St. Petersburg Florida(March 5th, 2023)
The first race of the 2023 NTT IndyCar series started off with a literal bang. As tradition would have it, the IndyCar season kicks off the season on a temporary street circuit in downtown St. Petersburg Fl. with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding. As most racing fans know, street circuits are not only filled with exciting action, but can be equally unforgiving. This seasons inaugural event definitely lived up to that.
The weather over the course of the three day event was what everyone would expect from Florida this time of year, sunny and in the eighties. But during Fridays practice sessions a stiff breeze was shooting down the course into turns three and four. As drivers wrestled their cars through the course, it was quickly becoming evident that between the wind and a recent repaving job that those two turns would be a hot spots, with rookies and veterans alike having brushes with the unforgiving concrete walls.
During Saturdays qualifying sessions several crashes on the course would continue to take its toll on the record setting field of twenty seven drivers. Coming out on top and gaining pole position was ex formula 1 driver and fan favorite Romain Grosjean in the DHL Andretti Autosport Honda. He set a blistering time of 59.55 seconds to get around the 1.8 mile fourteen turn course. The top six would be rounded out with Colton Herta in second, Pato O’Ward in third, Marcus Ericsson in fourth; both Kyle Kirkwood in fifth and Scott McLaughlin in sixth crashed in the final round so neither could move up any higher in the grid.
On race day, the field was taught and primed to start the season off. All twenty seven drivers and their high powered machines circulated the track getting things warmed up. Finally the pace car pulled in and the green flag was waved. As all the cars went full throttle and made their way through the course it didn’t take long for the rattlesnake that was turn three to bite the field. Just at the back of the top ten Scott Dixon and Felix Rosenqvist were running side by side and the two contacted each other causing Rosenqvist to tap the wall and slow suddenly. This caused the rest of the field to bunch up causing a chain reaction multi-car crash. Drivers Helio Castroneves, Devlin DeFrancesco, Santino Ferrucci, Sting Ray Robb, Simon Pagenaud and Benjamin Pedersen were all caught up in the carnage that ensued.
What made the crash even more shocking was when Pederson in the 55 AJ Foyt Sexton Properties Chevrolet hit the 29 EVTEC Honda for Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport driven by DeFrancesco, it caused DeFrancesco and his car to go spinning through the air. As DeFrancesco said “I saw Helio spinning in front of me and really was on the brakes and there was nowhere to go, and then I saw the 55 coming. I was like, ‘Yeah, this is going to be a big one.’ So, just braced up and got ready for it. It was a wild ride.”
The race was quickly red flagged for the safety crews to get out and clean up the carnage. After the race was restarted, the field settled down and pole sitter Romain Grosjean immediately took control of the race. Using not only the status of being the pole sitter, but the speed of his DHL Andretti Autosport Honda to good use and was looking utterly dominant. It seemed as though things had settled down and the race for second place was on. But once again the course had something to say about things and on lap forty one Rinus VeeKay’s 21 Bitnile.com Chevrolet wound up in the barriers at turn four. Unfortunately Jack Harvey in the 30 Kustom Entertainment Honda was in the wrong place at the wrong time and wound up hitting VeeKay. Coming up quickly behind the wreck was Kyle Kirkwood in the 27 AutoNation Honda. His impact was so strong it launched his car over both of the stricken vehicles.
As the day wore on Scott McLaughlin the previous year’s winner in his 3 DEX Imaging Team Penske Chevrolet had wrested control of the race. On lap 71, Mclaughlin came in for a lightning fast pit stop for fresh tires to hopefully carry him to back to back wins of the grand prix. As he exited pit lane he was just barely in front of Grosjean. The two dueled their way through the course, but with McLaughlin on still cold tires he was fighting a losing battle against Grosjean. As the two headed into turn four Grosjean looked to regain the lead as he was pulling past on the racing line, but McLaughlin made a mistake and sent both of them into the tire barrier. While McLaughlin was able to pull his car out and get back on track, the pole sitter’s car was too damaged to continue and a visibly upset Grosjean was left wondering what could have been.
During this spate of action Pato O’Ward in the 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet was able to get the lead of the race. O’Ward was running strong, and the McLaren camp looked like they were going to be celebrating in victory circle. With a mere three laps to go O’Ward was rounding turn 14 onto the main straight when his engine hiccupped. Right there to capitalize on the situation was the 2022 Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson in his 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. He quickly made the pass and held on to the lead for the final three laps of the race to become the winner of the 2023 Firestone St. Petersburg Grand Prix Presented By RP Funding. Rounding out the top three was Scott Dixon in the 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
After the trophies were handed out and the champagne stopped flowing, a dejected O’Ward said “We did everything right today. But we gave that one away. We can’t have that happen anymore” Race winner Ericsson would later counter “When a lot of things are happening, people are making mistakes, we seem to be able to stay cool, we seem to be able to get everything together in those situations.” Indeed Ericsson was able to keep his cool and was rewarded with the top step of the podium of this year’s exciting Firestone St. Petersburg Grand Prix Presented By RP Funding.
Firestone St. Petersburg Grand Prix Presented By RP Funding: