Scott McLaughlin wraps up big weekend with PIR IndyCar Series win
Scott McLaughlin from Hamilton, New Zealand drove his No. 3 Freightliner/Team Penske IndyCar to victory at Portland International Raceway on Sunday, leading teammate and series points leader Will Power of Toowoomba, Australia to the checkered flag.
McLaughlin and Power had started the race from the front row. The Penske duo were joined by fellow New Zealander Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing in third place.
Yes, it was a Down Under party at PIR.
"The car was phenomenal and we got a good start," McLaughlin said. "The whole weekend went to plan. The car just needed a massage on Friday, and then I was able to work on myself. When qualifying came around we put it on pole. I knew today that my first stint was going to set everything up, and that's exactly what happened."
Before the race, IndyCar officials gave the drivers permission to begin accelerating on PIR's long front straight in advance of the green flag. The goal was to create space between the cars to avoid collisions in PIR's Shelton Chicane. At IndyCar speeds, drivers must brake from about 160 mph down to about 50 mph to negotiate the tight right-left-right corner sequence. The strategy worked, as the IndyCar drivers avoided the first-lap crashes that plagued the support races this weekend.
"I couldn't control what was behind me," McLaughlin said. "All I could do was control what I did."
McLaughlin led all but six laps of the 110-lap race, and those six laps were the result of pit stop strategies, which briefly delivered the lead to other drivers, but returned the lead to McLaughlin as those drivers took their pit stops.
"I felt like I led every lap," McLaughlin said. "It was just cycles (of pit stops). Those laps you don't lead are almost the most important ones, because they're your in-and-out laps and exchange laps, getting up to speed, and I feel like we've been really strong on that all year."
There was one caution period in the race, from lap 84 to 87, that allowed the field to bunch up. The restart presented the greatest threat to McLaughlin's lead.
"I was pretty calm about everything," McLaughlin said. "I knew that I had to get a reasonable run off the last corner and try to break the tow a little bit by Turn 1. I didn't know what would happen, but I knew the first lap would be huge to try to break a gap. I had to make hay on that lap, and we did."
With McLaughlin's teammate Power in second place, there was little risk of a reckless move between the leaders. However, disaster almost struck as Arrow McLaren SP driver Pato O'Ward made a bold play to move up from third place. As the field entered the Shelton Chicane, O'Ward attempted to pass Power on the outside of Turn 2, making contact with the Penske car. Power held his position, barely, and O'Ward's car sustained more damage.
"Yeah, he sent it, straight into me!" Power joked after the race. "But I came out the other side. It's a good season when someone does a dive-bomb like that and you get away with it. It wasn't a good move, but it was expected."
Throughout the race, McLaughlin maintained about 1.5 seconds distance from the second-place car. Most of the time that was Power, but Christian Lundgaard and Marcus Ericsson also occupied second place for several laps each.
"I felt like I was controlling the race the whole time," McLaughlin said. "I had it all in hand."
The NTT IndyCar Series now moves to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for the season finale next weekend. The championship is still at stake, as five drivers have a mathematical chance to win the season. Power remains in the lead, followed by Josef Newgarden, Dixon, Ericsson, and McLaughlin. With the championship on the line, all of those drivers will be giving everything they've got to win.
Pedersen takes Indy Lights victo
Benjamin Pedersen won his first Indy Lights race on Sunday with a flag-to-flag drive from the pole position. The Danish driver took the win in the No. 24 Global Racing Group with HMD car.
"It feels so good," Pedersen said from the podium. "It really feels like a home event because I grew up in Seattle. I led every session this week and had the fast lap every session, it was a dream come true."
Although there was some first-lap drama that took out several cars, Pedersen and the leaders were not affected.
"For my part, it was pretty textbook," Pedersen said.
Second place went to Matthew Brabham in the No. 83 Andretti Autosport car. Brabham finished 0.9651 of a second behind Pedersen. Third place went to series points leader Linus Lundqvist in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing car.
"You want to win every race, but we didn't have the pace this weekend," Lundqvist said. "It's good to be on the podium and we'll take the points, obviously."
Lundqvist needed to leave this race weekend with a 109-point lead to clinch his first Indy Lights title, but he is just 103 points ahead of Brabham. The Indy Lights season finishes up next weekend with a finale race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
"We still have a good [points] gap and we're going to Laguna with good energy," Lundqvist said.
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