IndyCar News | Masterful Scott McLaughlin sets up IndyCar title showdown
Scott McLaughlin put up a clinic in the penultimate race of the IndyCar series, dominating the Portland Grand Prix.
The Kiwi led home teammate Will Power for a Team Penske one-two while Scott Dixon put in a classy performance of his own for Chip Ganassi Racing, moving from 16th to third.
In what was a relatively straightforward race for McLaughlin, the #3 driver led 104 of the 110-lap race distance and never looked troubled on his way to a third series victory.
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“The Freightliner Chevy all weekend was really fast and was there when we needed it,” McLaughlin said.
“The team, the Thirsty Threes, did the job in the pits. I’m really proud of them.
“We did exactly what we had to do this weekend and that was win, get the maximum points and stay in the fight.
“Yeah, we’re a long shot, I don’t care, but we’re a shot. I can’t wait to be there.”
McLaughlin is 41 points off the championship lead with one race remaining having entered the penultimate race of the year 54 points behind.
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It was a scintillating second year for the three-time Supercars champion, who came out of the Touring Car Championship and into IndyCar without any single-seater experience.
“When Roger [Penske] and Tim [Cindric] gave me the opportunity to come here, I was grateful for that, but that was my next step, my next challenge,” McLaughlin said.
“I took it very seriously. I knew it was going to be difficult but I thought that one day I could win.
“The ultimate is obviously to win a championship and a[n Indianapolis] 500 and I’m not going to stop until I get one – or at least both.
“It’s a long way to climb, but you have to have goals. It’s the same for everyone, you just have to have dreams, dream big and try to achieve it.”
From the front of the field, McLaughlin set the pace of the race by taking the hole in the chicane and heading away from the field.
Points leader Power was quickly dethroned for second place as Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Christian Lundgaard rounded his outside at turn two.
Andretti Autosport’s Romain Grosjean was swept away in the first lap melee. A pass around the outside of AJ Foyt Racing’s Dixon and Kyle Kirkwood ended with the Frenchman off the road and shortening turn five.
At the end of the first lap, it was McLaughlin who led Lundgaard, Power, Pato O’Ward, Alex Palou, David Malukas, Felix Rosenqvist, Colton Herta, Alexander Rossi and Josef Newgarden – the latter who gave up two places at the start.
McLaughlin quickly took a three-second lead. The first series of pit stops began on lap 12 when Grosjean ducked for the lane. At the point, McLaughlin ran long, waiting until lap 21 to make his first save.
Once the pitstop streak was over, McLaughlin held a four-second advantage over Marcus Ericsson, Power, Lundgaard and O’Ward out of sequence.
The second stint of the race saw Newgarden rise through the pack after a slow start to proceedings, finishing fifth.
The second set of pit stops went without much significant movement in the pecking order.
The biggest stop of all came on lap 79 when McLaughlin, Power, O’Ward and Newgarden all pitted at the same time.
At the time, McLaughlin held a 3.7 second lead over Power, although this fell to just over a second after Felix Rosenqvist knocked the race leader out of the pits.
The race was uneventful until lap 82 when a bizarre clash between Rinus VeeKay and Jimmie Johnson ended with the latter in the wall.
The two men were side by side in the first corner when VeeKay fell on Johnson’s bow, made contact with his right front wheel, which sent him flying into the adjacent wall.
“It’s a crazy decision,” said Indianapolis 500 pole winner turned pundit James Hinchcliffe.
“Rinus VeeKay just assumed that Jimmie was going to lift at that time and not carry his line in that corner. Very surprising. Jimmie is as surprised as anyone.”
At the time of the safety car, McLaughlin was ahead of Power, O’Ward, Newgarden, Alexander Rossi, Scott Dixon, Graham Rahal, Colton Herta, VeeKay and Lundgaard.
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For the incident, VeeKay was given a passing penalty.
McLaughlin led the field to the green with 22 laps to go. Behind him, Power had a bad jaunt, opening the door for O’Ward to rush into the first corner.
All hell broke loose when the Mexican slammed into Power’s side. Behind them, Newgarden and Rossi passed each other. In all of this, Dixon slid by the two Americans before showing his nose to O’Ward who blocked in turn three.
For bouldering, the McLaren SP was asked to give up third place to Dixon and began to fall into Rahal’s clutches.
That scrum gave McLaughlin a free kick, leading by 1.3 seconds
On the harder compound tire, Newgarden started to give up positions as they went. He lost to Rahal, Herta, Rossi and Lundgaard with less than 20 laps to go.
With 16 laps to go, Lungaard lost eighth place as he tried to pass Rossi in the chicane at turn one.
The Danish driver overshot the bend and hit one of the billboards which got stuck under his front nose cone, forcing him to stop.
In the end, McLaughlin held on to take the checkered flag, winning by 1.1 seconds over Power. Dixon threatened to take second place from Power but ultimately settled for third place.
O’Ward finished fourth ahead of Rahal, Herta, Rossi, Newgarden, Callum Ilott and Rosenqvist.
With just one race remaining in the 2022 season, Power leads with 523 points while Newgarden and Dixon are tied for second, 20 points adrift.
With 11th place, Marcus Ercisson is still in the mathematical race, although at 39 Power points.
McLaughlin is the last of those in the title picture, sitting in fifth place and 41 points off the lead.
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