Monday, June 5, 2023

Scott McLaughlin Claims Checkers After Spirited Battle With Romain Grosjean at Barber

Scott McLaughlin and Romain Grosjean celebrate their results after the Children's of Alabama Indy Grand Prix at Barber Motorsports Park.
Scott McLaughlin and Romain Grosjean celebrate their results after the Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix at Barber Motorsports Park. Photo courtesy of James Black/Penske Entertainment.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.— After the final pit stops in Sunday’s Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix at Barber Motorsports Park, Scott McLaughlin and Romain Grosjean had another fight for an NTT IndyCar Series win on their hands.

The pair were running fourth and fifth at the time with the New Zealand native exiting the pits ahead of the Swiss-born Frenchman. As the pair went around the 17-turn, 2.3-mile natural terrain road course, Grosjean was on tires that were up to operating temperature while McLaughlin was trying to get his tires to that temperature window.

It was a mirror scenario to the season-opening race on the streets of St. Petersburg in March where both drivers lost their chance to win against the Turn 4 tire barrier. Both drivers knew this, but neither was willing to give an inch as they fought for the effective lead of the race.

As the pair approached Turn 15 on Lap 64 of 90, Grosjean backed off early to get a different line for Turns 16 and 17. The No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda went to McLaughlin’s left side and the pair had contact going through the final corner.

“Ultimately when Grosjean got me out of the pits, didn’t catch me by surprise. Well, he caught me napping,” McLaughlin said in the post-race press conference. “It was a great move by him.

“I think we touched when he passed me a little bit, but it was fair game. It was awesome racing, man. It was exactly what INDYCAR was. Yeah, ain’t no procession here, that’s for sure. It was a lot of fun.”

Grosjean ascended to the lead on Lap 66 after Will Power and Felix Rosenqvist pitted, but McLaughlin was close behind with a lot more push to pass boost remaining. One mistake on Grosjean’s part would open the Formula One veteran to attack from the three-time Supercars Champion.

That mistake happened on Lap 72. As Grosjean ran wide at the Turn 5 hairpin and the exit of Turn 6, McLaughlin went to the left side of the track and completed the pass as the pair approached Turn 8.

The No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet was now in the lead with no threat from behind. Try as he might, Grosjean was unable to match McLaughlin’s pace as the 2021 IndyCar Rookie of the Year scored his fourth IndyCar win of his career. Grosjean finished second, 1.78 seconds back with Will Power in third place.

McLaughlin and Grosjean knew what was at risk and they knew that the other would not give an inch more than was necessary.

“[Grosjean]’s got a never-give-up attitude. I think that’s why he’s been in F1 for so long, come over here and been quite successful,” McLaughlin said.

“At the end of the day you know you’re going to have a hard battle with him. I feel it’s give or take. If you give him nothing, he will give you nothing. It’s the whole tit for tat. I really enjoy racing him. No hard feelings.

“We spoke about what happened, yeah, and just get on with it. I’ve had great battles with him. I actually really enjoyed the battle today. It’s a lot of fun. Obviously I came out on top, but it’s still a lot of fun.”

Grosjean was complimentary of his fellow combatant, even though Sunday marked Grosjean’s fifth runner-up finish in IndyCar competition without a win.

“I know with Scott, a few guys out there that I’m really not worried about racing,” Grosjean said. “Scott made a mistake in St. Pete. I know he doesn’t race that way. It was all clean.

“It’s quite funny. He reminded me on the podium that last year I got him at the same spot. Next year I probably won’t get him there if he’s in front.”

McLaughlin is now fourth in IndyCar points, 11 behind points leader Marcus Ericsson. Grosjean is four points behind McLaughlin in points.

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