Scott McLaughlin fended off a late charge by Alex Palou to capture his first career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
After taking the first pole of his career on Saturday, McLaughlin comfortably controlled the start by leading the opening 26 laps of the 100-lap contest. Despite a caution on Lap 25 after rookie David Malukas found the Turn 3 wall, which stirred a blend of varied strategies throughout the field, McLaughlin maintained a presence throughout the top 10 until finding the lead for the final time on Lap 80.
Even still, there was a concern of hitting a fuel number in order to stretch the mileage all the way to the end. This allowed the Palou, the reigning IndyCar champion, to close while also being under a similar threat of stretching his fuel.
Palou stayed in the wake of the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet, holding a gap under one-second for the final 10 laps. As the laps ticked down the duo found traffic in the form of rookie Devlin DeFrancesco in the No. 29 Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport Honda. But, even with traffic making things harder on McLaughlin, he managed to hold the top spot and cross the finish line 0.5095 of a second ahead of Palou’s No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda to claim the resounding win.
“Thank you to Roger Penske and everyone,” said an exhausted McLaughlin. “DEX Imaging jumping on board, trusting me. And then Roger Penske and Tim Cindric giving me the opportunity to come here. I miss mom and dad dearly and my family, wish you guys were here. What a day! I’m out of breath.”
What a way to start your second NTT INDYCAR SERIES season.
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) February 27, 2022
McLaughlin followed that up with his thoughts on the intense battle at the end.
“Oh, man, it was crazy,” he added. “I really, really struggled those last couple laps just to keep my head and then save the fuel, and all that sort of stuff. But, we did it. Chevy gave us the fuel mileage. Driveability this weekend has been a change and to win DEX Imaging’s home race, it’s unreal. 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.”
McLaughlin was joined on the podium by his teammate, Will Power, who finished third in the No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet. The Andretti Autosport duo of Colton Herta and Romain Grosjean rounded out the rest of the top five.
Rinus VeeKay appeared to be on a strategy to possibly pull off a win, but couldn’t stretch his fuel mileage and had to make his final pit stop three laps shorter than needed. The 21-year-old Dutchman ended up sixth as a result, just ahead of Graham Rahal in seventh.
Six-time series champion Scott Dixon also appeared to be on a unique strategy to pull of the win. After pitting on Lap 11, he stayed out during the caution and cycled to second behind Alexander Rossi, who hadn’t made a pit stop. Once Rossi dove to pit lane on Lap 37, Dixon ended up with the lead and pulled a gap around the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit. He pitted again on Lap 48, but cycled back at the tail of the field where he lost some time on the strategy. He managed to find the lead once more on Lap 66, but the gap to the field knowing he had to pit again, which was on Lap 79, was too great to overcome and he ended up eighth.
Marcus Ericsson and Takuma Sato cleaned up the rest of the top 10 spots.
Christian Lundgaard took top rookie honors and put the No. 30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda in 11th, ahead of the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet of Pato O’Ward in 12th.