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Drama and happy endings: the top storylines from the Grand Prix of Alabama

Written by Caitlyn Gordon, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri

Credit: Joe Skibinski

Round three of the NTT IndyCar series headed southeast to commence the Grand Prix of Alabama. The week shaped up to be one of the most dramatic IndyCar weeks in recent memory with Team Penske under the spotlight for breaching push-to-pass rules, resulting in two of its drivers disqualified from the first round back in St. Petersburg

Come race day, drama continued with a thrilling caution-filled race and a mannequin looking to grab a drive around the Barber Motorsports Park! Let’s talk about some of the biggest stories coming out of the race weekend.

Redemption weekend for Team Penske

Credit: Joe Skibinski

The buildup to the Grand Prix of Alabama began with breaking news hitting the paddock, throwing Team Penske and its drivers under scrutiny. 

It was announced last week that Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin were disqualified from the St. Petersburg race, after it had been discovered that the pair had been using push-to-pass during the starts and restarts — a breach of the rules. 

The pair were each handed a $20,000 fine, plus getting disqualified from the race, which meant Newgarden dropped to 13th and McLaughlin to the bottom of the standings. 

Will Power, on the other hand, was found not to be complicit and hadn’t used any extra push-to-pass, meaning the Aussie was given a lighter penalty, with 10 points deducted from his overall score, along with a $20,000 fine. The news, of course, brought some negative light to the team and heading into the Alabama weekend, a lot of pressure rested on the drivers’ shoulders to bounce back. 

The team quickly silenced critics, with Newgarden topping the timing sheets in Practice 1 with a 1:06.7045. The team carried momentum into qualifying, with Power and McLaughlin setting top times and advancing through to the Fast 6 — Power’s second of the year, outdoing the total amount he entered last season. 

However, Newgarden couldn’t convert his practice times into a time worthy of making it to the Fast 6, knocking the American out, limiting him to eighth on the starting grid.

The Fast 6 was dominated by McLaughlin putting in an incredible time of 1:05.9490 — over half a second quicker than his teammate in second. As the time ticked down, and no other driver could out do the two Penske’s, the pair locked out the front row; a much needed boost for the team.

Sunday’s race was no different, with McLaughlin dominating, leading 58 out of the 90 laps. The Kiwi grabbed his second consecutive victory at Alabama, flying around the circuit, looking at home. The much-needed victory brought positivity and smiles to the Penske garage, with Power coming home and making it a 1-2 finish for the team. 

Linus Lundqvist, the star of the weekend

Credit: Joe Skibinski

Whilst Team Penske and McLaughlin dominated the headlines, a stand out star of the weekend was Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Linus Lundqvist. The young Swede started in 19th and ran on a unique strategy which played into his favour come the final stint of the race. 

He was one of the drivers on a three-stop strategy, however, switched from the hard primaries to the soft alternatives on lap 7, and ran those for the remainder of the 83 laps.

With the four total cautions which were brought out during the race, the strategy started to work for the 25-year-old, and he even led the race for four laps. 

When the third caution was flown, Lundqvist was running near the front and the only car now standing in his way from spraying champagne was Alex Palou. 

The Spaniard was running on the two-stopper strategy which by the final stint of the race, had to reduce his attack and resort to a fuel-saving mode. This made Lundqvist’s job of getting the position a lot easier and by lap 78, passed his teammate and entered the top three. 

“I was not the one being passed, which was nice. Obviously, we had a bit of everything in that race for us. We started obviously quite far back, in 19th. In the beginning it was just about basically saving fuel as much as we can, see what we can do later in the race.” Lundqvist explained to Autosport.

“When the guys came on the radio said I was third, I couldn't believe it. At the same time, I was passing people like Palou. They're usually high up, we can't be doing too bad.”

With only four laps to go, the fourth and final caution of the race was thrown, making the final two laps all to play for. Lundqvist was sitting at the rear of Power’s Penske and took this as an excellent opportunity to try to grab second place from the Penske ahead. 

Although he closed up, the Swede was unable to make the move and crossed the line in third, a valiant effort from the rookie who excelled throughout the race.


Agonising weekend for Arrow McLaren

Pato O’Ward pictured spinning off after looking to avoid Christian Lundgaard; Credits: Chris Owens

For the second weekend in a row, Arrow McLaren have had a weekend to forget. Long Beach was a tough one for Pato O’Ward, who collided into the back of Alexander Rossi, causing the pair to drop to the back of the grid and jeopardising both of their races, with Rossi sustaining some damage and having to retreat to the pits early on. 

The American was able to pull something out from the weekend finishing in 10th, but the same couldn’t be said for O’Ward, who finished in 16th after suffering from a drive through penalty and unable to bounce back. 

This made the weekend in Alabama more crucial for the Papaya team, hoping to get back up to the front and start fighting consistently within the top five. 

The weekend started off decently with O’Ward securing fourth in qualifying, Rossi and Pourchaire started down in 16th and 24th, respectively.

As the race began, O’Ward ran into issues early on, he ran onto the gravel after trying to avoid colliding with Christian Lundgaard, this dropped him down the pecking order. 

In pursuit to fix his mistake, O’Ward was aggressively driving around the circuit, looking to grab as many positions as possible, however, in doing so, the Mexican hit the curb on Turn 11, causing him to hit Pietro Fittipaldi, sending him spinning off into the barriers. 

The incident resulted in a penalty to the No.5 driver — who was adamant it was a ‘racing incident’. This dropped him down to the back of the field, where he would finish the race. 

On the final lap, he hit his teammate Theo Pourchaire, causing the Frenchman to spin around, luckily it wasn’t detrimental and he was able to continue and cross the finishing line in 22nd, one position ahead of O’Ward.

It wasn’t just the No.5 and 6 to have a difficult weekend, Rossi was running well throughout the race and gaining positions, until he made his way into pit lane where he put on a fresh pair of tyres. 

As he exited the pits, the problems started to arise when it became apparent that his left-rear wasn’t tightly secured, Rossi parked at the side of the circuit after his wheel went flying off his Arrow McLaren. The American subsequently had to retire from the race, making this an extremely difficult weekend for the team and one to forget.

David Malukas out for the season

Credit: Joe Skibinski

Following Arrow McLaren’s tough weekend, their No.6 driver, David Malukas, had been sitting on the sidelines with a wrist injury. 

In February, Malukas broke his left wrist after a mountain biking incident, meaning he would miss the start of his new racing chapter with Arrow McLaren. 

It was suspected that he could be returning for the Long Beach Grand Prix, however, it seemed recovery was taking longer than expected with the American only just getting his pins out a week ago — almost a month later than was thought. 

After the tough weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, Malukas was informed shortly after the race that he would be let go from the team, effective immediately. The reason was due to the uncertainty of when the 22-year-old would be returning to racing. 

Malukas underwent a surgery last week, however, no news has been announced of how it went, or when it is likely we could see the young driver return. The uncertainty triggered a clause in the No.6’s contract which stated he could not miss four races — subsequently, Malukas was let go from the team.

It still isn’t confirmed who will be taking the seat full-time but it is suspected that it will be split between both Callum Ilott and Theo Pourchaire, during weekends which do not collide with their current racing priorities in WEC and Super Formula respectively.

IndyCar now heads into the most prestigious month of the series, with the build up to the 108th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 26th. Between now and the 500, IndyCar heads to the road course for the Indy Grand Prix on the 11th of May with Practice and Qualifying for the 500 taking place the following week.


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