ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — While fighting for the effective lead of Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Scott McLaughlin and Romain Grosjean ended their fight and their chances to win the 2023 IndyCar season opener against the Turn 4 tire barrier.
McLaughlin exited the pits at the start of Lap 72 and rejoined the 14-turn, 1.8-mile street circuit in fourth place, with the top three still having to pit. The 2019 Bathurst 1000 race winner was immediately in front of Grosjean, who had pitted on the previous lap. McLaughlin’s tires were not up to temperature while Grosjean’s had a lap to get up to racing temperature that provided more grip.
McLaughlin moved to the right side of the straightaway between Turns 3 and 4, inviting the No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda to pass around the outside. The No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet locked its rear brakes up while slowing for Turn 4, sliding into Grosjean who was fully alongside. Both cars went into the tire barrier, their shot at victory vanishing before their eyes.
Grosjean was inconsolable on the radio.
“If I cannot go racing anymore, what’s the point of being here,” Grosjean dejectedly asked.
Grosjean’s frustrations were visible for all to see. Having not won a race since GP2 in 2011, this was perhaps the best chance for the Formula 1 veteran to win, especially after starting on pole position.
“I think what happened was pretty obvious on TV so I’m not going to elaborate too much on that,” Grosjean said to NBC’s Dave Burns. “I’m very, very disappointed and I hope there’s going to be rules put in place. We had an amazing weekend, we had a super fast car, the team did a really good job but I’m really annoyed talking to you while the race is going on.”
Grosjean finished 18th. After the safety crew freed McLaughlin’s car from the tire barrier, the three-time Supercars champion finished 13th, two laps down.
“I’m very sorry to Romain, he’s a friend of mine and I know we were both going for the win there and I just made a big mistake,” McLaughlin said on pit road after the race. “I tried to push on cold tires, I just didn’t have the grip on the inside there like I did on the greens (alternate tires) and locked the rears and yeah, unfortunately we made wheel contact that time and it took us both out.”
McLaughlin was very apologetic about his mistake and tried to find the Miami resident after the race in the motorhome lot. When Grosjean was not there, McLaughlin found Grosjean’s wife, who texted her husband that McLaughlin was looking for him. After finding out he was in the team’s transporter, McLaughlin walked to the Andretti Autosport portion of the paddock to meet his combatant.
The two shared their thoughts on the incident and Grosjean elaborated on his race.
“He came and apologized, which for me means everything,” Grosjean said. “We all make mistakes, we all try fighting for the lead. He got a penalty, it doesn’t really change my race, but the fact that he comes here and says that he’s sorry, and you can see in his face that he says that, that’s all it means to me. And what I know today is that we were the fastest car on track by a long way. And that all that matters.”
After the accident, McLaughlin received a drive-through penalty for the contact. Pato O’Ward assumed the race lead after the cars in front pitted and finished second to eventual race winner Marcus Ericsson.