Scott McLaughlin Earns First Career Victory in Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

5 Mins read
(Photo Credit: Joe Skibinski / Penske Entertainment / Courtesy of IndyCar)

The only mistake that 28-year-old Scott McLaughlin made all weekend was getting out of his car in victory lane, stumbling out and falling on his backside. Not that he will mind, having won his first career NTT IndyCar Series race in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

“Oh my butt’s getting burnt… that hurt, on the exhaust,” he said, sitting on the sidepod of the car in victory lane post-race. Ok, maybe two mistakes.

The New Zealand native held off defending series champion Alex Palou, who was hot on his heels for the final fifteen laps of the race, and becomes the sixth driver in history to win his first IndyCar race with “the Captain” Roger Penske.

“[I] really struggled those last few laps just to keep my head and save the fuel…” McLaughlin said. “But we did it.”

McLaughlin led the field to green to get the season started, and after surviving a very clean turn one for the whole field, held the lead for the first stint. The consensus around the paddock was such that the primary, black-walled Firestone tyres were the better race tyre, and many who started on the new compound of alternate, red-wall tyres pit early to get them off the car as soon as possible.

The likes of Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon, Pato O’Ward (who had a brilliant start jumping from eighteenth to ninth on the first lap), and more all went for this three-stop strategy, while many of the leaders tried to stretch their reds as much as possible.

The reds really began to fall off around lap 20, as drivers like Rinus Veekay began to plummet down the order. He pit on lap 20 to switch to the blacks, while the other leaders continued on. This benefitted Will Power, who was the only driver in the top ten to start on the blacks, and now had gotten past Colton Herta and was closing on his teammate McLaughlin.

Thankfully for those begging for new tyres, the lone caution of the day flew on lap 25 for rookie David Malukas. The Dale Coyne Racing with HMD Motorsports machine was wide exiting the chicane of turn three, slamming the outside wall not unlike Alexander Rossi in 2020, and ending his day.

Scott McLauglin fending off Alex Palou. (Photo Credit: Chris Owens / Penske Entertainment / Courtesy of IndyCar)

Having stretched their reds as far as they did, many of the leaders were able to move to the blacks and go for a two-stop strategy. McLaughlin narrowly beat his teammate Power off of pit road to maintain his provisional lead, as those on a three-stop did not pit.

During this pit cycle, Chip Ganassi Racing‘s Marcus Ericsson was penalized for an unsafe release, making contact with Graham Rahal who subsequently squeezed Romain Grosjean dangerously close to the outside wall. None of the cars sustained significant damage. Palou was a major beneficiary in the pits, jumping up to provisional third behind McLaughlin and Power.

Rossi, who started on the black tyres and had yet to pit, led the field back to green on lap 34 after an extended caution for slight wall repair. He led the field of three-stoppers until he made his first pit stop on lap 37, releasing Dixon to the lead of the three-stoppers. Just outside the top ten, Palou made a move into turn four on Power, who was struggling on his red tyres, to move to provisional second place.

McLaughlin showed incredible poise, managing the traffic ahead while also staving off pressure from Palou behind. O’Ward and Dixon made their second pit stops of the day on laps 47 and 48 respectively, leaving only rookie Callum Ilott and Veekay ahead of McLaughlin and the lead pack. Ilott pit on lap 57, but Veekay stretched his stint to lap 61, and blended out well in contention with the lead pack.

Veekay’s pit stop forced some of the leaders to start coming in to cover off Veekay in case of a caution. Herta was the first of the lead bunch coming in on lap 63, followed by McLaughlin on lap 64 and the rest of the leaders on lap 65, including Palou. McLaughlin’s out lap was “Penske perfect,” beating out Palou’s pit exit by the narrowest of margins.

Dixon once again inherited the lead, holding it until his final pit stop with 22 laps to go. The six-time champ’s massive 41-lap stint helped keep him in the top ten, blending out of the pits in eighth place.

McLaughlin didn’t relinquish the lead again, but lap traffic of Jimmie Johnson, Tatiana Calderon, and Devlin DeFrancesco didn’t make it easy, as a comfortable lead eroded to less than half a second at times. But McLaughlin kept his cool, and earned his first career victory. Statement made.

The only mistake Scott McLaughlin made all weekend, getting out of the car in victory lane. (Photo Credit: James Black / Penske Entertainment / Courtesy of IndyCar)

Palou finished in second, a fantastic result after struggling for pace at the beginning of the weekend and a massive crash in second practice. Power rounded out the podium with a third place finish, able to get around drivers ahead of him that needed to save fuel to make it to the end like Herta, who finished fourth ahead of his Andretti Autosport teammate Grosjean in fifth.

Veekay’s massive second stint put him right back in the hunt after having to pit much earlier than the other leaders on his first stop, recovering to finish in a stellar sixth place. The Ed Carpenter Racing driver spent the entire offseason re-working every detail of his setup, and the hard work paid off in St. Pete.

Rahal came home seventh after a very strong weekend, with Dixon in eighth finishing highest of those on the three-stop strategy. Dixon’s teammate Ericsson had a great start to the race running in the top five, but the pit road penalty set him back massively. He recovered, however, to finish ninth.

Rounding out the top ten was Takuma Sato in his first race for Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing. The two-stop strategy helped him jump up twelve positions after starting twenty-second.

Simon Pagenaud, Newgarden, and Rossi were some of the big names that lost out massively thanks to the three-stop, finishing fifteenth, sixteenth, and twentieth respectively.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing‘s Christian Lundgaard leads the Rookie of the Year battle after the first round, finishing eleventh in his first race at St. Pete. His teammate Jack Harvey recovered from poor qualifying and a practice crash to finish thirteenth in his debut for the team.

Welcome back IndyCar, we missed you.

The next race will take place at Texas Motor Speedway for the XPEL 375 on 20 March, 2022.

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
(R) – Rookie
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Lifelong sports junkie, currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Hofstra University. Lead writer for Indycar at The Checkered Flag.
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