By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
What was shaping up to be a fantastic battle for the race win went straight to hell in a heartbeat.
Both pole sitter Romain Grosjean and defending Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg winner Scott McLaughlin crashed on Lap 72, bringing out the final full course caution. McLaughlin was able to continue his race, but the contact ended Grosjean’s afternoon after leading a race-high 31 of 100 laps.
After making their final pit stops, McLaughlin just exited ahead of Grosjean, who pitted the lap before him. Grosjean wouldn’t be denied from making March 5th his day to remember as neither gave each room for the provisional lead.
Once they headed to Turn 4, which was a troublesome corner all race, disaster struck. They collided and hit the tire barrier. Grosjean’s damage was terminal and what was already an awful Sunday for Andretti Autosport, this incident sealed it as all Michael Andretti-owned cars were involved in crashes.
Grosjean’s teammate Kyle Kirkwood wound up being the lone survivor despite going airborne in the same corner earlier in the race.
An irate Grosjean screamed in frustration and pounded the tire barrier. The anger was apparent as another opportunity of capturing his maiden INDYCAR win was taken away.
After Grosjean was checked and released from the medical center, he had little to say about the contact with McLaughlin.
“I think it was pretty obvious that I’m very disappointed,” said Grosjean. “I hope INDYCAR puts a rule in place. Today was not racing.”
INDYCAR took action and penalized McLaughlin for avoidable contact. Due to this, McLaughlin was out of contention for the race win and crossed the line in 13th, a lap behind race winner Marcus Ericsson.
Cooler heads prevail when they met to discuss the matter after the race as McLaughlin held himself accountable for costing themselves a great result. More importantly, a fantastic show for the fans in attendance.
“I’m very sorry for Romain. He’s a friend of mine and we were both fighting for the win. I just made a big mistake and tried pushing it on cold tires,” said McLaughlin. “I just didn’t have the grip on the inside like I did on the greens (Firestone compound). Locked the rears and unfortunately took both of us out. I don’t race like that.”
Although team strategist Kyle Moyer told McLaughlin it’ll be alright as it’s Round 1 of 17, it’s irrelevant to him at this time.
“I need to be better than that and make better decisions. Ultimately, I was just racing for the win,” McLaughlin commented. “I knew we could’ve had a chance if I got out in front of him in Turn 4. I was racing hard and I promise that I don’t race like that. We finished the race, but I got to man up.”