Race Report: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (March 5, 2023) -- Street fight doesn't begin to describe the Firestone Grand Prix in the streets of St. Petersburg today. For the AJ Foyt Racing team, the fight ended seconds after it started.
Scott Dixon triggered the first of several multi-car crashes when he and Felix Rosenqvist made contact on the first lap which pushed Rosenqvist into the wall in Turn 3. Rosenqvist slowed causing cars to jockey for position as they exited Turn 3. The accordion effect claimed Santino Ferrucci who struck Helio Castroneves from behind. The impact spun Castroneves and chaos ensued mid-pack resulting in five cars sustaining race-ending damage.
Ferrucci's teammate Benjamin Pedersen was also involved as he hit Devlin DeFrancesco broadside sending the sophomore driver airborne. Rookie Stingray Robb tagged Simon Pagenaud ending his day but Robb was able to make repairs and continue. All drivers were released from the INDYCAR Medical Unit.
Ferrucci who will be scored in 24th, explained, "I'm totally fine but just heartbroken for the AJ Foyt
Racing Sexton Properties 14 team. It's one of those things where when you have an accordion effect like that, there's really nothing you can do. It's not like at the Speedway where you have spotters where everybody's checking up and [they tell you] -- you're relying on what you see right in front of you. Everybody checked up and I'm on the primary [harder compound] tire compared to everyone in front of me on the alternates [softer compound] tire.
“I just smoked the brakes straight into the back of Helio. We were actually going to be okay because it's just the front wing but I guess when we came out of the corner, the way he spun, it hit my right rear, and that's kind of what killed our race. So just really upset for the boys. You know, we've been working really hard. We had a fantastic qualifying and yeah, I just would've love to log some laps and get some time on our dampers in our [new] program and see where we could have improved from there."
Ferrucci at speed in a practice session with the marina in the background.
Pedersen, who was the only other driver in the melee on the harder compound tire, explained what happened from his perspective.
"Not the start to my first INDYCAR race that I was hoping for," said the 23-year-old rookie who placed 27th. "Coming through turn one, everything was very textbook. We were looking pretty decent to be
honest to make progress. Then coming through [Turn] three, I noticed there was a little bit of your typical race flow traffic. As soon as I came through three, which is a blind corner, there was just a pile up of cars. Cars were horizontal [across the track], I slammed on the brakes to do my best to not be involved and looked for a gap but there were just no gaps or holes to squeeze my car into.
“Unfortunately, I hit Devlin straight on at pretty high speed and it was definitely a big hit. Fortunately, I'm totally fine and he is too. Got my hands off the wheel. Devastated for the team. Feel like we didn't really get a chance today. We got caught out and honestly the car felt really good in warm up. We were doing really well with fuel mileage. So I honestly think we had a very good potential today for the race. I can't wait to get back to work with the whole team and go testing at Barber soon for another rookie test. We'll have to wait a little bit but very, very enthusiastic to get back to work and go racing again."
Pedersen was pleased with the car's progress over the weekend and disappointed that they didn't get to display it in the race.
The wildness continued throughout the race as yet another car went airborne when Rinus Veekay hit the tire barrier in Turn 4 on lap 41 and Jack Harvey had nowhere to go and hit Veekay. Kyle Kirkwood hit Harvey, got airborne and sailed over Harvey landing on all fours. Kirkwood rejoined the race after replacing the front wing and tires but lost three laps. Veekay was out and Harvey, listed in stable condition, was taken to the local hospital for further evaluation and later released.
The fireworks continued as Will Power was assessed a penalty for avoidable contact which ended with outside pole sitter Colton Herta in the Turn 8 tire barrier midway through the race. On lap 72, pole winner Romain Grosjean and defending race winner Scott McLaughlin crashed into the Turn 4 tire barrier battling for the lead after the final round of pit stops.
Pato O'Ward took the lead on lap 74 only to lose it to with three laps to go when he slowed coming out onto the main straightaway. Marcus Ericsson zipped past and went on to win his fourth NTT INDYCAR Series race. His teammate Scott Dixon trailed O'Ward. Rounding out the top five were O'Ward's new teammate Alexander Rossi and sophomore driver Callum Ilott.
The next race on the schedule is the PPG 375 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, April 2. It will be broadcast on NBC starting at 12 noon ET.