Massive crashes send 2 cars airborne in IndyCar St. Pete opener, and an (expletive)
After a Saturday in which three of its four cars made the Firestone Fast Six and locked out the front row for IndyCar's St. Pete season-opener, Andretti Autosport teammates Devlin DeFrancesco and Kyle Kirkwood both went airborne in separate massive crashes that ended DeFrancesco's day and included nearly half of the 27-car field.
Here's what happened:
IndyCar results: Marcus Ericsson grabs 4th IndyCar win in crash-filled crazy season-opener
Lap 1 incident included nine cars, ending five days
IndyCar race control was forced to throw a red flag on Lap 1 of IndyCar's season-opener after a pileup that included nearly one-third of the 27-car field and sent second-year Andretti Autosport driver Devlin DeFrancesco airborne.
The incident was sparked by Felix Rosenqvist and Scott Dixon, who started 8th and 9th, respectively, battling for position headed into Turn 1 after taking the green flag. Dixon said on the NBC broadcast during the red flag he thought they had just had a "small rub" as he held onto the inside position between the drivers' left and right fronts.
"Felix is my best friend, man. I feel really sad," Dixon said on the NBC broadcast. "We made contact in the exit of Turn 2 and into 3 as it funnels. I thought I was clear, but you saw in the mirror that it backed up, and it must've been a slightly bigger hit for him."
For Rosenqvist and much of the field, it turned far worse than that.
"It felt like he didn't see I was there, and when the wall comes back to the left, I never expected him to swerve out of the normal racing line," Rosenqvist told NBC. "I didn't really try to go outside. I was trying to just get through the first couple turns. He was on the reds, so he was probably going to get me anyways. I was just hanging in there, but I don't know if he knew I was there."
Dixon's hip-check then sent Rosenqvist into the wall, damaging his car enough to continue pinballing down the track and slowing. Behind him, cars began slamming on the brakes in reaction, forcing a multi-car pileup between Turns 3 and 4 that blocked the course and forced the red flag.
The chain-reaction began when Santino Ferrucci nudged the back of Helio Castroneves. With Castroneves in the middle of the track, Andretti Autosport's Devlin DeFrancesco had nowhere to go, though Jack Harvey made small contact with him as he navigated the incident. Sting Ray Robb couldn't manage to avoid hitting DeFrancesco with his front wing.
The largest contact came as AJ Foyt Racing rookie Benjamin Pedersen flew into the frame and ran square into the side of DeFrancesco and sent him airborne and spinning 180 degrees around.
"I'm fine, but it was a really hard knock and not the way you want to start the season," DeFrancesco said. "I saw Helio spinning in front of me, and I got on the brakes but there was nowhere to go. And when I saw (Pedersen) coming, I thought, 'Oh no, this is going to be a big one.' I just braced for it and got ready for it. It was a wild ride."
Near the end, Simon Pagenaud also couldn't avoid the pileup and ended up in the wall. He told NBC he thought he'd be able to navigate the incident, but his window closed as Robb was sent careening in front of him. He told the NBC broadcast he had "a little finger issue" but was otherwise 'OK'.
"I kinda expected (a crash) to be honest," Pagenaud said, "because that's been a tricky area all weekend. I thought I'd made it. That's my strong suit, to avoid those kind of crashes."
Castroneves exited his car with a significant limp on his right leg and told NBC he got an X-ray on his right knee in IndyCar's new mobile medical unit, but that everything came back clear.
"Everything's fine. It's just like when you hit your funny bone, like, 'Ahh, it hurts!'" Castroneves said. "I just put ice on it to make sure everything's fine.
"I just got hit from behind, and the next thing I knew, I saw a car going over me. I'm so happy, because for the amount of crash we had there from everybody, we didn't have any issues."
Added Ferrucci: "I'm totally fine, but I'm heartbroken for AJ Foyt Racing. It's just one of those things where, with an accordion effect like that, there's nothing you can do. Everyone checked up, and I just smoked the brakes and went straight into the back of Helio. I thought I was going to be okay, but the way he then came around, it hit my right-rear, and that killed our race."
Once the red flag was thrown, the race was paused for nearly 20 minutes as the AMR Safety Team cleared the cars and carnage. The race returned green on Lap 5. DeFrancesco, Ferrucci, Pedersen, Pagenaud and Castroneves were all seen and released from the medical center. Those five drivers' cars were all too damaged to continue in Sunday's 100-lap race, with Rosenqvist's Arrow McLaren crew taking his No. 6 Chevy back to the garage in hopes to getting his team some race-level laps before IndyCar's four-week break ahead of Race No. 2 at Texas.
Lap 41: Kirkwood sails over two cars in the tires
Just one lap after the race returned to green following Conor Daly's spin and stall in Turn 9 on Lap 36, chaos ensued just one turn down the track from where the Lap 1 pileup took place. Rinus VeeKay, struggled to make Turn 4 and couldn't avoid the tire barrier on the outside wall. Running just behind him, Jack Harvey couldn't avoid the Ed Carpenter Racing car and barreled into the ride side of him. Behind them both and running in 17th at the time, Kyle Kirkwood ran square into the back of Harvey's No. 30 Honda and went fully airborne.
VeeKay climbed out of his car without issue, but Harvey's exit was clearly labored. He was seen bent over while sitting on the back of an AMR Safety Team truck surrounded by safety personnel. Kirkwood managed to navigate his car back to the pits, where his No. 27 Honda crew replaced his front wing and sent him back out two laps down.
"It's just tricky out there. I'm glad I'm okay, but I hope Jack's okay cause it looked like he was in a bit of pain," VeeKay told NBC Sports. "Josef was on the inside, and I was just an inch (off-line), and out there, you're out of grip and there's nothing you can do. I'm really bummed because I really wanted to finish the first race of the season and carry that momentum.
IndyCar announced that Harvey was taken to a local hospital for further evaluation "out of an abundance of caution," and he was checked and released.
Lap 50: Power sends Herta into the wall
Just as the race went back green on Lap 50, things continued to go from bad to worse for Andretti Autosport, as Will Power and Colton Herta battled through Turns 5-8. Herta held the edge as they entered Turn 8, though he'd been forced off-line, and he ended up in the tires. Power was sent to the back of the field for his role in the incident, and Herta's day was done, becoming the eighth car eliminated from the field (Rosenqvist was able to make it back on-track, 40 laps down, after his Lap 1 crash).
"I thought I was pretty far ahead of (Power), but I felt a tag in the left-rear," Herta told NBC Sports of the incident. "He wanted to use the next state over for his exit there. I don't know what I can do there, except for hit the wall.
"It's unfortunate. What an (expletive)."