Marcus Ericsson wins wild IndyCar opener after late engine trouble for Pato O’Ward


ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Marcus Ericsson won a chaotic IndyCar season opener, leading the final four laps of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg after Pato O’Ward had engine trouble.

O’Ward finished second by 2.4113 seconds and led 23 laps before his No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet experienced a brief loss of power out of the final corner on Lap 97 of 100.

“Obviously, that’s racing,” Ericsson told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “I feel bad for Pato for having an issue. That’s racing. You need to get to the finish line. We were having such a good weekend. The car was fantastic all the way through, and we were hunting him down, putting the pressure on and then things happened. Really proud of the team.

“That was a hell of a start to the season.”

O’Ward said the engine in his No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet briefly stopped in Turn 14 because of a plenum event or misfire that causes a drop of engine torque. The only remedy is for the driver to lift off the accelerator (which extinguishes the small fire).

According to a Chevy spokesperson, it’s a random blip that can happen to any turbocharged engine, particularly those running at high temperatures as in IndyCar.

RESULTS, POINTS: Full stats package and where everyone finished at St. Pete

“We did everything right today,” O’Ward said. “Just …. Ugh. It’s always something. The boys deserved that. Yeah, (Texas) is next. We’ll fight for that one and compared to where we were last year, it’s a massive step. We gave that one away. We can’t have that happen anymore.”

Asked by NBC Sports whether it was an Arrow McLaren IndyCar Team issue or a Chevrolet issue, O’Ward smiled and paused for nearly 10 seconds.

“We need to analyze,” said O’Ward, who then added it’s happened to his car before. “It comes up randomly. You can’t really predict it.

“So yeah, we just have to have a look into it. We ended up with some great points. We started the year like we wanted to, right, but they’re very valuable points at the end of the day. We just got 10 points thrown away. We’ll have a look at all the data and stuff and then just make sure how for that not to happen.”

Third-place finisher Scott Dixon said a plenum event “is just something you can’t do anything about.

“I’ve had them in the past, too, and it’s not a fun situation because it’s not like you can just drive through it, either,” Dixon said. “You’ve got to get off the throttle and then try and go again. I think luckily with us, touch wood, we’ve been pretty good on that side of things. Feel bad for Pato.”

Josef Newgarden (17th) also had a late-race engine fire and finished five laps down. Chevy was unable to diagnose Newgarden’s problem at the track because of missing engine parts. The No. 2 engine will be examined in the coming days after returning to Chevy’s Michigan shop.

Ericsson became the fourth defending Indy 500 winner to win the opening race of the next season. It’s Ganassi’s second win in St. Pete and first since Dario Franchitti in 2011.

It’s the fourth career victory for Ericsson and the Chip Ganassi Racing driver’s first since winning last year’s Indy 500.

“I think people forget us in some conservations when they talk about the championship,” said Ericsson, who won his his first race with new Ganassi team manager Taylor Kiel as his strategist. “We’re here to win. We won the 500 last year. We were leading the championship for a long time. That’s our mission this year. This is a good start to it.

“Taylor’s been a great addition to the team. He’s brought a lot of experience and energy to the team. Win on your first try, it doesn’t get much better than that. Such a great start to the season.”

Noting that each of his four IndyCar wins (Detroit and Nashville in 2021 are the others) have included a red flag, Ericsson laughed off the notion

“Today was another one of those races where a lot of things happened,” said the Swede, who won the inaugural race at Nashville after going airborne on the fifth lap.

“it seems when a lot of things are happening, and people are making mistakes, we seem to be able to stay cool, both me and the car, and the guys on the strategy and pit stops and everything. And we seem to be able to get everything together in those situations.

“All those races are very high-intensity races. It’s not sort of straightforward races. There’s a lot of things happening. You need to be ready to adjust your strategy, pit stops, restarts. There’s a lot of things going on, and we seem to be very good at that. That’s definitely one of our strengths. Not saying we cannot win without the red flag, but it’s definitely been working for us.”

Scott Dixon finished third, followed by Alexander Rossi (in his Arrow McLaren debut) and Callum Ilott in a career-best fifth.

Graham Rahal, Will Power, Alex Palou, Christian Lundgaard and David Malukas rounded out the top 10.

It was a devastating day for Andretti Autosport, which took three of the top six spots in qualifying but had all four of its Dallara-Hondas involved in wrecks.

The last involved pole-sitter Romain Grosjean, who led 31 laps but collided with Scott McLaughlin (who led 37 laps) in Turn 4 on Lap 71 of 100.

McLaughlin received a drive-through penalty from IndyCar for avoidable contact.

“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 agreed and took full blame in an interview with NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. He later found Grosjean in the paddock for an in-person apology.

“I’m very sorry to Romain,” McLaughlin said. “He’s a friend of mine. We were both going for the win. I just made a big mistake. I tried to push on cold tires and didn’t have the grip and locked the rears and made a little bit of contact that took us both out.

“Look, I don’t race like that. I apologize. I’ve had plenty of good battles with many good drivers. I just made (a mistake). You have your good and bad days, and I really do apologize to Romain, and I’ll go see him soon. I need to make better decisions.”

Andretti teammate Colton Herta also was outraged at a rival after being squeezed into the Turn 8 tire barrier to bring out a Lap 50 yellow.

“He wanted to use the next state over for room on the exit,” Herta told NBC Sports’  Lee about Power while watching the replay. “I don’t know what else I can do there except hit the wall. Yep. What an ass.”

The other two Andretti drivers were involved in separate airborne crashes in the first 42 laps as the 2023 season got off to a wild start on the streets of St. Pete.

Devlin DeFrancesco was OK after his No. 29 Dallara-Honda went skyward from being T-boned by rookie Benjamin Pedersen in a pileup on the first lap.

Kyle Kirkwood, who was making his Andretti debut, briefly took flight, too, but he was able to continue after sailing over Jack Harvey (who had slowed for a spin by Rinus VeeKay).

Harvey needed help from medical personnel exiting his car and was in distress while sitting on the back step of an ambulance. IndyCar medical director Dr. Julia Vazier said Harvey was taken to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg because of “an abundance of caution.”

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing later posted on social media that Harvey had been checked and released.

Eli Tomac wins Seattle Supercross, ties Cooper Webb in championship points


In the past two weeks, Eli Tomac lost his momentum and with it the Monster Energy Supercross red plate to Cooper Webb, but a gutsy performance in Seattle gave him a sixth win of the season as he and the series heads into an off week tied. Tomac is currently tied in the points with Webb.

With this win, Tomac also ties James Stewart for second on the all-time wins list at 50 with six rounds remaining in 2023.

“I needed that bounce back,” Tomac told NBC Sports’ Will Christien. “It was almost like I was in a little bit of a slump in the past couple of weeks; just a little bit off. I’m feeling much better now. That track raced really cool. There were a lot of different lines out there.

“It was obviously very dicey early on. I got passed and then had to make those passes back.”

Tomac suffered with a stiff neck in Indianapolis two weeks ago when he lost the red plate to Webb for the first time in 2023. In that race, he scored his worst finish of the season in eighth. He lost more points in Detroit after finishing a distant third behind Chase Sexton and Webb. This is the fifth time this season that Tomac and Webb finished 1-2 in a race. Tomac has won them all, but Webb has been more consistent.

RESULTS: How they finished for the 450 Main in Seattle

Webb was disappointed to lose the ground to Tomac, but he will enter the Glendale, Arizona race with a red plate and a share of the points’ lead.

“It was overall a great night to get up front and get a second was great,” Webb said after the race. “Those few spots where I would get close to Eli and then make a mistake.

“The track was gnarly. It was no joke. It was cat and mouse as to who could ride the cleanest race and pick the line. I got off to a decent start, but Chase and Eli were ahead of me and I had some catchup to play and got into a good position.”

Early in the race, Sexton was indeed ahead of Webb and the remainder of the field. Another costly mistake sent Sexton to the ground. He battled back to finish fifth but is now 22 points out of the lead and in jeopardy of dropping out of championship contention unless Tomac and Webb have problems.

Rounding out the podium was Justin Barcia, who scored the third-place finish on his birthday

“Awesome ride,” Barcia said. “It was a lot of fun. I’m sure we kept the fans on their feet tonight. The track was gnarly. […] We’re searching; we’re so close to having that speed. We want it so badly. We’ll keep pushing hard and going for that win.”

Sexton’s mistake kept the three top points’ earners of 2023 from sharing the podium for the sixth time in 11 rounds, but the trio finished 1-2-3 in Heat 2 with Webb first, Sexton second and Tomac third.

The 250 West contenders were back in action after giving the last four rounds over to the East riders and Jett Lawrence picked up where he left off in Oakland: In Victory Lane. Lawrence scored his fourth win in five 250 West rounds. Last week his brother Hunter Lawrence tied Jett with 10 wins, but everyone knew it would not take long for Jett to regain the advantage.

Between them, the Lawrence brothers have won all but one race each in their respective divisions.

Lawrence rode a patient race in the Main. He settled in behind Stylez Robertson and concentrated on navigating the ruts mistake-free. He could not afford to be patient any longer when Cameron McAdoo caught up to the leaders. Lawrence found a second gear and gapped the battle for second.

An incident in their main made the battle between Lawrence and McAdoo more dramatic. While racing for second, the pair of riders ran out of room in the rhythm section. Both crashed but had a large enough lead over fourth to maintain their positions.

“It was a very eventful day,” Lawrence told NBC Sports’s Daniel Blair, answering a question about the earlier contact. “[…] It’s good to be back racing. It’s been a while. I feel like I’ve had another offseason. Glad to get out in one piece tonight.”

Lawrence now has a 23-point advantage over the field with four rounds remaining.

Click here for full 250 Main Results

RJ Hampshire finished second in his race and is second in the points after a seesaw affair that produced the final pass for position just before the white flag was displayed.

“I felt like I had a pretty good pace going for a little bit,” Hampshire said. “I closed the gap and then had a couple of big mistakes that almost put me on my head. I backed it off a little bit.

“Cam actually gapped me a little more than I would have wanted. I knew I could get a push there at the end. I thought that was the last lap, which is why my pass was a little more aggressive than it should have been, but I’m stoked to be able to close the gap a little bit.”

McAdoo took the final spot on the podium. This is the fourth time in 2023 these three riders have shared the box and if not for a sixth-place finish in Anaheim 2, he would be mounting a much more formidable challenge for the points’ lead.

“The track was really demanding tonight,” McAdoo said. “It did change a lot and the key thing was to get off the rhythms every time. We were swapping back and forth.”

Enzo Lopes in fourth and Max Vohland rounded out the top five.

Robertson had the early lead but when he lost the top spot to Jett he cross rutted on the next lap, crashed hard and failed to finish.

2023 Race Recaps

Detroit: Chase Sexton inherits win after Aaron Plessinger falls
Indianapolis: Ken Roczen gets first win in more than a year
Daytona: Eli Tomac extends Daytona record with seventh win
Arlington: Cooper Webb wins for second time, closes to two of Tomac
Oakland: Tomac ties Ricky Carmichael with 48 wins
Tampa: Webb gets first 2023 win
Houston: Tomac bounces back from A2 crash to win third race of 2023
Anaheim 2: Triple Crown produces new winners Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen
San Diego: Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Tomac wins opener for the first time

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