Race Weekend Central

Scott McLaughlin Holds off Charging Alex Palou, Takes Maiden IndyCar Victory

Scott McLaughlin is the NTT IndyCar Series’ newest winner after dominating the opening round of the 2022 season in St Petersburg, Florida.

McLaughlin controlled the race from the drop of the green flag, holding off early pressure from Colton Herta and withstanding a massive charge from defending series champion Alex Palou in the race’s closing stages. McLaughlin’s saving grace was full strategy, which afforded him much more push to pass on reserve than Palou, who didn’t have enough fuel to get on the button toward the race’s end.

“What a day, I’m out of breath,” McLaughlin said in victory lane, after leaping from his Penske Chevy.

McLaughlin was visibly exhausted, apparently having felt the pressure from Palou perfectly well as the laps wound down. “It was crazy. [I] really struggled those last couple of laps just to keep my head and save the fuel.”

McLaughlin’s first IndyCar win comes after he earned his first pole on Saturday (Feb. 27), praising Chevrolet’s improved fuel mileage and drivability in comparison to the American manufacturer’s performance in 2021.

Tire strategy, as it often does, divided the field through the day. Team Penske driver Will Power opted to start on the slower but more durable black-walled primary tires while the rest of the front starters took the faster red tires, which fell off pace quickly. Power lost multiple positions off the line on the slower tires, but made that time up over the course of his next two stops and rebounded to be closing in on McLaughlin and Palou. Nonetheless, too little too late for the 2014 champion.

Rinus VeeKay looked set to interfere after stretching his black tires beyond their expected range in the race’s mid-phase, along with an opportunely timed caution allowing him an essentially free pitstop. However, he was quickly overtaken by Power and came home in the sixth position.

Late in the race, Scott Dixon and Pato O’Ward pushed for long runs on their used black tires, presumably looking to catch a caution and pick up some free track position. While this was an exercise in futility, in the end, Dixon managed to keep his tires alive for a whopping 41 laps around the abrasive street circuit en route to an eighth-place finish.

In typical street course fashion, lapped traffic was a thorn in the frontrunners’ sides for the final stint. IndyCar sophomore Jimmie Johnson had mirrors full of McLaughlin and Palou with less than 10 laps to go but fought viciously for his place on the lead lap. Costing McLaughlin several tenths, and allowing his teammate to close in on the New Zealander.

Tatiana Calderon was much less of a problem for the two leaders, courteously pulling aside on the front stretch and allowing the fight for the win to go on uninterrupted for the time being.

Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport rookie Devlin DeFrancesco was next in line and, like Johnson, fought the leaders tooth and nail for his place at the tail end of the lead lap. The Canadian ultimately never let McLaughlin and Palou by and crossed the line less than a car length ahead of McLaughlin as the checkered flag fell.

The only yellow flag of the race flew when rookie David Malukas hit the wall on the exit of turn four after dipping his left side into the marbles. Malukas’ Dale Coyne machine ricocheted back to the right-hand side of the track before coming to a stop just short of turn five. Malukas was unharmed in the incident, though a long caution period ensued as repairs had to be made to the barriers.

The top 10 from the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg are:

1. McLaughlin
2. Palau
3. Power
4. Herta
5. Romain Grosjean
6. VeeKay
7. Graham Rahal
8. Scott Dixon
9. Marcus Ericsson
10. Takuma Sato.

The NTT IndyCar Series will head next to Texas Motor Speedway on March 20 for the Xpel 375. Coverage will begin at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

About the author

Open-wheel Contributor at | alexmgintz@gmail.com

Alex joined Frontstretch in March of 2021 and currently serves as an Open-wheel Contributor with a focus on IndyCar and Formula 1. Alongside writing for Frontstretch he also pursues his passions in international affairs and teaching English as a second language.

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