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Romain Grosjean leads first Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg practice

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NTT INDYCAR SERIES

ST. PETERSBURG, FL (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Andretti Autosport’s Romain Grosjean turned the fastest lap in the first practice for Sunday’s season opening NTT INDYCAR SERIES Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Grosjean’s fast lap of 1:01:.0525 in the No. 28 DHL Honda was 0.1042-seconds quicker than teammate Colton Herta turned in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda.

“It felt good,” said Grosjean, who is in his first season with the Andretti team. “Obviously quite a bit of traffic out there. We did a couple of test items to get a read. We’ve got a very, very strong baseline but there’s a little more to come if we put it all together.”

“For me we brought it back where we left off last year,” said Herta, the defending race-winner. “It felt really good in the first season with a surprising level of grip.”

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Team Penske’s Will Power was third quickest on the speed chart with a fast lap of 1:01.2282-seconds in the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet. Meyer Shank Racing’s Simon Pagenaud was right behind with a lap of 1:01.3429-seconds.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal rounded out the Top 5 after turning a 1:01:3683 in the No. 15 United Rentals Honda with teammate Jack Harvey two spots behind in seventh (1:01.4903).  Christian Lundgaard was 25th with a lap of 1:02.5246-seconds.  This is Lundgaard’s first race on the streets of St. Petersburg.

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson was the fastest of the four car brigade at 15th with a quick lap of 1:01.9622-seconds in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda.  Defending series Champion Alex Palou was 17th with a lap of 1:01.7267-seconds in the No, 10 NTT DATA Honda.  Six-time series Champion Scott Dixon was 20th in the No. PNC Bank Honda after a lap of 1:01.7747-seconds and Jimmie Johnson was 24th in the No. 48 Carvana Honda after a brake fire.

The practice session was incredibly tight with positions 1 through 21 separated by 0.7772-seconds.  A second practice session takes place Saturday morning from 9:00 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. with qualifying taking place from 12:30 p.m. to 1:45 p.m.

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Tough, Frustrating Indianapolis 500 for Chip Ganassi Racing

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Penske Entertainment: Walt Kuhn

INDIANAPOLIS, IN (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Marcus Ericsson was in position to win his second straight Indianapolis 500 but a late-race caution and red flag spoiled that opportunity.

Ericsson and the No. 8 Huski Ice Spritz Honda took the lead of the race on a Lap 196 restart when a caution flag came out immediately after due to an crash in the back of the field.  Ericsson and the rest of the field circled the Speedway behind the Corvette pace for a complete lap.  That’s when NTT INDYCAR SERIES officials decided to Red Flag the race for the third time.

Race Control restarted the race with two laps left and told drivers it would be one-to-go and the green flag when they came off Turn 4.  Ericsson was able to get the jump on the green and led the field through Turn One and off Turn Two.

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden got a tremendous run down the backstrech and passed Ericsson going into Turn Three.  Ericsson couldn’t catch Newgarden coming to the yard of bricks, the fourth-narrowest margin of victory in the history of the race.

“I don’t think it’s a fair way to end the race,” said Ericsson. “I don’t think it’s a right way to end the race. I think it wasn’t enough laps to go to do what we did. I don’t think it’s safe to go out of the pits on cold tires for a restart when half the field is sort of still trying to get out on track when we go green.”

Ericsson questioned why Race Control decided to let the field circle the 2.5-mile oval for a complete lap and bringing the race cars through the accident scene instead of down pit road.

“They (INDYCAR) should have called it earlier,” explained Ericsson. “If they wanted red they should have called red earlier. I think when they kept it going, then I think they should have called it. But I’m sure Josef (Newgarden) doesn’t agree with that and thinks that way, but that’s just the way I thought. I thought it was too tight to do the last red.”

Pole Sitter Alex Palou appeared to be one of the cars to beat early, leading 36-laps in the No. 10 American Legion Honda.  Palou was on pit road during a caution flag when Rinus Veekay lost it coming out of his pits, pinching Palou into the inside wall exiting his pits.

The Ricky Davis led crew sprinted down to the car and rolled Palou back into the pit box, changed the front wing and sent the 2021 Champion back into the fight.

The No. 10 American Legion crew changes the nose cone after the car was struck on pit road. (Photo: Penske Entertainment – Chris Jones)

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“There’s nothing that we could have done differently there on pit lane,” said Palou. “Starting from 30th again and we had to start the race from scratch. But, we went from 30th to fourth and still could have done a bit more. It was a tough day.”

Palou wasn’t the only Chip Ganassi Racing driver to rally on this day.

Scott Dixon started the race from the sixth position and was quickly into the Top 5 after the start of the race.  Midway through the first run the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda developed a bad vibration that sent Dixon to pit road way earlier than planned.

“It was kind of a frustrating day,” said Dixon, the Six-time Series Champion. “We had that first set of tires that just went out of balance so badly. The car got massively loose, and we adjusted for that, but it also made the car a bit weird with a clutch alarm that we had to figure out. We worked on the balance to regroup after that, but it was just a very tough day.”

Scott Dixon lights-up the rear tires on the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda following a pit stop in the 107th Indianapolis 500. (Photo: Penske Entertainment – Chris Jones)

Dixon went to work following that pit stop and spent the rest of the day trying to get back the lost track position eventually finishing sixth.

Takuma Sato and the No. 11 Deloitte Honda home in seventh spot and said he was fighting track position all day.

“It was a tough race,” said Sato. “We had to fight back in the middle stages there where we couldn’t get up into the front group. We fought hard and I’m really proud of the entire No. 11 team.”

Palou leaves Indy INDYCAR Series Championship standing with 219 points.  Ericsson sits second with 199 points and Dixon is lurking back in fifth with 162 points.

The NTT INDYCAR SERIES returns to Downtown Detroit next weekend with the Chevrolet Grand Prix of Detroit on June 4, 2023 at 3:00 p.m.

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Josef Newgarden edges Marcus Ericsson to win the 107th Indianapolis 500

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Penske Entertainment: Chris Jones

INDIANAPOLIS, IN (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden passed Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson on the backstretch going into Turn 3, on the last lap, to win Sunday’s 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500.

“Everyone just kept asking me ‘why I haven’t won this race?’ and they look at you like you are a failure if you don’t win it and I wanted to win it so bad I knew we could, I knew we were capable,” said Newgarden.  “This is a huge team effort as everybody knows.”

The last lap shootout was set-up after the race’s third red flag of the day following a caution on Lap 196.  Ericsson and Santino Ferrucci split Newgarden on the restart and Ericsson was in front of Newgarden when the yellow flag flew.  If NTT INDYCAR SERIES officials didn’t red flag the race, Ericsson would have back-to-back 500 wins.

“I think I did everything right behind the wheel,” said Ericsson.  “I had an awesome restart.  I think I caught Josef completely off guard and filled a gap and got the lead.”

Ericsson was not happy with Race Control’s decision to red flag the race for one green flag lap.

“I don’t think there were enough laps to go to do what we did,” said Ericsson.  “I don’t think it’s safe to go out of the pits on cold tires for a restart when half the field is sort of still trying to get out on track when we go green.  I think we did everything right today.  I’m very proud of the No. 8 crew and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. If they (INDYCAR) wanted red they should have called red earlier. I think when they kept it going, then I think they should have called it.”

The red flag mattered to Newgarden, who was the victim on the previous restart, so he knew where he wanted to be.

“One lap to go you want to be second,” said Newgarden.  “It actually worked out great that I got a run on him on the backstraight I knew that if I could clear him getting into three maybe we could hold him off because he was so fast on the straights.”

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A.J. Foyt Racing’s Santino Ferrucci brought the No. 14 Homes for Troops Chevrolet home in third place for the four-time 500 winner.

“We had such a great day, I’m very happy for the boys.” said Ferrucci.  “Sitting there in third it’s tough. There is nothing you can do but watch. We worked so hard to be where we were. Just bummed because I think — I’m sure Marcus thinks the same thing I do. We definitely, all three of us could have won it at any point in time. Yeah, it’s bittersweet.”

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou rallied for a fourth place finish after starting from the pole, leading several laps in the first half of the race, and being sent back to 30th place after being hit in the pits by Rinus Veekay midway through the race.

“It was a tough day for myself, for the team,” said Palou.  “Nothing we could have done differently there on pit lane. We restarted thirtieth and came home P4. We had a really fast car and tried to make the most of it.”

Arrow McLaren Racing’s Alexander Rossi, the 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner, rounded out the Top 5 in the No. 7 Chevy.

Palou leaves Indy with the Championship points lead (219) followed by Marcus Ericsson in 2nd, 20-points back.

The next race for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES is the Detroit Grand Prix June 4th at 3:00 p.m.

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Chip Ganassi Racing Indianapolis 500 Preview

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Penske Entertainment

INDIANAPOLIS, IN (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Chip Ganassi Racing enters Sunday’s 107th running of the Indianapolis 500 as the defending race winners but more importantly they have four cars capable of winning the race.

“The fire still burns within the team to do well, to win it again,” said Team Owner Chip Ganassi. “We’re solely focused on that.”

Two-time 500 winner Takuma Sato turned the fastest speed in the Friday’s ‘Carb Day’ Final Practice.  Sato’s No. 11 Deloitte CGR Honda lapped the historic 2.5-mile oval at a top speed of 227.855 mph.

Right behind Sato with the second fastest ‘Carb Day’ practice speed is Scott Dixon, the six-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES Champion, in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda (227.285).  Dixon won the 500 in 2008 and would like nothing more than to drink the milk in victory lane again. It would also be sweet redemption as Dixon appeared headed to victory number two last year until he was caught speeding entering pit road late in the race.

Dixon’s pit crew appears ready after winning the Miller Lite Carb Day Pit Stop Competition on Friday by beating Will Power’s Team Penske crew.

2021 NTT INDYCAR Champion Alex Palou has the best starting spot of all of the Ganassi team.  Palou will start on the Pole Position in the No. 10 American Legion ‘Be The One’ Honda.  Palou won the Month of May opening GMR Grand Prix.  Won the Pole Position.  Can he win the 500?  He finished second in 2021 after leading that race late.  It was a valuable learning experience.

Veteran suicide is the focus of The American Legion’s ‘Be The One’ Campaign with Chip Ganassi Racing.

Marcus Ericsson enters the 500 as the defending race winner.  Ericsson will start tenth in the 33-car field and turned the 18th-fastest lap on Carb Day.  Ericsson is in the last year of his contract and has not resigned as of yet, so a second win in ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing’ would only improve his bargaining position.

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson celebrates in Victory Lane after winning Sunday’s 106th running of the Indianapolis 500.

“I think it’s a privilege to know that you drive for an organization that can provide us with four cars that’s super fast and that we expect to be up front and fight for the win,” said Ericsson. “I think that’s something to be proud of, and I think all four of us are super excited about this opportunity.”

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The Ganassi cars have been at or near the top of the speed chart since practice opened earlier this month.  Perhaps the biggest advantage the Ganassi team has is the depth of the organization.  No better illustration to that than when Dixon’s team won Friday’s Pit Stop Competition.  Several of the guys on the crew weren’t on the No. 9 crew when Dixon last won the competition in 2018.  Those guys are working on other Ganassi cars, and in many cases, received promotions.

“It takes a team to win and I have the best team,” said Dixon following the pit stop competition win.

The same feeling were echoed by Palou two weeks ago when he won the GMR Grand Prix and was asked if he can win the 500.

“You can’t win this race without a great team,” said Palou.  “And I’ve got the best team.”

The Ganassi team has never gone back-to-back at the 500.  Juan Pablo Montoya picked up the teams first win in 2000.  Scott Dixon followed up with victory number two in 2008.  Dario Franchitti won his second 500 in 2010 and followed that up with a third in 2012.

The biggest threats to the Ganassi team are many.  We can start with the winningest car owner in 500 history Roger Penske.  Team Penske has won 18 500’s and has been suspiciously quiet this month, although Power, who won the 500 in 2018, was third fastest in final practice.

Keep an eye out for the Arrow McLaren cars of Pato O’Ward, Alexander Rossi and Felix Rosenqvist.  O’Ward finished second to Ericsson a year ago.  Rosenqvist starts on the outside of the front row and Rossi is re-energized after moving over from Andretti Autosport.  Pittsburgh native Kate Gundlach is an Engineer on the McLaren team.

Speaking of Andretti Autosport, they’ll be a threat with Colton Herta and Romain Grosjean expected to be in the mix but keep an eye on Kyle Kirkwood, who was fifth fastest on Friday.  Marco Andretti typically runs well in the 500 and is campaigning a fifth Andretti car in the 500.

Finally, don’t count out Helio Castroneves, the only 4-time winner in the field.  Castroneves could become the first five-time winner in the history of the race with a win.

Live coverage of the 107th running of The Greatest Spectacle In Racing begins at 11 a.m. ET on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

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