Monday, November 27, 2023

Marcus Ericsson Victorious in Chaotic IndyCar Season Opener at St. Petersburg

Marcus Ericsson celebrates his win at the 2023 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Marcus Ericsson celebrates his win at the 2023 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Photo courtesy of James Black/Penske Entertainment.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Another race with a red flag, another win for Marcus Ericsson as the Swede picks up his fourth NTT IndyCar Series race victory in Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to kick off the 2023 IndyCar season.

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Ericsson picked up the lead after Pato O’Ward had what was described as a “plenum event” take place. All of the fuel in the engine’s plenum chamber was burned at once in a misfire that required O’Ward to let off the throttle to extinguish the misfire.

“[The engine] shut off with a plenum fire,” O’Ward said. “You have to let off, get back to it, and then it kind of like — perfect timing.”

Ericsson got around the Mexican racer and led the final three laps of the race to win the 100-lap race.

“Obviously today I didn’t want Pato to have a problem,” Ericsson said. “But from what I heard the problem was because we were putting pressure on and they did a mistake or he did a mistake. And that’s when these things can happen. I felt bad for Pato, but we were there to pick up on it. If I wasn’t putting pressure on him and hunt him down, he would have been fine and we would have been second. But we were there right on his gearbox, and we got past.”

The race got off to a rather chaotic start as Felix Rosenqvist and Scott Dixon had contact going through Turn 3 on the first lap. Rosenqvist brushed the outside wall, damaging his suspension and causing a chain reaction through the field.

Josef Newgarden hit the brakes to avoid Rosenqvist’s slowing car, causing David Malukas to hit his brakes ahead of Helio Castroneves and Santino Ferrucci. Ferrucci hit the back of Castroneves’s car, spinning the Brazilian in front of Devlin DeFrancesco who was in turn hit by Jack Harvey.

While trying to avoid the spinning DeFrancesco, Sting Ray Robb hit Simon Pagenaud, causing terminal damage to the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Honda. When DeFrancesco was nearly stopped, Benjamin Pedersen then t-boned the helpless Canadian, sending the No. 29 Andretti Autosport Honda airborne, spinning around 360 degrees in the air before coming back down to earth.

IndyCar race control threw the red flag to clean up the affected area and the race remained stopped for 19 minutes and 25 seconds. At the restart, Romain Grosjean led the race from pole position and remained up front until his Lap 32 pit stop.

Scott McLaughlin managed to leapfrog Grosjean after the first round of pit stops and took over the lead of the race after a caution for an incident between Conor Daly and Kyle Kirkwood that sent Daly into the wall at Turn 9.

Dixon merged on track ahead of McLaughlin and Grosjean since the pits end well inside of Turn 1, but McLaughlin and Grosjean were ahead of Dixon at the blend line that runs across the track before Turn 1.

Race control put Dixon back in fifth place behind McLaughlin, Grosjean, O’Ward and Ericsson. The green flag on Lap 41 would not last the entire lap as Rinus VeeKay put the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet into the Turn 4 tire barrier. Jack Harvey hit the stalled Dutch racer’s car and Kirkwood launched his No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda over the back of Harvey’s car.

Harvey’s car was out on the spot but Kirkwood made it back to pit lane and got repairs before continuing.

Cautions bred cautions, and as the race restarted on Lap 50, the yellow flag came out shortly thereafter. Will Power and Colton Herta had contact as the pair went to Turn 8. Herta had no drive after that and was out on the spot, the third Andretti Autosport car involved in an accident.

All the while, McLaughlin remained up front with Grosjean right behind the New Zealand racer, but that wouldn’t last for the rest of the race. Grosjean pitted on Lap 70 and McLaughlin pitted one lap later, exiting the pits directly in front of Grosjean.

As Grosjean piled the pressure on with his warmer tires, McLaughlin refused to yield, locking up his rear brakes and hitting Grosjean. Both drivers ended their chances to win against the Turn 4 tire barrier.

O’Ward assumed the race lead and held onto it firmly until the plenum event allowed Ericsson to claim the lead. The No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda led the final three laps to win over O’Ward, Dixon, Alexander Rossi and Callum Ilott.


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