McLaughlin Leads IndyCar Into 2022 Season

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 27 2022

Scott McLaughlin celebrates his IndyCar pole victory in St. Pete. (Photo by Michael L. Levitt/LAT for Chevy Racing)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

A self-described “competitive bloke,” native New Zealander Scott McLaughlin admittedly spent too much of his rookie NTT IndyCar Series season traffic-jammed at the back end of the starting grid.

Fast-forward to Saturday afternoon and qualifying for the 2022 season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. McLaughlin earned his first career NTT P1 Award by leading the Firestone Fast Six with a lap of 59.4821-seconds/108.940 mph in his debut race with Team Penske engineer Ben Bretzman.

“I love qualifying. You’ve got to put it all on the line,” said McLaughlin, 28, a three-time Australian V8 Supercars champion now racing without fenders. “I’m a competitive bloke so I hate starting at the back. At the end of the day, it’s a new thing for me.”

McLaughlin’s pole in the No. 3 DEX Imaging Chevrolet paced a front-row lockout by Team Penske. Will Power _ a nine-time pole-winner on the Streets of St. Pete _ qualified second at 59.6058-seconds/108.714 mph in the No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet, surrendering the top spot on McLaughlin’s final trip around the 1.8-mile/14-turn temporary street circuit.

Power also has three outside front row starts on the Florida layout. During the Q2 Fast 12 session, the native of Australia set a new track record of 59.3466-seconds. The previous mark was 1-minute, .0476-seconds by Jordan King in 2018.

“I was very happy up until the last run,” Power said. “I was like P1, P1, P1, P2. But it was good. Honestly, I feel like I got the most out of the session. I guess there’s not much I could have done. What I could have done in the last one was to fuel for just one lap and may have had a shot.

“It’s just much better than last year. Last year was P20, so here’s to starting further up the front and hopefully the first corner is good. Many names went through my head who were behind me then. I’m like, ‘There’s some potential for a bit of mayhem there.’^”

McLaughlin scored the 285th pole for Team Penske in INDYCAR competition, and 112th pole (earned and awarded) since Chevrolet returned to the series in 2012 with the 2.2-liter, V6 twin-turbo direct injected engine. It also was the eighth pole for Team Chevy since 2012 at this event. 

Live coverage of the 100-lapper will start at noon (EST) Sunday on NBC, Telemundo Deportes on Universo and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

McLaughlin will lead a field of 26 cars to the green flag for the first time in his open-wheel career. His best start in 2021 was fifth for the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course _ Scott’s only single-digit qualifying performance on either a street or road course all season.

“I’ll be starting from the front and leading a group to the first corner,” McLaughlin said. “I’m used to braking with people in front of me, so I have to make sure I don’t overshoot it like an idiot. We’ll have fun.

“I’m working really well with Ben Bretzman. Ben is a legend. We said we could do it. I’m really proud. I know mom and dad will be watching at home, so this is awesome.”

Colton Herta, the defending event champion from Andretti Autosport, was the leading Honda-powered driver in third after turning a top lap of 59.7104-seconds/108.524 mph in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda. Rinus VeeKay of Ed Carpenter Racing qualified fourth at 59.8102-seconds/108.343 mph in the No. 21 SONAX Chevrolet.

“I knew we had a good race car for here, and we got through the first two (qualifying) stages nice and clean,” Herta said. “Couldn’t get the perfectly clean lap we needed in the Fast Six at the end. We’re in a good position; I can’t wait to get the season going.”

Frenchman Romain Grosjean rebounded from an accident during practice Saturday morning to qualify fifth at 59.8116-seconds/108.340 mph in his debut in the No. 28 DHL Honda fielded by Andretti Autosport.

“Qualifying was OK,” said Grosjean, a former Formula One regular set to launch his second INDYCAR season. “We still have a bit more speed we can get out of the car to get it to my liking, but the car was really good, very smooth to drive.

“I know Andretti has got a brilliant car on all the street courses. With Olivier (Boisson, his engineer last year at Dale Coyne Racing), we had a really good car on road courses. Ovals, I know Andretti has got a good car, as well. I think with all of us working together we can get something good. I’m happy that I’ve got really fast teammates. That’s going to push me to get better.”

Frenchman Simon Pagenaud, formerly of Team Penske, rounded-out the Firestone Fast Six at 1-minute, .2041-seconds in the No. 60 AutoNation/Sirius XM Honda fielded by Meyer Shank Racing. Pagenaud is paired at MSR this season with native Brazilian/former Penske mate Helio Castroneves, the four-time/reigning Indianapolis 500 champion.

Reigning series champion Alex Palou, a native of Spain, will start 10th after his best lap of 59.9584-seconds/108.075 mph in the No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

McLaughlin’s pole was an immediate dividend on the offseason pairing of McLaughlin and Bretzman. “It’s been an interesting offseason with a big transition for both of us,” Bretzman said. “We’ve put a lot of work in, a lot of ‘How are we going to do this together and what do we need to learn together?’ I’m super-proud of him. The speed has always been there, it’s how do you extract it? So far, so good.

“When we unloaded, all that work that we did over the offseason really came to fruition. We were quick right off the truck, and then I knew we could do something. I’m pretty excited. A lot of work went into this so I’m really proud of everybody.”

McLaughlin said he is confident he now will be able to push championship-winning teammates Power and Josef Newgarden in a lineup trimmed from four cars to three after the 2021 season by team-and-series owner Roger Penske.

“It’s important, and I’m right there,” McLaughlin said. “It’s important that I push these guys because it’s only going to make them better and it’s only going to make me better, as well, as a team. Yeah, pumped to be able to put it together. We showed some speed last year and I was just getting better and better as the car went on. I think rolling out with a car that suited me from the get-go was important.

“We worked very hard on this track with the simulator. Thankfully this simulator has been fantastic for that, and getting me to a great baseline setup that I’ve really only touched a little bit here and there just tweaking it trying to figure out what was right.

“I know what I’m driving out there and I’m able to just punch out the laps and find the time within myself, which is exactly what I did in that Q3 lap. I put together a lap that I had worked on the whole session and didn’t quite get it right; looked at a bit of Will’s data, looked at a bit of Josef’s and just put it together. Didn’t panic. And I guess experience. You can’t buy experience. I’m certainly feeling really comfortable now in the series and in the car.”


Qualifying results for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding NTT IndyCar Series event on the 1.8-mile/14-turn Streets of St. Petersburg circuit, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, engine, time and speed in parentheses:

  1. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 59.4821 (108.940 mph)
    2. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 59.6058 (108.714)
    3. (26) Colton Herta, Honda, 59.7104 (108.524)
    4. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 59.8102 (108.343)
    5. (28) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 59.8116 (108.340)
    6. (60) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 1:00.2041 (107.634)
    7. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 59.7579 (108.438)
    8. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 59.8241 (108.318)
    9. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 59.8862 (108.205)
    10. (10) Alex Palou, Honda, 59.9584 (108.075)
    11. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 59.9870 (108.023)
    12. (14) Kyle Kirkwood, Chevrolet, 1:00.2616 (107.531)
    13. (27) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 59.9931 (108.012)
    14. (4) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 59.9521 (108.086)
    15. (30) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 1:00.0276 (107.950)
    16. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 1:00.0021 (107.996)
    17. (06) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 1:00.1426 (107.744)
    18. (29) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 1:00.0850 (107.847)
    19. (77) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 1:00.2121 (107.620)
    20. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 1:00.1921 (107.655)
    21. (7) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 1:00.3918 (107.299)
    22. (51) Takuma Sato, Honda, 1:00.2930 (107.475)
    23. (45) Jack Harvey, Honda, 1:00.5333 (107.049)
    24. (18) David Malukas, Honda, 1:00.4601 (107.178)
    25. (11) Tatiana Calderon, Chevrolet, 1:00.9391 (106.336)
    26. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Honda, 1:01.0273 (106.182)

(Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1997) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients has included Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller-Times, NASCAR Wire Service and Ford Racing).


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 27 2022
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