Win Has McLaughlin Thinking Ahead

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, September 5 2022

Scott McLaughlin was the best in the Northwest on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Admittedly a longshot to win the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series driver’s title, Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin is trending as the early/sexy choice as “next year’s champion.”

Scotty Mac made winning look easy Sunday during the Grand Prix of Portland, dominating the schedule’s penultimate round en route to his third career INDYCAR victory. McLaughlin led 104 of 110 laps around Portland (Ore.) International Raceway to finish 1.1792-seconds in front of teammate/point-leader Will Power.

McLaughlin will be one of five drivers eligible to win the Astor Challenge Cup at the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on Sunday, Sept. 11, at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. That group includes Power and Josef Newgarden of Team Penske and Scott Dixon and Marcus Ericsson, both of arch-rival Chip Ganassi Racing.

The 2014 series champion, Power can clinch his second INDYCAR crown by finishing third or better, regardless of his rivals’ results. Power’s lead grew Sunday from three to 20 points over Newgarden, the series champion in 2017 and 2019. Six-time series champ Dixon also is 20 points back but third in the standings due to fewer wins this season than Newgarden. Ericsson is fourth, 39 points back. McLaughlin is fifth, 41 points behind Power.

“Yeah, we’re a longshot. I don’t care,” said McLaughlin, driver of the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet. “But we’re a shot, and I’m looking forward to it.”

A driver had to be within 54 points of leader Power and his No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet after the event at PIR to remain title-eligible. That circumstance eliminated reigning series champion Alex Palou of CGR and Spain and Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren SP from contention.

McLaughlin drove to his third career IndyCar Series pole _ all this season _ with a hot lap of 58.2349-seconds/121.412 mph during Saturday’s Firestone Fast Six. McLaughlin earned his first career series victory from P1 at the season-opener in late February on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., and finished second after claiming his second career pole in August on the Streets of Nashville.

“The Freightliner Chevy all weekend has been fast and has been right there when we needed it,” said McLaughlin, a 29-year-old native of New Zealand in his second INDYCAR season. “The team _ the Thirsty 3’s _ got the job done in the pits. We did exactly what we needed to do this weekend, and that was win and get max points and keep ourselves in the fight.”

This marks the 17th consecutive season the series championship remains undecided until the finale. It’s also the first time since 2017 that at least five drivers will race for the Astor Challenge Cup at the final race. Seven drivers held mathematical title hopes with one race to go that year, but double points were awarded at the finale at Sonoma Raceway in California, expanding the group of title-eligible drivers, unlike this season.

McLaughlin, a three-time Australian V8 Supercars champion, has made huge strides during his second season of open-wheel competition in the No. 3 car previously linked to popular Brazilian Helio Castroneves.

“I think what we’re doing right now is building for a massive year next year,” McLaughlin said. “I haven’t finished out of the top-five or top-four for the last six events or something. I’m feeling really strong. There’s no reason why this can’t be great momentum for next year, and yeah, I feel like I’m driving the best I ever have in my whole career right now. I feel really comfortable and comfortable with the team. That’s what you need to tackle championships, especially in the series.”

McLaughlin reiterated he understands how team/series-owner Roger Penske expects his drivers to conduct themselves, especially against each other on-track.

“I think it’s all circumstantial. I think I’m a Penske driver,” McLaughlin said. “I fit the mold, and if I need to do what I need to do, I am a full team player. Yeah, ideally, I would love to just go, but for me I need to pole and race-win and have some fun. If things happen, yeah, I’m ready to do what I need to do for the team.

“I have nothing to lose, but at the same time I want to do the best job for my team. I don’t need to be a Kamikaze or anything like that, but I just need to focus on what I’m doing…and have a good run. Ideal weekend is a pole/race-win. It’s no doubt that I can go to Laguna Seca and win, and I’m ready to do that.”

Power downplayed his 20-point cushion over Newgarden and Dixon after recording his second runnerup result of the season, eighth podium of 2022 and 93rd top-three of a distinguished domestic career.

“We’ve got to come up to Laguna seriously ready,” said Power, a 41-year-old native of Australia who began driving fulltime for “The Captain” in 2010. “Yeah, as you know, in this series it switches incredibly quickly. Got to be smart.

“I want to win this championship for the guys that have been with me for more than a decade. It’s a lot less selfish for me this time around because they deserve it. I feel their pain over the years of losing so many, so I would love to win it for them.”

Newgarden started and finished eighth in the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet after incurring a six-position grid penalty for an engine change following his victory last month on the World Wide Technology Raceway oval in Madison, Ill. 

“At this point, it just kind of is what it is,” said Newgarden, a 31-year-old resident of Nashville, addressing the finale. “We’re going to try to win that race (at Laguna Seca) and go for broke. It’s been kind of a weird year. Everyone has done such a great job on this No. 2 car. I’m so proud and happy with everybody. They’ve really put a good effort together. It’s either been winning the race or some weird luck has happened. I don’t know how Laguna is going to play-out. We’re going to go and play to win. We’ll see what happens.”

Dixon finished third in the No. 9 Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda after starting 16th, sustaining his hopes for a record-tying seventh season championship alongside open-wheel icon A.J. Foyt Jr. “We’re still in the fight,” said Dixon, 42, and a fellow-New Zealander to McLaughlin. “Anything is possible. We’ve won on tiebreakers before. We’re in it, and we won’t ever give up as a team until it’s over.”

O’Ward, a native of Mexico, finished fourth in his No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. Graham Rahal rounded-out the top five in the No. 15 Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

McLaughlin dominated the event’s early portions after starting on Firestone’s alternate (red) tire, as did six of the top-10 drivers. His rivals tried various tire strategies between the alternates and black primaries hoping to find an edge that never came. McLaughlin’s cause was aided by a “clean” race. Despite pre-race driver anxiety about possible carnage in the tight Turn 1 complex on Lap 1, every driver made it through Calamity Corner without incident.

That fact helped pole-sitter McLaughlin stretch his lead to nearly 7.5-seconds over Power by Lap 33. “The car felt really good on that first stint, but as the race went on it got a little bit worse,” McLaughlin said. “So, I just had to work on concentrating where I wanted the strengths of the car and work with those, and the weaknesses, just try to make the best of them.”

Power pulled to within 4.4-seconds of McLaughlin by Lap 71, with Power, McLaughlin and Newgarden making their final pit stops on Lap 80 _ when it appeared this may be the first caution-free race at Portland since 2007.

But McLaughlin’s healthy lead was erased, giving his rivals hope on a restart, during the lone caution on Lap 84. Rinus VeeKay’s No. 21 Chevrolet fielded by Ed Carpenter Racing clipped the No. 48 Honda of CGR’s Jimmie Johnson while overtaking on the front straightway before Turn 1. The impact sent Johnson’s car slamming into the outside wall. Johnson was uninjured, but his race was over.

On the ensuing restart on Lap 88, McLaughlin darted away from the field. Power held second but not until his title hopes perhaps flashed before his eyes after O’Ward made an “optimistic” dive under the No. 12 Chevy into Turn 1, jolting the car’ sidepod. Both drivers continued after contact, albeit with damage to the aerodynamic flip-up in front of O’Ward’s left rear wheel. Race officials also judged that O’Ward had blocked Dixon after his contact with Power, and Pato was forced to surrender third place to Dixon.

“I was pretty calm about everything,” said McLaughlin, referring to that series of events. “I knew I just had to get a reasonable run off the last corner and try and break the tow a little bit going into Turn 1, but didn’t want to overshoot Turn 1. Then I saw in my mirror that Pato and Will were side-by-side. It looked dicey. When I saw that happen, I knew the first lap for me was going to be huge to try and break a gap.

“That’s exactly what happened. I got to 1.6-seconds, and that’s sort of how it was the rest of the race. That was really my time that I had to make up. I had to make hay on that lap, and we did.”

From there, McLaughlin managed a gap over Power of about 1.1-seconds for the final 22 trips around the 1.964-mile/12-turn permanent road-course. McLaughlin will split a $10,000 bonus with his team and a charity of his choice as race winner and part of the PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge.

The chase for the championship isn’t the only issue to be decided Sunday in scenic Monterey. Christian Lundgaard leads David Malukas by just five points, 293-288, in pursuit of the series’ Rookie of the Year honor. Chicagoan Malukas finished 14th in the No. 18 Honda fielded by Dale Coyne Racing, with Denmark’s Lundgaard 21st in the No. 30 Honda fielded by RLLR.

Benjamin Pedersen finished the job Sunday in the Indy Lights Grand Prix of Portland, while Linus Lundqvist still has work to do to reach his ultimate goal.

Danish native Pedersen, who grew up in Seattle, earned his first career Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires victory to complete a dominant weekend at Portland International Raceway in the No. 24 Global Racing Group with HMD car. Pedersen’s inaugural series win came in his 32nd career Lights start and capped a weekend that saw him qualify on-pole.

“Definitely a dream,” Pedersen said. “We were fastest in every session this week. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before, but at a home event where I grew up, in Seattle, only a couple hours from here, a bunch of local support. It’s just so awesome. I’ve loved every minute. I’m so relieved, so thankful.”

Native Australian Matthew Brabham finished second in the No. 83 Andretti Autosport car, 0.9651-seconds behind Pedersen, to sustain his slim title hopes. Championship leader Lundqvist needed to leave this race with a 109-point pad to clinch his first Indy Lights title. But Lundqvist is 103 points ahead of Brabham after finishing third in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing car.

The season will end with a doubleheader on Saturday, Sept. 10, and Sunday, Sept. 11, at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Lundqvist needs to lead by at least 54 points after Saturday’s race to clinch.

While Lundqvist almost certainly will hoist the 2022 championship trophy next weekend in Monterey, Calif., the weekend in the Pacific Northwest belonged to Pedersen. He led all 35 laps around PIR’s 1.964-mile/12-turn permanent road-course. The only issues slowing Pedersen were two caution periods for separate incidents. Otherwise, Pedersen never was challenged on either restart.

Brabham _son of former IMSA and INDYCAR driver Geoff Brabham and grandson of three-time Formula One World Driving Champion Sir Jack Brabham _ inherited second after showing the wisdom of a series veteran during a three-way joust for second on Lap 6 immediately after a restart.

Danial Frost, Christian Rasmussen and Brabham darted around each other for position on the first full lap after the restart. Brabham wisely backed off while Rasmussen and Frost went side-by-side into the fast Turn 11. The two cars touched, and Frost’s No. 68 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing car speared into the tire barrier while Rasmussen’s No. 27 Road to Indy/Stellrecht car was forced across the grass onto the escape road.

Frost was uninjured in his race-ending crash, while Rasmussen continued and finished seventh. That fracas elevated Brabham to second and Lundqvist to third, where they held serve for the rest of the race. Lundqvist never mounted a challenge to Brabham over the closing 28 laps, finishing 5.4-seconds behind his closest championship rival to earn his ninth podium finish in 12 starts this season.

“It’s all right,” Lundqvist said. “You always want a little more, you want to win every race if you can, but we just didn’t really have the pace this weekend. Benjamin has been on it since session one. Congratulations to him. It’s always a good feeling to get that first win under your belt.

“But from our side, it was all right. Happy to get away with a podium. We’ll take the points. Obviously, it would have been nice to finish ahead of Brabham and be finished with it, but we’ll see. We still have a good gap and we’re going to Laguna with some good energy.”

Flinn Lazier, son of 1996 Indianapolis 500 and 2000 Indy Racing League champion Buddy Lazier, made his series debut in the No. 15 Abel Motorsports entry by starting and finishing 12th. Lazier finished last after opening lap contact with Christian Bogle and Frost.


Results Sunday of the Grand Prix of Portland NTT IndyCar Series event on the 1.964-mile/12-turn Portland (Ore.) International Raceway permanent road-course, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

  1. (1) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 110, Running
    2. (2) Will Power, Chevrolet, 110, Running
    3. (16) Scott Dixon, Honda, 110, Running
    4. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 110, Running
    5. (11) Graham Rahal, Honda, 110, Running
    6. (7) Colton Herta, Honda, 110, Running
    7. (9) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 110, Running
    8. (8) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 110, Running
    9. (14) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 110, Running
    10. (6) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 110, Running
    11. (18) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 110, Running
    12. (4) Alex Palou, Honda, 110, Running
    13. (13) Kyle Kirkwood, Chevrolet, 110, Running
    14. (10) David Malukas, Honda, 110, Running
    15. (17) Jack Harvey, Honda, 110, Running
    16. (24) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 110, Running
    17. (21) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 110, Running
    18. (22) Takuma Sato, Honda, 110, Running
    19. (15) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 110, Running
    20. (12) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 110, Running
    21. (3) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 110, Running
    22. (25) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 109, Running
    23. (19) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 100, Running
    24. (23) Jimmie Johnson, Honda, 82, Contact
    25. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 67, Mechanical

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 111.493 mph
Time of Race: 01:56:15.6892
Margin of victory: 1.1792-seconds
Cautions: 1 for 4 laps
Lead changes: 9 among 4 drivers

Lap Leaders
McLaughlin, Scott 1 – 20
Lundgaard, Christian 21
Rahal, Graham 22
Ilott, Callum 23
McLaughlin, Scott 24 – 47
Power, Will 48
Rahal, Graham 49
McLaughlin, Scott 50 – 78
Power, Will 79
McLaughlin, Scott 80 – 110

NTT IndyCar Series point-standings (top-10) _ 1, Will Power, Team Penske, 523; 2, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 503; 3, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 503; 4, Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing, 484; 5, Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske, 482; 6, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, 457; 7, Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP, 456; 8, Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport, 362; 9, Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport, 361; 10, Felix Rosenqvist, Arrow McLaren SP, 360.

Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires point standings (top-10) _ 1, Linus Lundqvist, 515; 2, Matthew Brabham, 412; 3, Hunter McElrea, 401; 4, Sting Ray Robb, 389; 5, Benjamin Pedersen, 385; 6, Christian Rasmussen, 346; 7, Danial Frost, 330; 8, Jacob Abel. 293; 9, Kyffin Simpson. 276; 10, Ernie Francis Jr., 263.

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 (1995) 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 includes Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y.) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service, Ford Racing and Used Car Dealer magazine).


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, September 5 2022
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