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IndyCar Drivers’ View: Mannequin attacks, bounce backs and maiden podiums

Written by Archie O'Reilly


A tumultuous week in the world of the NTT IndyCar Series has concluded with a thoroughly entertaining race full of on-track battles - with 289 on-track passes setting a record for the series at Barber Motorsports Park - and other memorable moments. Scott McLaughlin was the victor ahead of teammate Will Power after a “tough week” for Team Penske.


“I don’t want to sound cocky, but I certainly felt like we had a really fast race car,” McLaughlin said. “It was hopefully… we dropped it off at the track and [it was] okay. You just have to roll in with the confidence that you know what you’ve got as a race package. I hardly touched it from the start of Practice One to the end of the weekend.”


DIVEBOMB takes a look at some stories you may have missed from the weekend - from the podium-sitters and beyond…


“There’s a lady attacking me”


Barber Motorsports Park, famed for its iconic quirks in the form of unique statues and mannequins scattered around the track, may have played host to one of the most memorable moments of the IndyCar season. And we are only three championship rounds in.


One mannequin, affectionately known as Georgina, fell from a bridge above the track on Lap 52 of the 90-lap race. For those not familiar with Barber’s wonderful oddities, it may have been an initially alarming side to see a body slumped trackside. 


“Yellow comes out and there’s a lady lying on the side,” Power said with laughter in the post-race press conference. “You’re kidding me, there’s a yellow for that lady?”


It transpired that the caution, which some drivers thought was to clear up the mannequin, was actually due to Sting Ray Robb crashing heavily on the exit of the first corner. Though it did offer a convenient time for the AMR Safety Crew to tend to Georgina.


“That would have been funny if it came in someone’s cockpit… ‘There’s a lady attacking me!’” Power added. “I saw it. I knew exactly what it was. It was a lady hanging there. They’re going to have to seriously get some good cables.”


If he does not go on to have an extended IndyCar career, Dale Coyne Racing debutant Luca Ghiotto will at least be ingrained in IndyCar folklore for being the culprit of the loss of one of Georgina’s hands. The rookie could not avoid hitting the stricken doll - an unusual sight for any driver, let alone someone making his maiden appearance - in his No.51 machine.


A social media frenzy has ensued and Power even claimed that the now-recovered mannequin needs to somehow be preserved. 


“It should go in a glass case,” he said. “Preserve the body. Mummify it.”


The whole incident produced a litany of amusing slow-motion shots, including Georgina almost sticking the initial landing after the fall - seemingly out of thin air. James Hinchcliffe lost his composure in the NBC booth while AJ Foyt Racing President Larry Foyt was captured trying to hold back hysterics on the team’s pit stand.


Barber’s official X account played along and confirmed that Georgina was safely returned to the paddock to gain medical attention. Pictures then emerged of winner McLaughlin, along with a number of others, posing alongside the now-famous mannequin.


“I love the artistic stuff but it probably doesn’t need to be above the track,” McLaughlin said. “It’s probably what will change next year maybe. I do love that part of this. It’s unique. It’s just a fun track. If I lost to that, to a lady that fell off... I won’t say anymore.”


“Intense mental battle” for McLaughlin


McLaughlin admitted that the race was “an intense mental battle” - a line that also feels apt to describe Penske’s rocky week. McLaughlin was disqualified from his third-place finish in St. Pete for gaining an advantage amid a push-to-pass violation from the team, which illegally enabled its use on starts and restarts.


Responding to this scrutiny with a win was “certainly a little emotional” for McLaughlin.


“I just hope that I race with a lot of integrity, honesty,” he said. “What happened and transpired last week was just a mistake. It’s a human game as well. Hopefully we can win a few people back.”


McLaughlin admitted he even “had a number of people” message him to congratulate him on his sixth IndyCar pole despite questions over how fellow competitors would respond.


“I feel like it’s been pretty nice overall,” he said. “Obviously everyone had their emotions at the time. It was pretty raw initially. I think it’s been pretty nice and everyone has been really, really cool. Just press on, business as usual. I can’t control their emotions. It’s up to them.”


The battle for McLaughlin - both mental and physical around one of the most testing tracks - also extended into the race, which started “pretty smoothly” and saw McLaughlin build an advantage of around seven seconds. He was then pegged back by a caution, which was unfavourable for his and Power’s three-stop strategy. 


He has learned not to get bogged down by IndyCar being “a wildcard” with the way cautions often fall. He knows it is about maximising opportunities, utilising pace and hoping things fall back your way. This ultimately proved to be the case and the two-stop strategy, led by Alex Palou, became unfavourable.


“It’s a matter of keeping your nose clean,” McLaughlin said. “Will passed me in that sequence. I got him back next lap. I knew if there was a caution that fell our way later down the track, I had to stay in front of Will. He was the guy I was racing. 


“Physically, mentally… it’s so hard. Got a couple blisters. Thankfully this is not the first race of the year. It’s nice to have a bit of match fitness.”


McLaughlin admitted he enjoys racing Power and suggested there is “a lot of transparency” between them both. Power being behind in second “was great” for McLaughlin’s race and the pair could work together, the Kiwi said.


“He’s an amazing driver with feel and instinct,” McLaughlin added. “He’s a good teacher with that, someone I can analyse to be better with.”


McLaughlin striving for execution


For McLaughlin, in his bid to rise from last in the championship with only five points on the board after two points-paying races in the wake of his disqualification from St. Pete,  everything keeps “rolling back to execution” for the remainder of the season. This was the key behind his Barber victory.


“So proud of the execution, the way that the team stuck together,” McLaughlin said. “We just kept executing. That’s our word for the rest of the year, keep knocking them out. Points are points. Points are imaginary things… Ultimately it’s a bonus at the end of the season. We’re here to just take it race by race and see what happens towards the end.”


McLaughlin lauded the way his team “just stuck together” through adversity, never lost belief and kept focused. It helped that his return on-track after the week’s debacle was at his self-admitted favourite American road course, at which he was defending winner.


“We took the penalty, as we said at the start of the week,” he said. “It was black and white. You move on. We move forward together as a team race by race. We’ll just keep working hard to make sure that we win as much as we can to put ourselves in the fight come September.”


McLaughlin knows there is plenty of time left to make up lost ground in the championship. Picking up victory at Barber promoted him 20 places from 29th to ninth, putting him only 42 points behind leader Colton Herta. He described the weekend as “a nice little springboard back” from what has become a rough start to a year for one of the championship favourites.


“I just know how good our team is, how fast my car can be,” McLaughlin said. “We’re still building, as everyone is. It’s just hard to get into the cadence of the season. I feel like we always hit our stride around Detroit or just after. Just trust my guys, trust my team, trust my speed.”


A first podium for Lundqvist


A podium in only his sixth championship IndyCar race is a marker of the pedigree that 2022 Indy Lights champion Linus Lundqvist enters the series with. Even if the modest Dane put his victory down to the team’s work rather than his after racing from 19th to third.


“What really clicked was honestly strategy,” he said. “That was a big part of it. I think me listening to the team as well. The first three quarters of the race weren’t that much fun because basically at times we’re going to have to give up this position and just hit your [fuel] number. Hopefully we’ll pay it off at the end of the race - that’s what made it.”


Lundqvist spoke highly of the car’s performance when pushing in clean air late on after initially saving fuel and simply trying to stay clean in a race of lots of aggression and wheel-banging. Ultimately, it paid dividends and he cycled forward into the podium places, breezing past the fuel-saving two-stoppers in the latter stages.


“Life at Ganassi has been great,” he added. “The whole team is so talented, from the floor, the shop, to the top guys with Mike [Hull] and Chip [Ganassi] running the whole team. Obviously as a rookie, you come in, you’re sitting in debriefs across from Alex [Palou] and Scott [Dixon]. What better place would you want to be at? 


“Even the fuel saving that I did now was a big learning thing that I got from Scott, who did it last week at Long Beach. It just proves that if you keep your eyes and ears open, you can definitely benefit from it.”


Lundqvist started the season with a difficult St. Pete having been spun into a tyre barrier by Romain Grosjean. He then finished an impressive fourth in the $1 Million Challenge exhibition before a 13th-place finish in Long Beach.


“Going in as a rookie in this tough field, it’s going to be so tough,” Lundqvist said. “Everybody is so fast. I got a little bit of a reality check at St. Pete, realising the level is even higher than I thought it would be. I thought it would take longer. Obviously to be able to get [a podium] this early, it’s nice.”


The Swede could scarcely believe it when the team told him he was third. But after only three races with Meyer Shank Racing as a super sub in 2023, then three races with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2024, a podium finish is already a reality.


“Are we really running third here?” Lundqvist said he questioned on the radio. “Are we going to end up on the podium?”


Power embracing elbows-out racing


Power described the racing at Barber as “aggressive” and “combative”, which contributed to an entertaining product. But is this the right way to race?


“Absolutely,” Power thinks. “Everyone fights hard for every position in this series because it’s just so tough. I don’t expect anything else. That’s the beauty of IndyCar racing. I think it’s what fans like. Anyone can win any week. Obviously it can get so mixed up with yellows, which is exciting for the fans as well, as much as if you’re leading you don’t like that. 


“It’s great fun. No joke, I don’t think there’s a series in the world you get more satisfaction out of than this series.”


During the middle phase of the race, when a caution saw Power dropped back into the mid-pack, he had one particular duel with teammate McLaughlin. He came away feeling he should have been more aggressive.


“The risk versus reward, you’re kind of trying to decide,” he said. “I think I wasn’t aggressive enough. I should have worked harder to keep Scott behind. I didn’t block him. With everything that’s happened this week, I just didn’t want to bloody have two Penske cars off in turn one.”


Power sits only one point off the championship lead after three races as he bids for his third title, building on most recent success in 2022. He has back-to-back front row qualifying finishes, doubling his 2023 Fast Six tally after three road and street course races in 2024 after successive appearances in Long Beach and now at Barber.


“I know I’m going to be quick everywhere, just like in 2022,” he said. “I feel like we’ve got very good cars, good engines. I’m in very good form. We’re there knocking on the door each week. Just got to win a couple. That’s the thing. I just want to win a couple bloody races.”


Power freely admitted not having won a race since Detroit in 2022 - the sole victory of his championship campaign - is “really starting to add weight” to him. It was disappointing not to edge McLaughlin at barber, even if he says he has grown less selfish across his career.


A second-place finish is still readily accepted by Power, who was “tight” on having an engine change on his No.12 Penske Chevrolet completed before the race following an issue in morning warmup. It ultimately ran without issue.


And after a testing week for the team, Power reckons Team Owner Roger Penske will be “pretty happy” with the bounce back.


Rosenqvist’s stellar consistency 


Felix Rosenqvist is achieving consistency at Meyer Shank Racing (MSR) that he has scarcely found during his IndyCar career to date. He sits fifth in the championship standings, only 14 points off leader Colton Herta, after three successive top-10 finishes in as many points-paying rounds, including a season-best fourth-place finish at Barber. 


“We take that any day,” he said. “We came here, we didn’t feel quick initially, had some challenges through the weekend. After that we just kept improving. I think our strongest session was the race. We were on a massive fuel save and pretty much everyone around us tried to do a three-stopper. 


“So it was hard to keep everyone behind but I’m happy we stuck to our strategy because that gave us a couple of spots in the end, even if we were not on the winning strategy. We made the most out of it, climbed one spot and a lot of points on a weekend where we weren’t the favourite.”


A further marker of his consistency, Rosenqvist made his third successive Fast Six appearance. He started fifth, adding to back-to-back front row starts, including pole position in Long Beach. It was a strong result considering Rosenqvist required an engine change after an issue in second practice on top of an opening practice telemetry issue.


“To make it to the Fast Six, we didn’t really expect it,” he said. “We hadn’t been super quick so I feel like we made the most out of it. We had a rough weekend and managed to turn up when we needed to.”


Qualifying also saw Rosenqvist’s rookie teammate Tom Blomqvist make his first Fast 12 appearance in only his sixth outing in the series. He finished 19th in the race but qualifying was a big step in the right direction.


“My engineer said at the beginning of the year if we can move up the pit boxes every event, it’s a good day,” he said. “My first top 12 qualifying… happy with that, happy with the progress. It has been a tough weekend for us as a group. Nonetheless it has still been our best qualifying and every event has been better and better for me.”


Foyt and Ferrucci impress


After a weekend riddled by car issues that saw Santino Ferrucci outperformed by sophomore teammate Robb in Long Beach, the No.14 AJ Foyt Racing team rebounded at Barber with one of their best races in recent memory. Ferrucci led the second-most laps with 14 as he progressed from 17th to a seventh-place finish.


“Solid day for us,” he said. “We had a fast car, got all the way up to the lead. Strategy was phenomenal. Really feels good to come back off Long Beach where we missed everything a little bit on the strategy side and then nail it today. Without the late caution at the end, we probably would have had a nice top five. But that’s racing.”


Harvey leading Coyne forward


Dale Coyne Racing have had an uncertain start to the season. But in these early stages, Jack Harvey seems to be starting to emerge from his slump at Rahal Letterman Lanigan (RLL) and possibly refind some of the form shown prior at MSR to really guide Coyne forward in what is now at least a 15-race deal in their No.18 Honda.


Harvey has spoken of progress being made from the start to the end of weekends in the early stages of this season, albeit no headline result had been there to show for it. Until Barber, that was, as Harvey managed a 13th-place finish - only bettered by one 10th-place finish across two years with RLL, matching his best finish across 14 races in 2023.


Harvey described it as “a lively race” at Barber after he was caught up in a first-corner accident caused by Rinus VeeKay. But unlike race-impacting sidepod and floor damage sustained when he was clipped by the spinning Christian Rasmussen in Long Beach, Harvey was able to continue unhindered.


“I got spun out in turn one so went backwards, bit through the gravel, carried on,” he said. “If that last yellow hadn’t happened I think that was a top 10 day. Great strategy call by everybody on the No.18 stand. I keep telling everybody I feel like it’s coming, the momentum is building. And whether it’s with a bit of help or not we’re showing it.”


Harvey even believed the team had the pace to transfer to the final round of qualifying on Saturday, or at least finish seventh in his group as opposed to 11th courtesy of traffic.


“To just get blocked that way right at the end of the lap ruins that lap and the lap after,” he said. “I don’t know what Pietro was doing but two times he could’ve moved out of my way and didn’t. I’ve done this long enough to know when we have a car that has the ability to transfer and when we don’t. And we did. So that was frustrating.”


Ghiotto’s solid debut weekend


This week’s dose of uncertainty for Coyne was the driver of their No.51 Honda, Luca Ghiotto as it transpired, only finding out about the opportunity to forge a two-race deal a matter of days before Barber. He both qualified and finished a respectable 21st, keeping it cleaner than some experienced campaigners managed.


“I’m happy because we kept improving,” he said after qualifying. “Of course there is still more in myself. I still need to be fully on the limit in the car. But I feel like already being P11 and putting some cars behind us is a decent result and is obviously far more than I expected. It’s been a crazy learning curve from Friday morning.”


He described his first race as “long” in “probably the most physical car in the world” around a track renowned for being extremely testing physically.


“First race was long,” he said. “I’m happy that I got to the end. I was not sure I was going to be fit enough to do a 90-lap race. So that was the first goal and I’m happy that we made it. I had a little bit too many mistakes. Every lap was something new. On one side I am happy that I had those [mistakes] because I know that now I can actually learn more.


“It feels good now to know that I’ve been through an entire weekend and a lot of the stress when everything is new. It was a really busy weekend so I know that next time in Indy it will be much more relaxed and I can just focus on driving.”


Ghiotto will be back on track with Coyne on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in two weeks’ time.

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