ST. PETERSBURG, Florida — After a fantastic debut with Andretti Autosport, fortunes went south for Romain Grosjean during a crash-filled NTT IndyCar Series practice Saturday morning.
Grosjean, who set the pace Friday in his first practice with the No. 28 Dallara-Honda, rear-ended Takuma Sato (who is driving the No. 51 of Dale Coyne Racing that Grosejan drove last year) in Turn 10 about 25 minutes into the second session of the race weekend.
Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin led the 45-minute practice Saturday morning with a blistering 59.7342-second lap ahead of Colton Herta. It’s believed to be the first lap under a minute on the 14-turn, 1.8-mile road course that has played host to IndyCar since 2003.
The session’s second red flag began after Sato had slowed for traffic entering the corner, and Grosjean made impact with hardly any braking. Both cars limped back to the pits with Sato’s car suffering major body and gearbox damage, and Grosjean’s left front wing broken.
Sato blamed the incident on Grosjean, whom he said also had made contact with Helio Castroneves earlier in practice.
“It’s a shame,” Sato told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “Everybody is trying to make a gap. We were just slowing down, and I had to hit the brake coming through 9. Grosjean, I don’t know what he was thinking. He was reckless. I don’t know what he was thinking. He could clearly see the cars in front.”
In an interview before qualifying, Grosjean told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns that he could have gotten more help from race officials in clearing traffic.
“The footage is pretty obvious, so I think we move on that,” Grosjean said. “Luckily the car is repaired. … The marshals could have done a better job with flags, because you come out of the kink in Turn 9, and I didn’t know those guys were stopped, and when you’re stopped, you should be off the racing line. It’s pretty obvious.”
After rebounding to qualify fifth despite bruised hands from the crash, Grosjean said he and Sato “agreed to disagree” after talking about the crash. He also elaborated on the need to provide more warning and drivers impeding the racing line.
“There was just no flags on the track, and I think we should have flags when these cars are that slow to corner,” he said. “I just think if I had known there were like four cars (ahead) because you cannot see (beyond the turn). I know there was one on the left, one on the right. That’s all I knew. I didn’t know there were some in front.
ROMAIN GROSJEAN: Well, there was just no flags on the track, and I think we should have flags when these cars are that slow to corner. Yeah, that’s all. I just think if I had known there were like four cars — because you cannot see. I know there was one on the left, one on the right. That’s all I knew. I didn’t know there were some in front.
“If there’s only one, the guy should accelerate. Obviously there were more, but I think just a white flag to tell us that, and I just think you shouldn’t be driving that slow on the racing line.”
In a separate incident, Jimmie Johnson spun in Turn 8 and made light contact with the left front of his No. 48 Dallara-Honda. It was the second spin of the session and third since Friday for Johnson, who is racing full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this season.
With just more than five minutes remaining in the session, defending series champion Alex Palou crashed in Turn 9.
The practice also was stopped after 17 minutes for a similar incident involving Jack Harvey, whose No. 45 Dallara-Honda brushed the wall in Turn 9 and then slammed into the barrier with its left front on the corner exit.
Harvey is making his debut this weekend with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing after racing in IndyCar for Meyer Shank Racing since 2017.
Andretti Autosport led Friday’s first practice with Grosjean and Colton Herta turning the quickest two laps on the 14-turn, 1.8-mile street course.
Qualifying will take place at 12:30 p.m. ET (Peacock).