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

13Scott McLaughlinNZLTeam Penske1:51:27.346
210Alex PalouESPChip Ganassi Racing+ 0.509 sec.
312Will PowerAUSTeam Penske+ 2.467 sec.
426Colton HertaUSAAndretti Autosport+ 15.844 sec.
528Romain GrosjeanFRAAndretti Autosport+ 18.452 sec.
621Rinus VeeKayNEDEd Carpenter Racing+ 20.651 sec.
715Graham RahalUSARahal Letterman Lanigan Racing+ 21.418 sec.
89Scott DixonNZLChip Ganassi Racing+ 22.027 sec.
98Marcus EricssonSWEChip Ganassi Racing+ 22.367 sec.
1051Takuma SatoJPNDale Coyne Racing w/ Rick Ware Racing+ 23.274 sec.
1130Christian Lundgaard (R)DENRahal Letterman Lanigan Racing+ 24.424 sec.
125Pato O’WardMEXArrow McLaren SP+ 26.275 sec.
1345Jack HarveyGBRRahal Letterman Lanigan Racing+ 31.668 sec.
146Helio CastronevesBRAMeyer Shank Racing+ 33.598 sec.
1560Simon PagenaudFRAMeyer Shank Racing+ 34.214 sec.
162Josef NewgardenUSATeam Penske+ 36.260 sec.
177Felix RosenqvistSWEArrow McLaren SP+ 39.036 sec.
1814Kyle Kirkwood (R)USAA.J. Foyt Enterprises+ 58.124 sec.
1977Callum Ilott (R)GBRJuncos Hollinger Racing+ 58.722 sec.
2027Alexander RossiUSAAndretti Autosport+ 59.163 sec.
2120Conor DalyUSAEd Carpenter Racing+ 1:00.135 sec.
2229Devlin DeFrancesco (R)CANAndretti Steinbrenner Autosport+ 1:02.861 sec.
2348Jimmie JohnsonUSAChip Ganassi Racing– 1 lap
2411Tatiana Calderon (R)COLA.J. Foyt Enterprises– 3 laps
254Dalton KellettCANA.J. Foyt EnterprisesMechanical
2618David Malukas (R)USADale Coyne Racing w/ HMD MotorsportsContact

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