side battle.
But when the two cars entered the Turn 4 area, both collided and both crashed into the tire barrier.
Grosjean’s race ended, but McLaughlin later continued to race and finished 13th.th, one circle down. IndyCar Race Control gave him a “avoidable contact” ticket.
Both drivers sat in their cars, waiting for the arrival of the IndyCar security team. Grosjean got out of the car, went to the tire barrier and became furious.
WILD POSTCARD: Markus Eriksson wins the chaotic Saint Petersburg Grand Prix
He hit the stack of tires with his fist and was clearly upset.
Touring the new IndyCar medical trailer for a mandatory checkup, the Frenchman gave NBC’s Dave Burns some cryptic comments, citing the fact that he thought McLaughlin was at fault (and also hailed his outstanding resume, which includes three IndyCar wins). and three Supercars championships). ).
“You saw it on TV, so I won’t go into detail on that,” Grosjean said. “I am very, very disappointed and I hope that some rules will be introduced.
“We had a super fast car, but I am very annoyed. What we saw on the track today was not a race.”
When Burns asked what it was, Grosjean replied, “I don’t know. You tell me.”
Meanwhile, McLaughlin was able to finish the race, one lap down at 13 minutes.th– place of finish.
Shortly after Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Eriksson crossed the finish line victorious, McLaughlin drove his No. 3 Chevrolet into the pit lane before his team Penske’s pit lane.
Behind the box were guests and VIPs from Grosjean’s sponsor DHL. They stood at the railing and booed McLaughlin loudly, expressing their displeasure at the driver, who they thought was at fault.
“You’re a slacker, McLaughlin,” a fan shouted at a Team Penske driver. “You’re a crasher.”
When McLaughlin took off his helmet, his face showed dejection. The New Zealand native took it very hard and sat down on the pit wall with his head down dejectedly.
He took the blame for what happened.
“First of all, I’m really sorry for Romain, he’s my friend and I made a mistake,” McLaughlin said. “I just made a big mistake. I tried to push it on cold tires and I didn’t have grip inside like I did on the “greens”. I blocked the rear wheels and this time we hit the wheels and it knocked us both out.
“Look, I don’t race like that, I’m sorry. I had many good fights with many good riders.
“I was chasing the win. I just came up with stuff. I really apologize to Romain and I will go to him after a while. I knew that if I could stay ahead of him, I would have a chance to win. I need to be better, I need to make better decisions. I ran with all my might; I was chasing victory.
“I’ll go up and I’ll see Romain right now.”
McLaughlin was hoping to back up the first win of his career last year on the streets of St. Petersburg with another win to open the 2023 season.
Before that, the strategy worked well and the car had speed. That is why what happened was so upsetting.
“The guys did a great job on the strategy and Ben Bretzman (his engineer) gave me a great car,” McLaughlin told NBCSports.com. “There was nothing more they could do.
“I wish we weren’t there behind Agustín Canapino. It cost us a couple of seconds.”
McLaughlin predicted the race would be wild, and it was. Two drivers were blown into the air in two separate accidents. Fortunately, none of them were hurt.
“We predicted it would be wild,” McLaughlin said. “Last year was wild and this year has been even wilder.
“I’m just gutted, man.
True to his word, McLaughlin approached Grosjean’s transporter at Andretti Autosport to apologize and accept blame for his role in the incident.
The two drivers hugged twice and Grosjean smiled.
“We all race, we all make mistakes,” Grosjean said. “Scott (McLaughlin) came up and apologized, which means everything to me. He received a penalty.
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t change anything for my race, but the fact that he comes here and apologizes makes a big difference.
“I know we were the fastest car on the track and that’s all that matters. We were competitive, we were there and we have 16 races left. Today with Andretti we showed that we can be at the top.”
Glad we were able to talk man to man. The race is tough, both go to victory. We had a lot of good fights with @RGrosjean “I apologize for my part in this. Press on. https://t.co/1BZ4qc0kzt
— Scott McLaughlin (@smclaughlin93) March 5, 2023
As McLaughlin’s engineer, Bretzman believed that the changes to Turn 3 from last year’s race track led to an all-out battle before Turn 4. That’s why he wasn’t surprised that so many incidents happened on this part of the track on Sunday.
“The whole race was about getting into turn four – who can get in there first and get out of it first,” Bretzman told NBCSports.com. “Looking back, the only thing we could have done better was pit stops on the same lap as him. Then it would be tech brigade vs tech brigade, and we’ll be fighting this battle all day.”
Bretzman said that in practice, many cars had problems in turn 3 and 4, as they did in 2020 when changes were made to the track.
“We have 27 cars and luckily we finished 13th.th, so we take it as a positive result,” Bretzman said. “It will be tight. You must continue to finish ahead. If you can, you should get what you can.
“I’m glad we were able to keep running and finish at least 13th.th. It’s better than the alternative.
“We have to keep bringing it, but it won’t be easy.”
So what can Bretzman do to cheer up his driver?
“You just have to give him the night,” Bretzman said. “He will be back to normal on Monday.
“But today he will feel like a punching bag.
It was not the best day for Team Penske. Joseph Newgarden finished two laps behind after his Chevrolet had an engine sensor problem causing a small fire.
“Pretty tough day,” Newgarden said. “Just a terrible ending. Unfortunately, we have something mechanically broken on the engine side. There was a small fire. Tried to get in the pit lane and turn it off, get it back in the pit lane and put out the fire.
“It’s sad because I think we made it into the top five. I made a mistake on the last restart, unfortunately there were about 25 left. We started fifth and I came back either eighth or ninth. I just got wide. I think top 10 for sure. We were able to put out a good day, which would have been a good start. Unfortunately we just had to stop early.
“Really good job for the team. We had a really serious race. Everything was done just fine, as always. The Hitachi car seemed colorful. We made a few moves there, in the middle. I was proud of everyone. It was a good first race to work together; many new people on the team. Everyone performed incredibly, really good feet. So I feel very energized for the next round. We’ll just go back to it, set up this thing, and move on.”
McLaughlin was not the only Penske rider to receive an avoidable contact penalty.
Defensive NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power recovered to seventh after being sent to the rear midway for his role in the incident that killed qualifying runner-up Colton Herta.
“We pounded all the way and I climbed in and had as many locks as I could,” Power said. “I’m sorry it ruined his day, but I was sure he knew I was there. I was inside him and I just didn’t turn enough. It didn’t look like a big dive bomb. I was here and it was kind of hanging outside.
“I hate ruining someone’s day. I do. I hate this. I like to race these guys clean and he races me clean so I feel really bad. It ended and I was able to keep going. Still a very good day for us. I’m very happy that the Verizon machine made it to the top ten. A very hectic day.
“I will definitely talk to Colton and let him know it was cold tires and balls and just as much blockage to give him as much room as possible. It was unsuccessful.
“I always feel damn bad after these incidents.”
2023 has already been a difficult year for Power, whose wife Liz has been battling a serious staph infection that has required spinal surgery and two hospitalizations.
With that in mind, Power will take seventh place and move on to the next race at Texas Motor Speedway on April 2nd.
“Great day,” he said…