Three-time Australian V8 Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin started his second IndyCar campaign with a bang at St Petersburg, FL.
Scott McLaughlin’s Good Start
Scott McLaughlin scored his maiden pole with a stunning lap in the dying seconds of qualifying. Having been the only driver to break the 1-minute barrier in Practice 2, the Kiwi delivered and edged IndyCar veteran and teammate, Will Power by 2-tenths.
He masterfully defended from a fast-charging Colton Herta at the start, who climbed to P2 and made a lunge outside into turn one. McLaughlin kept his cool and sprinted away after turn three and four. He created a commanding 12-second gap to Herta in P3 after 24 laps. On lap 25, Indy Lights Vice-Champion and rookie David Malukas lost the rear of his Dale Coyne HMD Honda and caused the Safety Car to bunch up the field. All cars in the top seven followed each other into the pits, but not all of them made it out unscathed. Marcus Ericsson had an unsafe release and touched Romain Grosjean and Graham Rahal in the pitlane. There was no damage to all three cars, and the field restarted with the net leaders all on prime tires.
The tire degradation in the next 35 laps was under control by all teams in the top 12. No one struggled with the performance of their tires, even those on options. Things only got serious when Alex Palou attempted an overcut on McLaughlin. The Kiwi made a heroic out lap on cold tires and fended off the defending champion, who came out only half a second behind him.
McLaughlin, however, was in control of the race and pulled another gap on Palou in the next 20 laps. Lap 87, the duo encountered lapped traffic of Jimmie Johnson, who is Palou’s teammate. He tried to stay on the lead lap while conveniently holding up the No.2 DEX Imaging Penske. McLaughlin threaded the needle with a risky move down the inside of turn one to pass the NASCAR veteran.
The gap between the duo was around seven-tenths for the next ten laps. They encountered two more lapped cars and were not eligible for blue flags on both occasions. Tatiana Calderon duly moved off the racing line for both, but not DeFrancesco. He struggled to get past the rookie, and Palou was as close as three tenths to McLaughlin. But he stayed calm and delivered the win.
Sign of Things to Come?
The Kiwi emotionally celebrated with his family through videoconference, who he had not seen in two years due to the pandemic. He added: “Thank you to Roger Penske, everyone. Yeah, DEX Imaging jumping on board, trusting me, and then Roger Penske and Tim Cindric for allowing me to come here.”
Like his Spanish rival, Scott McLaughlin earned his first series win in the season opener, in his second season. He also started a new partnership with race engineer Ben Bretzman. Can he replicate Palou’s achievement?. Stay tuned for the second round at the Texas Motor Speedway, March 20 on NBC.
Race results here.
TOP IMAGE: Chris Jones/Penske Entertainment