McLaughlin fends off Palou for maiden IndyCar victory in St Petersburg


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Withstanding the pressure of the reigning IndyCar Series champion Álex Palou over the closing laps, Scott McLaughlin held on to take his first victory in the series on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

The second-year driver from New Zealand, previously a Bathurst 1000 winner and three-time Australian Supercars champion, led the field to the green flag, and held a commanding advantage over a 26 lap opening stint. He kept that lead until the only full-course caution, when rookie driver David Malukas crashed out at turn four.

That long safety car period brought a number of drivers on three-stop strategies to the front of the field, including Rinus VeeKay and Scott Dixon. Behind them, McLaughlin held the net lead of the race, ahead of Palou, once both drivers made their second stops on laps 64 and 65, respectively. Once Dixon made his third and final pit stop on lap 79, McLaughlin regained the lead with a two second advantage.

Negotiating lapped traffic would be a minor pain point in the final twenty laps, which allowed Palou to close in to within half a second of snatching the race victory. Palou was able to get onto the gearbox of the white and red Penske car ahead of him, but not close enough for an overtake. After leading 49 laps – nearly ten times as many as he’d led all throughout 2021 – McLaughlin held on for his first IndyCar win by just over half a second.

Will Power consolidated the final podium position in third place, putting two of Penske’s cars on the podium.

Colton Herta saved enough fuel on his final stint to finish fourth, one position ahead of his new Andretti team mate Romain Grosjean, who was fifth in his first race with his new team. Rinus VeeKay finished sixth after a long final stint, for his best result since last year’s first Detroit race. Graham Rahal finished seventh, and Dixon, who led 26 laps, finished eighth as the top car on the three-stop strategy.

Marcus Ericsson was able to recover from an end-of-line penalty on the race restart, to finish in ninth. Takuma Sato gained twelve places, driving from 22nd to a tenth place finish, also on a two-stop strategy. Christian Lundgaard ran in the top ten until the closing laps of the race, but still finished as the top rookie in 11th, one position ahead of McLaren SP driver Pato O’Ward in 12th.

Helio Castroneves finished 14th in his return to full-time IndyCar competition, while Alexander Rossi dropped out of the top ten, to 20th following a slow pit stop.

The second round of the IndyCar Series will be in three weeks’ time, for the 600 kilometre oval race at Texas.

Provisional race results:

13Scott McLaughlinPenskeChevrolet
210Alex PalouGanassiHonda
312Will PowerPenskeChevrolet
426Colton HertaAndrettiHonda
528Romain GrosjeanAndrettiHonda
621Rinus VeeKayCarpenterChevrolet
715Graham RahalRLLHonda
89Scott DixonGanassiHonda
98Marcus EricssonGanassiHonda
1051Takuma SatoCoyne/RWRHonda
1130Christian LundgaardRLLHonda
125Pato O’WardMcLaren SPChevrolet
1345Jack HarveyRLLHonda
146Helio CastronevesMeyer ShankHonda
1560Simon PagenaudMeyer ShankHonda
162Josef NewgardenPenskeChevrolet
177Felix RosenqvistMcLaren SPChevrolet
1814Kyle KirkwoodFoytChevrolet
1977Callum IlottJuncos HollingerChevrolet
2027Alexander RossiAndrettiHonda
2120Conor DalyCarpenterChevrolet
2229Devlin DeFrancescoAndretti SteinbrennerHonda
2348Jimmie JohnsonGanassiHonda
2411Tatiana CalderonFoytChevrolet
DNF4Dalton KellettFoytChevrolet
DNF18David MalukasCoyne/HMDHonda

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RJ O'Connell
Motorsport has been a lifelong interest for RJ, both virtual and ‘in the carbon’, since childhood. RJ picked up motorsports writing as a hobby...

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19 comments on “McLaughlin fends off Palou for maiden IndyCar victory in St Petersburg”

  1. I just watched an IndyCar race in full for the first time.
    Relatively straightforward for the most part without much close racing & unsurprising since this series has in-race refuelling, so reminiscent of F1 most recently in 2009.
    Admittedly, based on this one race, I also find IndyCar less exciting than SF that I’ve watched a bit in the last two years & intend again this year whenever not sharing a weekend with F1.
    For now, I don’t plan on watching another IndyCar race, but my mind could change.
    As for the race itself, a good drive by McLaughlin overall & not cracking under pressure from Palou in the last few laps.
    Decently quiet drive by Grosjean, although Herta didn’t quite manage to get everything right, which cost him a top-3 finish.
    I feel slightly bad for Calderon, though.
    Whatever series, she’s dead last almost always.
    I don’t intend to be stereotypical, but being the only female driver, perhaps she can’t keep up a consistent pace over a race distance as well as her fellow male competitors. This is only something I thought rather than a theory.
    DeFrancesco not using the earliest suitable opportunity for letting the top-2 lap himself, not even on the S/F straight, was slightly annoying. Thankfully, F1 doesn’t have such blue flag rules.
    Lastly, clearing Malukas’ car during the SC period took unnecessarily long.

    1. St Pete can be processional if there aren’t cautions to mix up the field. The guys who rolled the dice and tried to make a three stopper work got messed up by the one caution period. Also in the first race of the season you don’t have the drivers trying to protect their position in the championship versus those who have less to lose by going for those low percentage passes. I think we got an indication of how careful drivers were going to be by the fact that everyone made it out of the first few corners in one piece!

      It’s a shame the cameras didn’t catch the Grosjean passes with three laps to go. Moving to a new team doesn’t seem to have hurt him at all. And to anyone new to watching Indycar, if you want some entertainment, keep an eye on Dixon. Falls to back near the back of field, still ends up eighth.

      Don’t know what the heck is happening with Rossi. Three seasons ago he was a tiger, always good for a fight for the podium. He has had two bad seasons and it doesn’t really look like a good start for him. Team Andretti is going to run out of patience and there are a lot of worthwhile rookies out there.

      Jimmy Johnson must be the most optimistic driver out there. Unless he turns out to be magic on ovals, he looks to be finishing out of the top twenty again this season.

    2. Lol, this like watching Monaco and saying “this must be what F1 is like”

    3. Also, you might have missed it, but they had to fix the wall from Malukas’ crash which is why it took longer than usual.

      1. @pastaman I was aware at the time, although the wall(s) didn’t necessarily look badly damaged.

    4. Don’t judge a book by its cover. It’s like watching F1 at Monaco and assuming every F1 race is like that. I have been watching Indycars since the days of CART. St. Petersburg is not a great track nor has it produced great racing even after the series did a reduction in aerodynamics years ago. In the past, it was a FCY crash-fest. The next street race in Long Beach is always much better or wait til mid-season for the race at Road America, a true road course.

  2. The coverage missed it because it was focussing on the front, but there was quite a change in the last couple of laps… I think Herta took Veekay and Grosjean took Rahal and Veekay seemingly in a corner or 2. Not sure what happened as that didn’t look likely up til that point. Tyres? Fuel? An off?

    There’s also a lot of jeopardy on pit stops. Palou made up a ton of places in the first round, actually on pit lane rather than in or out lap.

    Decent race. Should be a really tight season with a good few drivers in contention.

    1. @oweng Yes, spotted Grosjean sneaked into the top 5 at the end … I guess Veekay was too marginal on fuel, not sure what happened with Rahal.

      Pretty pedestrian for most of the race but it got good at the end. I prefer it that way round.

      1. @red-andy I’ve just watched the sky coverage back. With 4 laps to go it was…

        4. Veekay
        5. Herta
        6. Rahal
        7. Grosjean

        Herta took Veekay on that lap. Next lap, Grosjean jumped Veekay and Rahal at the same time according to the timings bar. Dixon didn’t get either of them, so my guess would be that Rahal made a move on Veekay into turn 1, which didn’t go well and resulted in Grosjean getting both of them.

        Really strange that this wasn’t shown or talked about in coverage, and I haven’t seen anything on the Indycar or Andretti social media. For me it highlights the quality of Sky’s F1 coverage in the UK and of F1 in general. The announcers for this race didn’t even reference the position changes outside the top 2 after the race, as if they weren’t aware what order they were in over those last few laps. That just wouldn’t happen with F1. We’re kept fully up to date not only by the trackside reporters but also by Croft and Brundle who are across what’s going on through the whole field. And of course, the race tv directors who, although aren’t perfect, wouldn’t have missed something like this.

  3. Fantastic drive by McLaughlin especially under pressure in the end. Good showing by the champion as well. Too bad his fuel situation didn’t let him to go all out at the finish.

    I enjoyed the race as always and it sure proved this season will showcase an awesome fight for the WDC!

  4. I enjoyed that race. Some good battles through the field. A pleasantly low number of cautions. The 2 stop was definitely the better option, but the mix of 2 and 3 made for interesting strategies.
    Great work by McLaughlin. Supercars to IndyCar is a fair old career change. He was good last year, but a win shows he’s genuinely up to the task. Palou starting the season like an experienced old pro. He could definitely go back to back.

  5. Fantastic! Too bad I can no longer access indycar without paying for yet another subscription service…

  6. Very impressive drive by McLaughlin, especially holding his nerve against Palou. He’s already shown he can drive ovals. Now he’s figuring out street circuits.

    Mac and Grosjean are going to be great additions to the title fight this year!

    1. @nerrticus McLaughlin has raced plenty of street circuits during his time in Australian Supercars. Potentially more than much of the current Indy field.

  7. Indycar teams love a fuel saving strategy, obviously because it works more often than not, especially on narrow tracks, and because how often they get FCY.
    Big mess up by the TV coverage to ignore the midfield fight unfolding.
    Also, I’m not a fan of the rule allowing the backmarkers to race for the lead lap.

    1. @Dusty, I share your view on the last part.
      Thankfully, F1 doesn’t have such blue flag rules that allow doing what DeFrancesco did at the end.

  8. There was great racing action in St Pete yesterday. Really enjoyed watching McLaughlin’s maiden Indy win and a tight battle from the lead all the way to 15th place. Can’t wait for road courses!

    Nascar though, was disappointing

    1. That’s funny. Because the last 5 laps were tense with KL took the victory

  9. Congrats to McLaughlin! He was totally exhausted after the race.

    Great to have racing back again. A good distraction from what that imbecile in Russia is doing.

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