Grosjean, Herta Give Andretti Team Fast Start To ’23

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 5 2023

Romain Grosjean will start Sunday’s season-opening IndyCar Series race from P1. (Photo courtesy of Honda)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Andretti Autosport teammates Romain Grosjean and Colton Herta gave Honda a front-row sweep during qualifying Saturday for the NTT IndyCar Series’ 2023 season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Entering his third INDYCAR season, Frenchman Grosjean earned the second NTT P1 Award of his North American career and first driving for team-owner Michael Andretti.  Grosjean led the Firestone Fast Six with a hot lap of 59.5532-seconds/108.810 mph in the No. 28 Honda on his final trip around the 1.8-mile/14-turn temporary street circuit in Florida. Herta qualified second via a lap in 59.9687-seconds/108.056 mph in the No. 26 Honda.

It was the first pole for Grosjean since May 2021, when he earned P1 at the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course as a series rookie with Dale Coyne Racing.

“Last year was a really good end of the year, good winter testing,” said Grosjean, who transitioned to INDYCAR in 2021 after a decade of competing in Formula One. “We got here, and I said, ‘Boys, yeah, I think we’ve got something.’ We put it out.”

Sunday’s 100-lap race is scheduled to start shortly after noon (EST), with live coverage on NBC, Peacock, Telemundo Deportes on Universo, the INDYCAR Radio Network and SiriusXM Channel 160. A 30-minute pre-race warmup will start at 9 a.m., carried live on Peacock, the INDYCAR Radio Network and SiriusXM Channel 160.

Grosjean’s pole lap completed a rollercoaster day. He spun off-track in Turn 13 during the morning practice, with his car becoming stuck. Four hours later, he was celebrating the P1 Award with his wife, Marion, and their three children attending their “home” race from their residence in Miami.

Grosjean’s pole marked a powerful return to form for Andretti Autosport, which won just two races and three P1 Awards last season. Grosjean was winless in 2022 and failed to post a pole during a highly anticipated first season with Andretti’s team.

“I knew last year that something was just not coming my way,” said Grosjean, who finished 13th in the final driver standings led by two-time/reigning series champion Will Power of Team Penske. “We worked hard to find something.”

Herta, who finished 10th in driver points last season, was colorfully disappointed by his final lap on Saturday. “I was about as useful as gum on a boot heel,” Herta said. “We’re still in a great spot, starting second, but it’s a pole we could’ve gotten if I hadn’t made a mess of the last lap. Happy to be starting P2, it’s a great spot to start. Hopefully we can slot-in behind Grosjean and then go from there.”

Pato O’Ward will start third as the fastest Chevrolet-powered driver on the grid after a top lap of 1-minute, 0163-seconds/107.971 mph in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet.

“Man, those Andretti cars are quick around here,” said O’Ward, a native of Mexico who finished seventh in the 2022 driver standings. “We knew that coming into the weekend. I’ve got to say the team arrived here with such a good package for me compared to last year. Last year we truly started on the back foot. We’ve got a car to fight with (Sunday). I’m really, really happy with it. From the first practice, we didn’t get the cleanest of runs on every single (Firestone) tire, but we knew we had a competitive car, so coming into qualifying, it was just all about executing. I’m excited for tomorrow _ I really am.”

Reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Marcus Ericsson qualified fourth in the No. 8 Ganassi Racing Honda with a lap of 1:00.4435-seconds/107.208 mph.

“This is a very good start for us,” said Ericsson, a native of Sweden who finished sixth in driver points in 2022. “We were talking about how we need to improve our qualifying, and we worked really hard on this in the offseason _ how to better understand how the tires work and working on myself to perform in qualifying. It really shows today.  I’m extremely happy with P4; we definitely can win from here.”

Andretti Autosport newcomer Kyle Kirkwood will start fifth in the No. 27 Honda after earning a spot in the Firestone Fast Six for the first time in his young INDYCAR career. Kirkwood drove for A.J. Foyt Racing last season as a series rookie.

Defending race-winner Scott McLaughlin rounded-out the Firestone Fast Six in the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet.

“Overall, not a bad day for us on the DEX Imaging Chevy,” said McLaughlin, a native New Zealander beginning his third INDYCAR season for team and series-owner Roger Penske. “We beat our teammates (Power and Josef Newgarden) in qualifying, which is your first job.

“We ended up P6 after our spin. I felt like we had a car for pole today, which is really disappointing that I made a mistake. I hit the wall at Turn 10 on my first out-lap and bent it, then spun. Unfortunately, it caused a red (flag) and took us out of qualifying but we’ll be OK for tomorrow. We can definitely win from there.”

Power will launch defense of his 2022 championship from the 10th grid position after recording a lap of 59.9482-seconds/108.093 mph in his No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet.

Wanted to be farther up but the wind definitely affected us,” said Power, a native of Australia who celebrated his 42nd birthday Wednesday. “Still happy to make it to the top-10, obviously. Very fierce, fierce competition out there to get the Firestone Fast Six but look at Andretti _ three of their cars in top-five. There are other good guys obviously out there but I’m pretty happy with where we are.”

That was not the case for Newgarden, a two-time series champion who finished 16 points behind Power in last year’s final standings. Newgarden will start 14th after a lap in1:00.0605-seconds/107.891 mph in the No. 2 Team Penske Chevy, and declining comment afterward with Team Chevy’s PR representative.

Six-time series champion Scott Dixon will begin his bid for a record-tying seventh INDYCAR title from the ninth position in his No. 9 Honda after lapping at 59.8010-seconds/108.359 mph. Open-wheel icon A.J. Foyt Jr. is the series record-holder with seven championships.

“Definitely interesting day today _ crashing in practice this morning,” said Dixon, a native of New Zealand who finished third in the 2022 driver standings. “Not much damage, which was great to get the car fixed. Went into qualifying with a few unknowns. We were the quickest in Q1, looking good in Q2, then we had a big balance shift on the last set of tires and just had a lot of understeer. We missed by a few hundredths and frustrating we’ll start ninth. The PNC Bank No. 9 is definitely a lot quicker than that. It’s been one of those weekends where we miss by a little bit when it counted the most.”

Neither Kirkwood nor McLaughlin recorded times during the Firestone Fast Six due to separate incidents, with their best times from the second segment establishing their starting spots. McLaughlin spun exiting Turn 12 late in the session, triggering a red flag and erasing his two quickest laps to that point. That incident left time for only one more flying lap in qualifying for the remaining drivers in the Fast Six.

Meanwhile, Kirkwood’s weekend took a sour turn early in the Firestone Fast Six. He slid through the grass and into the wall in Turn 14 approaching his first flying lap. Kirkwood was fourth in both practice sessions leading into qualifying, but his Andretti Autosport crew faced an evening of overtime rebuilding the damaged nose and left front of his car.


Louis Foster might want to reset expectations for his initial INDY NXT by Firestone race Sunday on the Streets of St. Pete.

Foster, of Great Britain, will start from P1 for the INDY NXT by Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg after a qualifying lap of 1 minute, 5.1103-seconds/99.523 mph Saturday in the No. 26 Copart/USF Pro Championship car fielded by Andretti Autosport. Foster advanced up the ladder in INDYCAR’s developmental series this season after winning the USF Pro 2000 Championship in 2022.

“This was a great, great qualifying session,” said Foster, 19. “A bit more than we expected. We’re going into this weekend with a bit of uncertainty, first time in the championship. I’m over the moon. The guys at Andretti have done an amazing job.” Case in point, Andretti Autosport earned its third pole in the last four INDY NXT by Firestone races at the Florida circuit.

Jacob Abel, who led Friday’s practice, continued his strong weekend and will join Foster on the front row after qualifying second at 1:05.1763/99.423 mph in the No. 51 Abel Motorsports car.

Christian Rasmussen rebounded from an incident that ended his practice early Friday, qualifying third at 1:05.2204 in the No. 6 HMD Motorsports with DCR car. His teammate, Rasmus Lindh, qualified fourth at 1:05.2283 in the No. 10 HMD Motorsports with DCR car.

Kyffin Simpson rounded-out the top five at 1:05.2884 in the No. 21 HMD Motorsports with CGR machine. Rookie Nolan Siegel, who led practice Saturday morning, qualified sixth at 1:05.3331 in the No. 39 HMD Motorsports with DCR car. The entire 19-car field was separated by only 0.8673-seconds.

The 45-lap (or 55 minutes maximum) race on the 1.8-mile/14-turn temporary street circuit is scheduled to start at 9:50 a.m. (EST) Sunday and carried live on Peacock, INDYCAR Radio Network and SiriusXM Channel 160.

All 2023 entrants are continuing to learn the nuances of tires supplied by Firestone Racing _ longtime NTT IndyCar Series supplier new to the developmental series this season.

“The aim will be to win the race from pole,” Foster said. “But it’s going to be the longest race I’ve ever done with 55 minutes, so I’m just going to have to manage the tires, see what they end up like. No one’s done a race on these tires yet, so it’s all going to be brand new to us. We’ll look at some data tonight and see what we can figure out for the morning.”


Qualifying for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding NTT IndyCar Series event on the 1.8-mile/14-turn Streets of St. Petersburg, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, engine, time and speed in parentheses:

>1.(28) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 59.5532-seconds (108.810 mph)
2. (26) Colton Herta, Honda, 59.9687 (108.056)
3. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 1:00.0163 (107.971)
4. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 1:00.4435 (107.208)
5. (27) Kyle Kirkwood, Honda, No Time (No Speed)
6. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, No Time (No Speed)
7. (10) Alex Palou, Honda, 59.7781 (108.401)
8. (6) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 59.7971 (108.366)
9. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 59.8010 (108.359)
10. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 59.9482 (108.093)
11. (45) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 59.9618 (108.069)
12. (7) Alexander Rossi, Chevrolet, 1:00.0040 (107.993)
13. (11) Marcus Armstrong, Honda, 1:00.3158 (107.435)
14. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 1:00.0605 (107.891)
15. (06) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 1:00.5049 (107.099)
16. (18) David Malukas, Honda, 1:00.0796 (107.857)
17. (14) Santino Ferrucci, Chevrolet, 1:00.5301 (107.054)
18. (29) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 1:00.1798 (107.677)
19. (30) Jack Harvey, Honda, 1:00.7270 (106.707)
20. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 1:00.3714 (107.336)
21. (78) Agustin Canapino, Chevrolet, 1:01.0692 (106.109)
22. (77) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 1:00.3868 (107.308)
23. (51) Sting Ray Robb, Honda, 1:02.3711 (103.894)
24. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 1:00.4831 (107.137)
25. (60) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 6:37.4112 (16.306)
26. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 1:00.6066 (106.919)
27. (55) Benjamin Pedersen, Chevrolet, 01:01.4355 (105.476)

Qualifying for the INDY NXT by Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg INDY NXT by Firestone event on the 1.8-mile/14-turn Streets of St. Petersburg, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, time and speed in parentheses:

1. (26) Louis Foster, 01:05.1103 (99.523)
2. (51) Jacob Abel, 01:05.1763 (99.423)
3. (6) Christian Rasmussen, 01:05.2204 (99.355)
4. (10) Rasmus Lindh, 01:05.2283 (99.343)
5. (21) Kyffin Simpson, 01:05.2884 (99.252)
6. (39) Nolan Siegel, 01:05.3331 (99.184)
7. (68) Danial Frost, 01:05.3664 (99.133)
8. (76) Reece Gold, 01:05.4015 (99.080)
9. (75) Matteo Nannini, 01:05.4109 (99.066)
10. (3) Josh Green, 01:05.4552 (98.999)
11. (47) Enaam Ahmed, 01:05.6028 (98.776)
12. (27) Hunter McElrea, 01:05.6267 (98.740)
13. (98) Jagger Jones, 01:05.6411 (98.719)
14. (57) Colin Kaminsky, 01:05.7149 (98.608)
15. (14) Josh Pierson, 01:05.8256 (98.442)
16. (29) James Roe, 01:05.8314 (98.433)
17. (99) Ernie Francis Jr., 01:05.8522 (98.402)
18. (28) Jamie Chadwick, 01:05.9157 (98.307)
19. (7) Christian Bogle, 01:05.9776 (98.215)

(Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1995) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients includes Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y.) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service, Ford Racing and Used Car Dealer magazine).


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 5 2023
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