Race Preview: Streets of St. PetersburgINDYCAR
Chip Ganassi Racing kicks off the 2023 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season determined to defend their Indianapolis 500 victory and add to their 14 series championships. Ganassi has been on a tear of late, winning the series championship nine times across the past 15 seasons.
They will get things underway this weekend in St. Petersburg, Florida, where Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson and Alex Palou return to action with the team, while newcomer Marcus Armstrong is set to make his series debut at the 14-turn, 1.8-mile street course track.
CGR has had a history of gaining momentum from the jump, as they’ve claimed wins in seven season openers before (2nd-most among teams since CGR’s establishment in 1990), including two across the past three seasons (2021: Palou – Barber; 2020: Dixon – Texas). CGR also boasts seven victories in street course races across the past five seasons, tied for the most among teams in that span, but they will seek victory at St. Petersburg for the first time since their sole win at the track in 2011 (Dario Franchitti).
Ericsson: "It's always exciting going down to St. Petersburg. It's a highlight of the season for me to kick things off there. This is a track I really like and it's quite technical, especially the middle section between turn four and nine. As a team, we'll go there with high expectations. We had a good test at Thermal a couple weeks ago and feel that we've improved our package over the winter. We're very excited to see how things work compared to our competition. I'm excited for this INDYCAR season; With 27 full-time cars on the grid, it will be amazing."
Ericsson, the defending Indianapolis 500 winner, had a remarkable 2022 campaign in his own right.
The Kumla, Sweden, native was the points leader departing the 12th race on the calendar last season and registered 12 top-10 finishes on the year (tied for 4th-most in the field). Ericsson has seized the checkered flag at 2 INDYCAR street course races before, picking up wins at Nashville and Detroit in 2021. He flashed his expertise in St. Petersburg last year, running P4 before a pit lane violation ultimately forced him to restart from the back of the field on lap 33. Nonetheless, he charged back through the field and recorded a P9 finish in the season opener.
Ericsson started 2023 on the right foot, posting the fastest lap time across all four practice sessions at The Thermal Club's spring training with a blistering lap time of 1:38.4223 last month.
Dixon: "Start of the season; Everybody is excited. It's definitely one of the best places to kick off the season, especially after a long winter. For us as a team, it's been a great track for us but with some highs and lows for sure. Last year, we were the leader of the three-stop group and it didn't work out, but we had great pace. Alex finished second on the podium, which was big. We'll definitely be trying to get a better result for this season, but ultimately, it's a track I love to go to and it provides great racing."
Dixon is back for his 22nd season with Chip Ganassi Racing – the longest tenure in team history – and his 23rd overall in the INDYCAR SERIES. He continued to carve out his place in the record books last year, advancing to 2nd on the all-time wins list (53), becoming the all-time lap leader in Indianapolis 500 history (665), notching a win for his 18th consecutive season and 20th overall (both series records) and becoming the first driver in series history to register multiple seasons with 100% of total laps completed.
The Iceman carries plenty of street course success into the season opener, but he will seek an elusive first career victory on the Streets of St. Petersburg this weekend. Dixon was the only driver to win multiple street course races last season, claiming victories in Toronto and Nashville. He has also registered five street course wins over past five seasons, the most among the field in that span.
Dixon led the series with 15 top-10 finishes in 2022 and was the only driver to finish top-10 in every single street course race on the year (5 such races).
Palou: "Here we are in St. Pete with warm weather, as always. We are hoping to start as we finished last year. I'm really, really looking forward to this year. I think we have an amazing opportunity to try and get the championship again and have a great year in front of us. We'll have the same team as last year with Ricky Davis, Julian Robertson and great teammates. Looking forward to it and we'll see you out on the track."
Palou returns for his 3rd season with Chip Ganassi Racing, set to continue the momentum gained from his record-setting victory in the season finale at Laguna Seca last year. The 2021 champion has experienced a wealth of success with Chip Ganassi Racing, earning a podium in 14-of-33 (42%) starts with the team. His 14 podiums are most among the field in that span.
No driver was better at making up positions in street course races than Palou last season. He generated a net gain of 37 positions across the five street course contests on the year.
Palou has been a formidable qualifier, posting the field’s 3rd-highest average starting position (7.7) across the past two seasons with Chip Ganassi Racing.
Armstrong: "First race weekend here in INDYCAR, and it is a special feeling. I am very excited but for whatever reason, I’m not really nervous. I feel like Chip Ganassi Racing and our engineers have been on top of it, so I’m carefree at the moment. I’m just looking forward to being in the seat and pushing as hard as I can. It’s a new circuit for me and I’m still learning the car, but I feel very confident and love street circuits. I have not been to St. Petersburg before, but by all accounts it’s an awesome circuit and I’ve always bonded very well with these races. Let’s push hard and see what we can get.”
Armstrong, 22, will make his INDYCAR debut this weekend after previously competing in the Formula 2 series.
The Christchurch, New Zealand, native will become the first driver in Chip Ganassi Racing history to ever pilot the No. 11 entry when he hits the Streets of St. Petersburg.
Armstrong stood out among the rookie class at The Thermal Club’s spring training, where he ran top-10 across several practice sessions. He will look to become just the fifth in series history to win a race in their debut – a feat that hasn’t been accomplished in his lifetime (Buzz Calkins – Disney World, 1996).
Source: Chip Ganassi Racing