Race Weekend Central

Marcus Ericsson Masters the Chaos to Win Wild GP of St. Petersburg

Marcus Ericsson, the defending Indianapolis 500 winner, defeated Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward to win the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in dramatic fashion on Sunday (March 5).

Coming to the start-finish line with three laps to go, O’Ward exited turn 14 less than a second ahead of Ericsson when he overcorrected and the No. 5 Chevy suddenly slowed.

The engine quickly returned to full strength, but wasn’t enough to stop the momentum of Ericsson, as the Swede took the lead and held it for the final three laps. Scott Dixon had to settle for third, while Alexander Rossi finished a very distant fourth. Callum Ilott, for underdog Juncos Hollinger Racing, rounded out the top five.

“Obviously, that’s racing,” Ericsson unapologetically said in victory lane when talking about the pass for the win. “You know, I feel bad for Pato for having an issue. But that’s racing and he needs to get to the finish line. We had such a good weekend, car was fantastic all the way through. We were hunting him down, putting the pressure on him. That’s when things happened … It was a helluva start to the season.”

“We did everything right today,” O’Ward said in his own interview with NBC. “Just, ugh. There’s always something. The boys deserve that … Dallas is next. So we’ll fight for that one … Compared to where we were last year, we took a massive step. We just gave that one away.”

For much of the day, the race seemed like it would come down to Scott McLaughlin and Romain Grosjean. But a late-race incident cleared the way for a different driver to take the win.

On lap 72, McLaughlin came out of pit road during the final round of pit stops just ahead of Grosjean for the lead, but on cold tires. Exiting turn 3, Grosjean was able to pull even with the Kiwi on his full-temperature Firestones.

Both drivers entered turn 4 side-by-side. McLaughlin had a slight lock-up under braking and collided with Grosjean, driving both drivers into the wall. Grosjean was not able to continue the race and McLaughlin lost a lap and was given a drive-through penalty for causing an accident.

The very first lap of the race was a harbinger of what was to come. There was a full-course caution that led into a 20-minute red flag after a massive crash on the exit of the third turn. Devlin DeFrancesco briefly went fully airborne after a horrible hit by rookie Benjamin Pederson. Thankfully, the No. 29 Honda landed safely on all four wheels and the Canadian was checked and released from the AMR care center.

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The wreck started when Felix Rosenqvist made contact with Dixon coming out of turn 3 that sent Dixon into the wall and Helio Castroneves spinning behind them. Simon Pagenaud, Sting Ray Robb, David Malukas, and Santino Ferrucci were all involved in the wreck, which blocked the track completely.

On lap 36, McLaughlin was able to come out of the pits and leapfrog Grosjean for the presumptive lead after the Frenchman had led from the pole in the early stages of the race.

However, Conor Daly stalled out after a spin to bring out a caution the next lap, just as Dixon was making the last pit stop of the cycle. Initially, Dixon left the pits ahead of McLaughlin in the lead, although upon further review from IndyCar officials, Dixon was placed back to fifth before the restart.

On that restart, Rinus Veekay hit the wall in turn 4 and came to a dead stop. Jack Harvey collided into him at a low speed, before Kyle Kirkwood vaulted above the two cars in the second fully airborne accident of the day.

Veekay and Harvey retired from the race, while Kirkwood was able to continue on, albeit heavily damaged. Veekay walked away while Harvey was transported to a local hospital in stable, conscious condition.

On the lap 50 restart, the caution came out again when Colton Herta was pushed into the barriers after making contact in a risky overtake on the outside of Will Power in turn 8. Herta was unable to continue in the race.

Power was sent to the back for the subsequent restart as it was ruled by IndyCar that he was the one most at fault.

Leaving behind the streets of St. Pete, the next NTT IndyCar Series race will be held April 2, at Texas Motor Speedway. Coverage of the PPG 375 will begin on NBC at 12:00 p.m. EST.

About the author

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.

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Congrats to Marcus, but man I really feel for Pato on this one. I know I’d be wanting to set that car on fire after I’d spent an hour repeatedly bashing every part of it with a baseball bat. The pit lane interview was brutal. Personally, I know they like to show the emotion, but after a bit I was like “man, just leave the guy be.”

Also, I’m surprised there wasn’t an Andretti – Penske team fight in the garage after the race! Let that be a lesson to everyone, try to pass team Penske and get stuffed in the wall! Is there a “Chrome Horn” award to be given out? Ha Ha!

I read elsewhere that Jack Harvey was released from the hospital. Said he had a lot of wrist pain, so they were checking that out. Fortunately, all is good.

The last few seasons I can’t help but think how many drivers have escaped spectacular looking crashes from serious injury. Two thumbs up to Indycar in their efforts to make the cars safer! It appears the hard work is paying off.

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