ST. PETERSBURG, Fla — The largest field in the history of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete saw just 17 cars see the checkered flag. 5 of those 17 weren’t on the same lap as the leader as a messy 2023 NTT INDYCAR Series season opener left a huge expense to the team owners pockets and a bunch of hurt feelings in the paddock.
It all started with an opening lap crash for which saw rookie Benjamin Pedersen slam into Devlin DeFrancesco’s car sitting still after he was collected in a crash with both Meyer Shank Racing teammates of Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud as well as Pedersen’s AJ Foyt Racing teammate of Santino Ferrucci. They each had to check up for a slowing Felix Rosenqvist who had contact with the wall and damaging his wheel in the early sequence of corners with Scott Dixon.
While the track was blocked, Pedersen came in from behind to sent DeFrancesco’s car flying. Luckily, everyone was checked and cleared after the opening race incident that took 6 cars out early.
On Lap 40, another car got airborne as Kyle Kirkwood went over Jack Harvey’s No. 30 Dallara-Honda. Rinus VeeKay and Josef Newgarden sparked the incident when Newgarden didn’t leave VeeKay much room to get through the corner which sent VeeKay into the tire barriers. Harvey was taken to a local hospital for observation and precaution.
Luckily, he’s since been released.
On the ensuing restart, Colton Herta was sent into the tire barriers by Will Power which saw Herta take a swipe at Power for the Lap 50 move.
“He wanted to use the next state over for room on the exit,” Herta said on the TV broadcast “I don’t know what else I can do there except hit the wall. Yep. What an ass.”
That set up a McLaughlin and Grosjean battle for the ages. McLaughlin on the alternates and Grosjean on the primaries. They’d run toe to toe, but due to three cautions while running his stint on the greens, McLaughlin’s fall off wasn’t as great as Grosjean’s was.
However, Grosjean pit on Lap 70 while McLaughlin ran one lap longer. By doing so, he was stuck behind Agustin Canapino who slowed McLaughlin’s pit in lap down more than it could have been. That pushed the battle to a tight one when McLaughlin exited pit road and set up the drama between the duo for the lead.
“What happened was really obvious on TV, so I’m not going to elaborate too much on that,” Grosjean told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns. “I’m very, very disappointed, and I hope there’s going to be rules put in place. What an amazing weekend. We had a super fast car, and the team did a really good job, but I’m really annoyed to be talking to you with the race going on. That’s not racing.”
McLaughlin took responsibility for the crash and said he’d apologize to Grosjean who’s become a friend of his.
“First and foremost, I’m very sorry to Romain, he’s a friend of mine, and I know we were both going for the win there,” McLaughlin told NBC Sports. “I just made a big mistake.
“I tried to push on cold tires, I just didn’t have the grip there like I did on the greens and locked the rears, and unfortunately we made wheel contact this time that took us both out.
“Look, I don’t race like that. I apologize, I feel that I’ve had many good battles with many good drivers, just gutted for my crew. The fuel mileage was great and I just made a stuff-up, man.
“You have those: you have your good days and your bad and I really do have to apologize to Romain. I’ll go and see him soon.
“I concentrate on my own mistakes, I need to be better than that and make better decisions. Ultimately, I think I was just racing for the win, I knew we coulda had a chance if we’d got out in front of him at Turn 4.
“Big apologies. I was just racing hard, man, I promise I don’t race like that, so I’m very gutted. We finished the race, but I’ll go man-up and see Romain now.”