Ericsson’s late move on O’Ward to take victory came after pole vaulters Romain Grosjean and Scott McLaughlin collided while battling for the lead and sent both into a tire wall.
This allowed Arrow McLaren’s O’Ward to hit the front, but a minor engine issue for the leader allowed Ericsson to slip past and sprint out in the final lap.
O’Ward managed to hold off a disgruntled Scott Dixon at the checkered flag, while Alexander Rossi came home fourth in his first race for Arrow McLaren, while Callum Ilott took an impressive fifth for Juncos Hollinger Racing.
The race was red flagged on the opening lap, following a collision caused by AJ Foyt Racing’s Santino Ferrucci, which sent Helio Castroneves into a spin. The second Meyer Shank car of Simon Pagenaud and rookie Dale Coyne Racing Sting Ray Robb were also involved.
Devlin De Francesco stopped his Andretti Autosport car in a vain attempt to avoid being killed but was thwarted by rookie Benjamin Pedersen, whose Foyt De Francesco engine launched him into the air and spun the stricken car through 180 degrees before landing again.
Closer to the front, Felix Rosenqvist’s Arrow McLaren had bounced off the left rear wheel of Scott Dixon’s car as Dixon thought his Ganassi engine was clean from Sweden. The impact sent Rosenqvist into the outside wall at Turn 3 and he was left limping to the pits with left rear damage.
Polesitter Grosjean and Colton Herta kept their Andretti Autosport entries ahead of O’Ward and Ericsson, but Palou moved up to edge out Kyle Kirkwood (Andretti) and McLaughlin – the top starter on the Firestone grid.
Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske Chevrolet
Photo by: Gavin Baker / Motorsport Images
For the restart, McLaughlin would line up ahead of fellow primary runners Dixon and Penske teammate Will Power.
Before the restart, Josef Newgarden, Rinus VeeKay and Conor Daly entered, Newgarden took a new set of primary tires after suffering a right rear puncture.
The restart was clean until the run from Turn 3 to Turn 4, when David Malukas Coyne’s w/HMD car made contact with Marcus Armstrong’s rookie Ganassi machine, puncturing his right rear tire, and sending the New Zealander limping to the pits. Lundgaard made an error when he lost 10th to Malukas but the DCR driver soon went in as Race Control handed him a drive-through penalty.
At the front, Grosjean led Herta by one second, but by lap 12 they were more than four seconds ahead of O’Ward. Behind O’Ward, the drivers ran in line, just under one second apart, all planning to make only two pitstops. McLaughlin, Dixon, Power and Arrow McLaren’s newest recruit, Alexander Rossi, filled seventh to tenth.
By lap 23, Grosjean had dropped Herta by 5.5s, and Herta was falling into the clutches of O’Ward and Ericsson. Into Turn 10 on lap 25, the Arrow McLaren driver claimed second place. Meanwhile, another Andretti driver, Kirkwood, lost sixth and seventh to McLaughlin and Dixon, and on lap 26, Power, Rossi and Jack Harvey (Rahal Letterman Lanigan) also brought down the 2021 Indy Lights champion.
Then Herta crashed on lap 27, and Kirkwood on lap 28. Then it was Palou’s turn to feel his alternate disappear, and he lost places to McLaughlin and Dixon on consecutive laps, before crashing on Lap 30, along with Ericsson teammate. The latter’s stop was excellent, and the Indy 500 winner jumped out ahead of Herta.
O’Ward closed the gap to Grosjean to five seconds before stopping on Lap 31, and Grosjean went a lap longer but lost time with tired rubber.
That left McLaughlin, Dixon and Power in the top three positions for one lap on their primary rubber, but both Penske drivers pitted on lap 35. McLaughlin emerged from the pits ahead of Grosjean and the pair went side by side down to Turn 4. But McLaughlin was on the inside and even on cold tires could brake just deep enough to protect his position from the polesitter.
That gave him the upper hand – although he almost did! The laps flew just as Dixon hit, due to Daly spinning and stopping after Kirkwood was tagged, but after checking the merge line, Race Control ordered Dixon to drop to fifth place
At the restart McLaughlin led Grosjean, O’Ward, Ericsson, Dixon, Power, Herta, Rossi, Palou and Graham Rahal, with the three Antipodeans and Rossi now on alternate tyres.
A caution was issued for that softer rubber when VeeKay slid into the tires at Turn 4 while being passed by Newgarden. He left Harvey with nowhere to go, and then Kirkwood hit the RLL car in the back and sent him over.
For the second time in 45 laps, Andretti’s car was thrown into the air. Kirkwood, amazingly, was able to throw back to the pits, but Harvey took a while to get out of the pit of his car, and VeeKay was also out on the scene.
Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Honda Racing
Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images
Dixon took advantage of his softer rubber to dive down the inside of Ericsson on the lap 50 restart. But when Power also tried to move on the Swede, he found the door closed and bumped wide. That allowed Herta to pull alongside the #12 Penske on the outside, but the two made contact and Herta went into the tires at Turn 8. Power was deemed at fault and would receive a drive-through penalty.
Fortunately the next restart was clean and stayed clean, and Grosjean did a great job on prime tires to hang on to McLaughlin on alternates over the next lap. The pair fell to O’Ward. The McLaren driver also had to keep an eye on his mirrors for Dixon and Ericsson who were slipping away from Rossi, Palou, Newgarden and Juncos Hollinger Racing’s Callum Ilott.
Palou made his final stop on lap 65, and Dixon did the same the next time, with Rossi, O’Ward and Newgarden all pitting shortly after.
In the main battle, it was Andretti Autosport who fumbled first, putting Grosjean in for new original Firestone tires, while McLaughlin stayed out a little longer and a back-marker stood up.
Coming out of the pits next time, the two were battling for the lead with McLaughlin on the inside, Grosjean on the outside. This time Grosjean was a little further ahead on the hot tires and although he left room for McLaughlin, the winner St. Pete iora was braking before the contact sent the Andretti car into the tire wall. The impact also straightened the Penske and sent him into the tire wall as well. Grosjean was out, and McLaughlin was hit by him and went to the pits.
That left O’Ward ahead of Dixon, Palou, Newgarden, Rossi, Ilott, Rahal, Lundgaard, top rocket Agustin Canapino of Juncos Hollinger, Power, and Malukas.
O’Ward stopped Ericsson on the restart, and the Swede had his mirrors full of Dixon. Rossi, Ilott, Palou and Rahal burst on Newgarden after he went wide at the final turn, and Power targeted his team-mate the following lap after passing Canapino and Lundgaard on the restart lap.
Newgarden’s messy weekend worsened when his left rear corner caught fire with just five laps to go, but all eyes were on the front.
At the front, however, O’Ward made it through the final turn, causing a problem with his Chevrolet engine to temporarily cough up, and that was all Ericsson needed to take the He had the upper hand until the end.
A very frustrated O’Ward held off Dixon by half a second, with Rossi holding off Ilott’s feat completing the top five. Rahal and Power took down Palou on the final lap to claim sixth and seventh.