Updated: Mar 1
Written by Danny Jones, Edited by Morgan Holiday
IndyCar finally returned after a five month hiatus with Scott McLaughlin leading the 2022 season to green, after an unlikely pole lap on Saturday propelled him in front of the pre-race favourite, Colton Herta. McLaughlin led cleanly from the start, despite a sniff from Herta going into Turn 1. Will Power faltered at the start, meaning Rinus VeeKay jumped up to third. Pato O’Ward was the big climber on Lap 1, moving from P16 to P9, after an epic wheel-to-wheel battle with Simon Pagenaud, who was in his first race for Meyer Shank Racing.
After VeeKay pitted early on, Will Power, on the black tyres, used their durability to sneak past Herta and start to reel in McLaughlin for the lead of the race. However, on Lap 25, David Malukas, one of six rookies in 2022, clipped the wall and broke his suspension in an almost identical incident to one Alexander Rossi had last year, causing the first caution of 2022.
When the pitlane opened on Lap 28, there was almost a major accident in the pitlane, when Marcus Ericsson, coming out of his pitbox, clipped Graham Rahal, who clipped Romain Grosjean, who was tucked against the exterior wall. Rossi led the field to green after he opted to stay out during the caution, whilst Scott Dixon and O’Ward moved themselves into P2 and P3 respectively, after committing to the three stop strategy early.
McLaughlin and Palou, who both went for a two stopper, found themselves in front during the pitstop battles, and looked like they would be the ones battling for the victory, and McLaughlin found himself inches ahead of Palou coming out the pits. Dalton Kellett spun into the wall on Lap 72 after a respectable qualifying yesterday, but was able to prevent a caution, much to the benefit of McLaughlin and Palou.
Traffic was a huge issue for many drivers. Those who had committed to a three stop were heavily hampered in their progress through the field, such as Pato O’Ward, Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden, who quickly caught up to the trailing end of the field. With St. Petersburg being notoriously difficult to pass and having an extremely short lap, it caused issues for the drivers on a three stop strategy and effectively ruled them out of contention.
However, McLaughlin was able to hold his rival off and claim his first IndyCar win, just a couple of tenths ahead of Palou, who ironically won his debut race in the first race of his second season, identical to that to McLaughlin. Will Power rounded off the podium positions, with the favourite, Herta, finishing in fourth. Romain Grosjean, who had looked strong all weekend on his debut for Andretti finished fifth.
Rinus VeeKay was able to finish an impressive sixth, after a dismal array of performances towards the end of 2021, with predicted championship contenders, Dixon, O’Ward and Josef Newgarden finishing P8, P12 and P16 respectively.
Christian Lundgaard won the rookie battle by finishing in 11th, with Kirkwood 18th, Ilott 19th, DeFrancesco 22nd and Calderon 24th.
IndyCar takes a three week break as it prepares for the first oval round of the season at Texas Motor Speedway, where many drivers will be fancying their chances after several impressive performances in the double header last season, but today is Scott McLaughlin’s, who defied the odds to take his first ever IndyCar win.
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