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Marcus Ericsson survives to win Grand Prix

Mark Parker

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Marcus Ericcson (center) dodged several wrecks to win the 2023 Grand Prix. Pato O'Ward (left) came in second, while Scott Dixon placed third.

The 2023 Firestone Grand Prix was a war of attrition, as five wrecks sent two cars flying through the air and knocked out nine drivers in a chaotic race.

For the 19th year, auto race fans descended upon St. Petersburg’s downtown waterfront Sunday to watch the NTT IndyCar Series opener Sunday. Mark Miles, CEO of Penske Entertainment Corporation, told attendees at a leadership luncheon Saturday that he expected crowds to break last year’s record – when well over 200,000 people watched Scott McLaughlin take the checkered flag.

Millions more watched the NBC live broadcast, and all witnessed one of the wildest St. Petersburg races in nearly two decades.

The drama extended into the final minutes when Pato O’Ward’s engine suddenly shut off with three laps remaining. That allowed Marcus Ericsson to take the lead and earn his fourth IndyCar Series victory by 2.411 seconds.

“I feel bad for Pato having the issues, but that’s racing,” Ericsson told reporters. “You need to get there to the finish line. It was a hell of a start to the season.”

Marcus Ericsson’s car after the race. Several drivers had tire issues.

Drivers, promoters and the NBC broadcasting team repeatedly warned there was little room for error leading up to the race. The 1.8-mile, 14-turn street course is narrow – outside Albert Whitted Airport’s runways – and concrete barriers leave little room for error.

As the series season opener, many of the Grand Prix’s record 27 drivers lacked familiarity with their cars. In addition, Sunday was hot and windy, and fresh pavement in Turn 4 made that portion particularly slick.

The fireworks began almost immediately, as a huge wreck in Turn 3 of the first lap triggered a red flag stoppage. Felix Resenqvist clipped the wall to start a chain reaction that involved six cars.

Rookie Benjamin Pedersen then barreled around the corner directly into Devlin DeFrancesco’s stalled No. 29 Andretti Autosport Honda. The resulting impact sent DeFrancesco airborne and spinning through the air.

“I saw the (No.) 55 coming and knew it was going to be a big one,” DeFrancesco said. “It was a wild ride, but we’re OK, and we’ll focus ahead on Texas.”

 

Kyle Kirkwood’s No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda also took flight after slamming into a wreck on Lap 42 of 100. He began the race fifth and ended 15th, the best finish for any Andretti driver despite three of four starting in the top five.

Kirkwood thought the track significantly changed from previous years and said it was the most yellow-flagged Grand Prix he ever witnessed.

“It seemed like almost everything that could’ve gone wrong went wrong for Andretti Autosport today,” Kirkwood said. “Typical street course racing; yellows, you get shuffled to the back, and there’s nothing you can really do …”

The most consequential crash occurred in Lap 74 between two front-runners. Andretti Autosport’s Romain Grosjean started from the pole position and led 31 laps, while last year’s winner, Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin in the No. 3 Dex Imaging Chevrolet, led 37.

McLaughlin exited the pits on cold Firestone tires, and the two began jockeying for position. He took the blame for the ensuing contact that sent both drivers into the barrier.

“Scott (McLaughlin) came over and apologized, which means everything to me,” Grosjean said. “He did get a penalty; unfortunately, that doesn’t really change anything for my race, but the fact that he comes here and says he’s sorry is a big deal.”

That opened the door for O’Ward to earn his fifth career victory. However, a brief engine fire exiting Turn 14 on Lap 97 caused him to lose power long enough for Ericsson to take the lead.

The 32-year-old Swede never ceded his position and earned his fourth career IndyCar victory after a red flag. He also won last year’s Indy 500 and two races in 2021 after wrecks caused stoppages.

“We had a really good weekend,” Ericsson said. “Today was one of those races where a lot of things happen. I’m not saying we can’t win without a red flag, but it’s working for us.”

O’Ward would take second place, while Scott Dixon finished third.

St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch (right) presents the second-place trophy to Pato O’Ward.

In addition to a drama-filled, entertaining Grand Prix, fans enjoyed the surrounding festival atmosphere that lived up to the “world’s fastest spring break party” nickname. Jamie Chadwick, the first female and youngest driver to win the British GT Championship, noted how the environment differed from other races.

Speaking at an Andretti Autosport discussion on increasing women and minority opportunities Saturday evening, Chadwick – making her IndyCar NXT debut – said the ability to walk around and talk to various drivers and their teams is unique to St. Pete.

Andretti Autosport owner and racing legend Michael Andretti credited the city for welcoming the sport and said, “I don’t think we can do a better job than opening up the series every year here in St. Pete.”

“It’s a great town,” Andretti added. “So, I hope it lasts forever.”

Jamie Chadwick, IndyCar NXT driver, and Michael Andretti, owner of Andretti Autosport.

 

 

 

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Mike Connelly

    March 6, 2023at6:00 pm

    Who won?

    Follow the 💰

  2. Avatar

    Charlie Guy

    March 6, 2023at4:22 pm

    Great concise accounting of a VERY EXCITING race!

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