Be Surprised, No More

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If you were surprised that Scott McLaughlin won the pole for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, you were probably surprised the he won the race. Let this be the last time. He’s here to stay.

Last season, a second-year driver won the opening race of the season and went on to win the championship. The 2022 season has started with another second-year driver winning the season-opener. Might we see Scott McLaughlin hoisting the Astor Challenge Trophy at the end of the season in September? Time will tell.

This was a really good race. It looked good in person, and I hear it looked good on TV as well. McLaughlin started on pole and led the first twenty-seven laps. But there was so much going on behind him. Will Power got shuffled back from his second starting spot, back to fourth by the second turn. There was a lot of jockeying for position behind him.

Some drivers were forced to an alternate pit strategy as they started back in the field, and were hoping for some yellows to fall the right way. they didn’t. There was only one caution in the entire race; on Lap 25, when David Malukas hit the wall coming out of Turn Three, then skated across the track for another hard hit on the other side of the car. Lap 25 was within the pit window, so many cars were forced to pit under the yellow.

Although McLaughlin led the most laps in the race (49), Scott Dixon led the second most (26). However, he was trying an alternate fuel strategy that saw him pit from the lead on Lap 66. Dixon finished eighth.

Last year’s champion, Alex Palou, did not make life easy for McLaughlin. For the last twenty laps, Palou closed in until he was right there with McLaughlin. The tired and overuse “Catching him is one thing, passing him is another” actually came into play here. Palou tried everything he could, including making an outside move on the final turn before heading down the straightaway, just behind McLaughlin as he took the checkered flag.

McLaughlin’s first career IndyCar victory provided one of the more humorous scenes I’ve seen in Victory Lane. I took a video of his car pulling into Victory Lane and kept it running as he climbed out of the car. As he jumped, he said his legs turned to jelly as he hit the ground and collapsed. After the post race press conference, I overheard McLaughlin telling someone that climbing out of the car was the hardest part of the race.

The post-race press conference was like a visit to a comedy club. Will Power was in rare form, as he made wise cracks about IndyCar not properly using the blue flag. He also said that “Jimmie Johnson was third, or at least he was racing like he was racing for third”. Power’s brother is a professional comedian, but Will’s sarcastic wit would be hard to match. (All photos by Susan)

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Congratulations to the organizers of this event. The local stations here says they were planning on a record crowd. We were here in 2019, and I know today’s crowd was much bigger. The fans seemed to have a good time and it was very well-organized. The weather certainly cooperated. I don’t think we saw a single cloud all weekend, and the temperature was in the mid-80s each day. If you want to attend a race and get out of the misery of winter, like what we left behind in Nashville – try and come to this race. We had an absolute blast!

Congratulations also to Team Penske and Scott McLaughlin, for what will probably be the first of many, many IndyCar victories.

Winner

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This will do it for us this weekend. I will have my usual Random Thoughts on Monday. Thanks for following along all weekend as we kicked off another IndyCar season on Oilpressure.com. Our next race to attend in person will be the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, at the end of April. But I’ll continue to post here each Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

George & Susan Phillips

4 Responses to “Be Surprised, No More”

  1. Bruce Waine Says:

    Scott Dixon ……………………..

    Have we begun to see the passing of the torch by Scott at Ganassi Racing?

  2. Another funny moment on TV was when McLaughlin was being interviewed as he was sitting on the sidepod of his car. He took a swig of water then said “My butt’s getting burned” and quickly stood up. The TV crew did a good job in my opinion. I think they captured most of the moments that we needed to follow what was happening. I am happy you and Susan were able to go and had a good time.

    • I agree that the race and broadcast of the race was great. The addition of James Hinchcliffe in the booth offers a true perspective from the driver’s viewpoint and team insights that has been missing since Jon Beekhuis held a microphone for IndyCar / CART races. James in the booth plus Jon in the pits would be even better. Get Jon back NBC.

  3. Talón de Brea Says:

    I’m so glad the event has survived and thrived following the sudden shutdown two years ago, a switch to the end of the season, and the earlier calendar date this year.

    When I wrote to you three years ago, George, that St. Pete had a small-scale “spring training” feel to it, I was in no way belittling it (I meant it in a good way — it’s one of my two “home” Indycar tracks, and I’ve liked my races there a lot) — just pointing out how Long Beach is just “more” in terms of attendees, track length, history, concessions, etc., for better or for worse.

    Now it seems that St. Pete keeps growing up — on TV it certainly looked like a big-time event in a scenic location. Kudos to St. Petersburg and the race organizers for making this work … if we can’t have a warm-weather foreign fly-away season opener, this is a solution that to me is at least as good, possibly better (plus relatively convenient travel distance for George and Susan!).

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