A wild and chaotic day at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course wasn’t enough to derail Scott McLaughlin, who scored his second NTT INDYCAR SERIES victory of the season Sunday in The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Presented by the All-New 2023 Civic Type R.
Driving the No. 3 Odyssey Battery Team Penske Chevrolet, McLaughlin held off reigning NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Alex Palou in the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda over the final 17 laps, beating him to the finish line by 0.5512 seconds.
It was the second time this season these two drivers have finished first and second in that order — the first was in the season-opening race in St. Petersburg, Florida when McLaughlin won his first series race.
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“This is amazing,” McLaughlin said. “I’m really proud of the (Team Penske crew). The car they gave me was a little hard to drive toward the end. I would love to make it a little bit easier for myself, but I’m super proud of them.
“You’re thinking about fuel (at the end of the race), but thankfully Chevy gave us great fuel mileage and drivability off the restarts that allowed me to get a bit of a gap from Palou.”
2014 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Will Power rallied from the 21st starting spot and a Lap 1 spin in Turn 9 to finish third for his fourth podium finish of the season in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.
Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay finished fourth in the No. 21 Bitcoin Racing Team with BitNile Chevrolet, and six-time Mid-Ohio race winner Scott Dixon rounded out the top five in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
The 80-lap race was a treacherous affair compared to past NTT INDYCAR SERIES races on the permanent road course in Lexington, Ohio. Amid wheel-to-wheel contact aplenty, there were six cautions for 17 laps, which is more than the last five Mid-Ohio NTT INDYCAR SERIES races combined. The 2021 race and Race 2 of the 2020 doubleheader each featured two cautions, while Race 1 of the 2020 doubleheader and the events in 2019 and 2018 were held without cautions.
The first stoppage came on Lap 1 for a waved-off start, and the second was on Lap 10 for a mechanical failure on the No. 7 Vuse Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet of Felix Rosenqvist, who was running third when his car started hitting the rev limiter in Turn 2 and then billowed smoke.
It was an ominous sign for NTT P1 Award winner Pato O’Ward, who started first and led the first 28 laps in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. However, on Lap 30, O’Ward began reporting power issues on his car.
By Lap 54, O’Ward’s car had completely lost power as it stalled at the end of pit lane. His Arrow McLaren SP team pushed his car back to the pit box, where O’Ward exited and ended the streak of Mid-Ohio polesitters winning the race at three.
O’Ward’s misfortunate allowed McLaughlin, who started second, to inherit the lead during a round of green flag pit stop cycles on Lap 31. During the stops, rookie Kyle Kirkwood went off track in Turn 9 in the No. 14 Sexton Properties Chevrolet of AJ Foyt Racing.
The yellow flag flew just as green-flag pit stops cycled through, which put McLaughlin at the point. The second-year series driver was in full control of the race on the 13-turn, 2.258-mile permanent road course from there.
McLaughlin led 45 of the final 52 laps. Colton Herta led seven laps after not pitting under caution on Lap 53 while the rest of the leaders pitted. McLaughlin got the lead back on Lap 60 and never looked back, keeping Palou in his mirror through a series of cautions and restarts.
Palou, a Spaniard, was never more than second behind New Zealand native McLaughlin, and the final caution on Lap 59 for contact between Romain Grosjean’s No. 28 ForeverLawn/DHL Honda and Alexander Rossi’s No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda gave him one last chance to try to capture his first win of 2022.
“Man, it was so close,” said Palou, who started seventh. “Our No. 10 NTT DATA car was fast. We just missed it by ‘this much’ again today, but I’m super proud. I don’t think I was good enough to pass (McLaughlin). I wish I would have gone for it, but I did not see that it was clear to do it.”
McLaughlin’s third podium of the season and Palou’s fourth allowed them to close in on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship. Marcus Ericsson held his points lead with a sixth-place finish in the No. 8 Ridgeline Lubricants Honda, but he is now just 20 points ahead of Power. Josef Newgarden, who finished seventh, is third, 34 points back.
Palou rose to fourth in the standings, just 35 points back. McLaughlin jumped two positions to seventh in the standings, 69 points back of Ericsson, the winner of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
While McLaughlin’s surge in the championship standings will be beneficial down the road, the three-time Australian V8 Supercars champion was basking in the glory of scoring his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES win with his parents, Wayne and Diane, in attendance. The couple came to the United States in May for the “500” and reunited with their son for the first time in two and a half years. This was the first race they’ve seen him win in this series.
“Oh, I really wanted to get a win here with mom and dad for the first time,” McLaughlin said. “To have mom and dad here on America’s weekend is awesome.”
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES takes a week off before heading to Toronto for the first time in three years due to restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Honda Indy Toronto will take place Sunday, July 17 at 3 p.m. (ET), live on Peacock Premium and the INDYCAR Radio Network.