Romain Grosjean fastest in practice debut with Andretti Autosport at St. Petersburg

IndyCar St Petersburg practice
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment

ST PETERSBURG, Florida – Friday’s opening practice of the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series season validated the street course speed of Andretti Autosport and the faith in Romain Grosjean moving to the team.

Grosjean, the Formula One veteran who will race full time in 2022 after becoming a fan favorite last year, turned a 1-minute, 1.0525-second lap around the 14-turn, 1.8-mile layout in downtown St. Petersburg to pace the first session for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (noon ET, NBC).

Andretti’s Colton Herta, the defending St. Pete winner who also won last year’s finale on the streets of Long Beach, was second fastest (1:01.1567), and teammate Alexander Rossi was sixth.

FRIDAY PRACTICE: Speed chart at St. Petersburg

NEW DIGS: Grosjean’s move to Andretti tops drivers switching teams

“I think we know we’ve got a very strong team,” said Grosjean, who took over the No. 28 Dallara-Honda vacated by Ryan Hunter-Reay. “We’ve got a very strong car. Up to us if we push each other.

“I think it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be exciting to learn from the other guys and also give some of my knowledge, but I joined the team, and you never know what you’re going to get. But first run in Sebring last week just brought me that feeling that we were going to go have a good baseline, and that’s the case again today.

“We just need to keep working and make sure that every weekend we’re performing well.”

Herta, who might have had a third dominant street course victory last season if not for a crash while chasing the lead at Nashville, said No. 26 team “brought it back where we left off from last year with the car. It felt really good. Surprising amount of grip.”

Will Power turned the third-fastest lap, followed by Simon Pagenaud (in his debut for Meyer Shank Racing) and Graham Rahal.

There were surprises deep in the field. Two-time series champion and St. Pete winner Josef Newgarden posted the 14th-fastest lap. Defending series champion Alex Palou (17th) and six-time champion Scott Dixon (19th) also struggled.

With a record-tying 26 cars entered at St. Pete, Herta expects the depth of the competitive field will mean practice sessions “that will probably be that mixed up” throughout the season.

“I think most of the teams are at the point where the rule has been stagnant for so long that there’s not so much to find, so everybody is pretty similar at this point,” Herta said. “There are some outliers at some tracks, but I never feel like somebody has a car that’s more than maybe a tenth (of a second), tenth and a half better then the second-place car. It’s always really close between teams.”

Said Power: “The parity is so close. No one has an advantage. We’ve got the absolute everything out of this car you can possibly get out of it, so it’s come down to the smallest of details. It’ll be an interesting year. There’s so many good guys that can win now. You can not really predict who will be on pole or who will win and then also who really will be in the mix of the championship.”

There will be another practice Saturday morning (9 a.m. ET, Peacock) before qualifying at 12:30 p.m. ET (Peacock).

IndyCar Power Rankings: Alex Palou still first as Newgarden, Ferrucci make Indy 500 jumps

NBC IndyCar power rankings
Kristin Enzor/For IndyStar/USA TODAY Sports Images Network

The biggest race of the NTT IndyCar Series season (and in the world) is over, and NBC Sports’ power rankings look very similar to the finishing results in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Pole-sitter Alex Palou entered the Indy 500 at the top and remains there after his impressive rebound to a fourth after a midway crash in the pits. Top two Indianapolis 500 finishers Josef Newgarden and Marcus Ericsson also improved multiple spots in the power rankings just as they gained ground during the course of the 500-mile race on the 2.5-mile oval. Though Alexander Rossi dropped a position, he still shined at the Brickyard with a fifth place finish.

Santino Ferrucci, the other driver in the top five at Indy, made his first appearance in the 2023 power rankings this year and now will be tasked with keeping his A.J. Foyt Racing team toward the front as the IndyCar circuit makes its debut on a new layout..

Heading into the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix on the streets of downtown, here’s NBC Sports’ assessment of the current top 10 drivers through six of 17 races this year (with previous ranking in parenthesis):

  1. Alex Palou (1): Three consecutive top 10 finishes at the Indy 500, and yet the 2021 IndyCar champion still seems slightly snake-bitten at the Brickyard. A few different circumstances and a dash of experience, and Palou could have three Indy 500 wins. But he at least has the points lead.
  2. Marcus Ericsson (4): Some want to say the Indy 500 runner-up’s unhappiness with IndyCar race control was sour grapes, but the Swede had a legitimate gripe about the consistency of red flag protocols. Still a magnificent May for Ericsson, especially while the questions swirl about his future.
  3. Josef Newgarden (7): Strategist Tim Cindric and team did a fantastic job catapulting Newgarden from 17th into contention, and the two-time series champion did the rest. Particularly on a late three-wide pass for the lead, it can’t be overstated how brilliant the Team Penske driver was in his finest hour.
  4. Alexander Rossi (3): He winds up being the best Arrow McLaren finisher in a mostly disappointing Indy 500 for a team that seemed poised to become dominant. With a third in the GMR GP and a fifth in the Indy 500, this easily was Rossi’s best May since his second place in 2019.
  5. Pato O’Ward (2): Unlike last year, the Arrow McLaren star sent it this time against Ericsson and came out on the wrong side (and with lingering bitterness toward his Chip Ganassi Racing rival). The lead mostly was the wrong place to be at Indy, but O’Ward managed to be in first for a race-high 39 laps.
  6. Scott Dixon (5): He overcame brutal handling issues from a wicked set of tires during his first stint, and then the team struggled with a clutch problem while posting a typical Dixon-esque finish on “a very tough day.” The six-time champion hopes things are cleaner the rest of the season after the first three months.
  7. Santino Ferrucci (NR): Pound for pound, he and A.J. Foyt Racing had the best two weeks at Indianapolis. Ferrucci said Wednesday he still believes he had “by far the best car at the end” and if not for the timing of the final yellow and red, he would have won the Indy 500. Now the goal is maintaining into Detroit.
  8. Colton Herta (NR): He was the best in a mostly forgettable month for Andretti Autosport and now is facing a pivotal weekend. Andretti has reigned on street courses so far this season, and few have been better on new circuits than Herta. A major chance for his first victory since last year’s big-money extension.
  9. Scott McLaughlin (6): Ran in the top 10 at Indy after a strong opening stint but then lost positions while getting caught out on several restarts. A penalty for unintentionally rear-ending Simon Pagenaud in O’Ward’s crash then sent him to the rear, but McLaughlin still rallied for 14th. Detroit will be a fresh start.
  10. Rinus VeeKay (10): Crashing into Palou in the pits was less than ideal. But a front row start and 10th-place finish in the Indy 500 still were 2023 highlights for VeeKay in what’s been the toughest season of his career. The Ed Carpenter Racing cars have been slow on road and street courses, so Detroit is another test.

Falling out: Will Power (8), Felix Rosenqvist (9), Romain Grosjean (10)


PRESEASON: Josef Newgarden is a favorite to win third championship

RACE 1: Pato O’Ward to first; Newgarden drops out after St. Pete

RACE 2: O’Ward stays firmly on top of standings after Texas

RACE 3: Marcus Ericsson leads powerhouses at the top

RACE 4: Grosjean, Palou flex in bids for first victory

RACE 5: Alex Palou carrying all the momentum into Indy 500