The Netflix Effect – St Petersburg IndyCar

Big crowds at St Pete. [Photo by Eddie LePine]

Big crowds at St Pete. [Photo by Eddie LePine]

By Eddie LePine

Just back from the opening round of the NTT IndyCar Series race at St. Petersburg, and what an event it was. Massive crowds, much larger than I can recall in the past (and I have been coming here since the first race some 20 years ago).

Happy 86th Birthday to the Captain, Roger Penske. [Photo by Eddie LePine]

Happy 86th Birthday to the Captain, Roger Penske. [Photo by Eddie LePine]

A huge field of 27 cars were on hand to contest the first race of the 2023 season, and everyone had high hopes going into the new year. After the first lap of the race, however, a number of team’s hopes were dashed as a first lap incident took out several cars, including a couple from Andretti Autosport and both cars from Meyer Shank Racing. Later incidents took several others out of contention and at the end of the day, a number of teams were looking at pretty large repair bills to get their equipment back together for the next race.

In the end Marcus Ericsson of Ganassi Racing took the win over the unlucky Pato O’Ward in the Arrow McLaren, who suffered what you might call an engine hiccup/fire with just two laps remaining in the race. It was just enough to open the door for last year’s Indy 500 winner Ericsson to make the pass and take the victory. Scott Dixon, also in a Ganassi car, took third, followed by Alexander Rossi. For others, including Andretti Autosport’s pole sitter Romain Grosjean, it was a very disappointing day. Grosjean was taken out by Scott McLaughlin while dicing for the lead of the race. All in all, a very disappointing and expensive day for Andretti Autosport.

Ericsson after the race: “I feel bad for Pato for having an issue, but that’s racing. You need to get there to the finish line. We were having such a good weekend, the car was fantastic all the way through and wer were hunting him down, putting the pressure on him and that’s when things happen. It’s a hell of a start to the season.”

It would be nice if a couple of changes could be made to the St. Petersburg street circuit, as every year cars keep getting caught out and crashed out in the same tight turns. The NTT IndyCar Series features some of the best racing and best drivers anywhere, it is a shame to see the limitations of a circuit play a large role in the outcome of an event.

The Netflix effect was quite evident at St. Pete – there were lots of fans, and from what I could tell, a lot of new fans. Speaking with a number of people, it was agreed that the Netflix ‘Drive to Survive’ Formula One series is having an effect on the fan base for IndyCar in the US as well. A lot of people were exposed to open wheel racing by watching the Netflix series, and the NTT IndyCar Series lets those new fans experience racing close up and personal.

Next up for the series, Texas Motor Speedway on April 2. Everyone’s cars will be repaired or replaced by the time the Texas race rolls around and hopefully there will be fewer on track incidents. Then it’s on to the street circuit at Long Beach, where I will be on hand to report on America’s Monaco. I’m certain those Netflix fans will show up in force in California.

See you there.

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