Scott McLaughlin shrugged off the pressure of reigning IndyCar Series champion Alex Palou in the dying laps to win his first race in the series on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.
The New Zealand riverd, who is a three-time Australian Supercars champion and winner of the Bathurst 1000, led the field to the green flag and kept a dominating lead over the field for the first 26 laps. He maintained his lead until the sole full-course caution of the race, which came when rookie driver David Malukas crashed out at turn four.
Scott McLaughlin, 28, made only one error all weekend: getting out of his car in victory lane, slipping, and landing on his behind. He won his maiden NTT IndyCar Series event in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
“Thank you to Roger Penske for trusting me and giving me the opportunity to come here,” McLaughlin said as he sat on his car trying to catch his breath.
“He’s the one that calmed me down last year. He said, ‘Hey, it’s a long story, not a short one.’ To pay back that faith and prove the trust he put in me is a very proud moment.”
Then he leapt again, this time in misery from sitting in the hot car at the checkered flag under a cloudless sky with temperatures exceeding 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius).
“My butt is getting burnt. Oh, that hurt, on the exhaust,” he said.
“Oh my God, I’m just love you Australia, New Zealand, miss you guys. Thinking of everyone in the Queensland floods at the moment. But oh, I can’t believe it.”
Several drivers using three-stop strategies, including Rinus VeeKay and Scott Dixon, jumped to the head of the race during the lengthy safety car period. Once both drivers made their second stops on laps 64 and 65, respectively, McLaughlin retained the net lead of the race, ahead of Palou. McLaughlin reclaimed the lead with a two-second advantage after Dixon made his third and final pit stop on lap 79.
In the final twenty laps, navigating lapped traffic was only a minor annoyance, allowing Palou to close to within half a second of winning the race. Palou was able to get close enough to the white and red Penske vehicle ahead of him to get into the gearbox, but not near enough to overtake. McLaughlin won his first IndyCar race by just over half a second after leading 49 laps, about ten times as many as he had led all year in 2021.
Will Power consolidated third place on the podium, placing two of Penske’s cars on the top step. Colton Herta saved enough fuel in his final stint to finish fourth, one position ahead of Romain Grosjean, who finished fifth in his maiden race with the new Andretti team. Rinus VeeKay finished sixth following a long final stint, his highest finish since the inaugural Detroit race last year. On the three-stop strategy, Graham Rahal finished seventh, while Dixon, who led 26 laps, finished eighth.
Marcus Ericsson rounded out the top ten after recovering from an end-of-line penalty on the race restart. Takuma Sato improved twelve positions by driving from 22nd to tenth place using a two-stop plan. Christian Lundgaard finished 11th, one position ahead of McLaren SP driver Pato O’Ward in 12th, despite running in the top 10 until the last laps of the race.
Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – Official Results
|RANK||CAR NO.||DRIVER||NAT||TEAM||TOTAL TIME|
|1||3||Scott McLaughlin||NZL||Team Penske||1:51:27.346|
|2||10||Alex Palou||ESP||Chip Ganassi Racing||+ 0.509 sec.|
|3||12||Will Power||AUS||Team Penske||+ 2.467 sec.|
|4||26||Colton Herta||USA||Andretti Autosport||+ 15.844 sec.|
|5||28||Romain Grosjean||FRA||Andretti Autosport||+ 18.452 sec.|
|6||21||Rinus VeeKay||NED||Ed Carpenter Racing||+ 20.651 sec.|
|7||15||Graham Rahal||USA||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||+ 21.418 sec.|
|8||9||Scott Dixon||NZL||Chip Ganassi Racing||+ 22.027 sec.|
|9||8||Marcus Ericsson||SWE||Chip Ganassi Racing||+ 22.367 sec.|
|10||51||Takuma Sato||JPN||Dale Coyne Racing w/ Rick Ware Racing||+ 23.274 sec.|
|11||30||Christian Lundgaard (R)||DEN||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||+ 24.424 sec.|
|12||5||Pato O’Ward||MEX||Arrow McLaren SP||+ 26.275 sec.|
|13||45||Jack Harvey||GBR||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||+ 31.668 sec.|
|14||6||Helio Castroneves||BRA||Meyer Shank Racing||+ 33.598 sec.|
|15||60||Simon Pagenaud||FRA||Meyer Shank Racing||+ 34.214 sec.|
|16||2||Josef Newgarden||USA||Team Penske||+ 36.260 sec.|
|17||7||Felix Rosenqvist||SWE||Arrow McLaren SP||+ 39.036 sec.|
|18||14||Kyle Kirkwood (R)||USA||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||+ 58.124 sec.|
|19||77||Callum Ilott (R)||GBR||Juncos Hollinger Racing||+ 58.722 sec.|
|20||27||Alexander Rossi||USA||Andretti Autosport||+ 59.163 sec.|
|21||20||Conor Daly||USA||Ed Carpenter Racing||+ 1:00.135 sec.|
|22||29||Devlin DeFrancesco (R)||CAN||Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport||+ 1:02.861 sec.|
|23||48||Jimmie Johnson||USA||Chip Ganassi Racing||– 1 lap|
|24||11||Tatiana Calderon (R)||COL||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||– 3 laps|
|25||4||Dalton Kellett||CAN||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||Mechanical|
|26||18||David Malukas (R)||USA||Dale Coyne Racing w/ HMD Motorsports||Contact|