Race Weekend Central

Scott McLaughlin Out-Duels Romain Grosjean to Claim Victory in Alabama

Mark Twain once wrote, “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”

On Sunday, April 30, in the NTT IndyCar Series’ Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix at Barber Motorsports Park, Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin might have just proved himself a poet. 

Exiting pit road on lap 64 with a hard-charging Romain Grosjean behind him on warmed-up Firestone tires, McLaughlin found himself in the exact scenario that resulted in him losing control on the defensive line, sending both drivers into the barriers late in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

This time, as Grosjean pressured him, McLaughlin didn’t put a wheel wrong. But sometimes, that’s not enough. Grosjean went through in the final corner to take the lead.

There’s one clear strategic advantage to not defending your way into a tire barrier: you can pass the other driver back. With Grosjean’s push-to-pass exhausted, McLaughlin turned up the heat, and just a few short laps later, was in position to capitalize when Grosjean ran wide in turn 5.

From there, it was clear sailing home for the 29-year-old from New Zealand, who earned his fourth career win in the NTT IndyCar Series and first of 2023. In a lovely bit of symmetry, he became the fourth different winner in the series in four races in 2023 and moved up to fourth place in the championship standings. 

“I call [the three-stop] ‘happy driver strategy,’” the former Australian Supercars champion told NBC Sports from Barber’s victory lane. “I was a lot happier doing that…we had great fuel [strategy]. Went past Grosjean there on a little bit of strategy, advanced him and I feel really good about it. Really thrilled…really pumped about it.”

Asked if the contact at St. Pete informed his millimeter-precise racing with the Swiss Frenchman at all, McLaughlin dismissed the concerns, saying: “No, we’re racers. We get on with it … we talked it out man-to-man and as far as I’m concerned and he’s concerned, we race hard and fair and press on. There’s no hard feelings between the two of us.”

Grosjean concurred: “What do you want to say, it’s just good I gave it all. I was good with Scott, and congrats to him, he deserved the win… we got good points today, and our day will come.”

Grosjean was able to defend second place from Will Power in the closing laps, earning his second consecutive runner-up result with the Australian seizing the final step on the podium. Last year’s winner Pato O’Ward was fourth at the flag, with 2021 winner Alex Palou fifth – his worst-ever result at the track.

Sixth was Christian Lungaard, a lone bright spot for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, followed by Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi and Felix Rosenqvist. Tenth place was just enough for Marcus Ericsson to maintain his championship lead by a narrow three points over O’Ward.

As it so often is at Barber, the story of the day was tire strategy. Top qualifiers Grosjean, Palou and O’Ward started on the grippy red Firestone alternate tires, with McLaughlin leading his Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden on the long-lived Firestone primaries.

Counter-intuitively, Newgarden dove into the pits on lap 13, committing to a three-stop strategy alongside McLaughlin, Power and Arrow McLaren’s Rossi – all of whom exchanged their primaries for the grippier alternates, which weren’t degrading quite as quickly as initially expected.

By lap 28, despite sustaining early suspension damage after contact with Rosenqvist, Newgarden was turning laps two full seconds faster than the leader, with McLaughlin not far behind. Grosjean and Palou gave up the top two spots to take tires and fuel on lap 30, expecting to catch back up when the Penske boys pitted again.

But of course, in IndyCar even the best-laid plans fall apart, and the two-stoppers were thrown a heavy wrench in the works in the form of a stationary No. 51 Honda. 

As it so often does, (“should it?” is a question for another time) IndyCar held the yellow until the green-flag cycle was complete, cueing a Lap 49 restart that left Grosjean ahead of McLaughlin on equal-enough tires to set up a strategic, elbows-out, knife-edge duel between the two third-year drivers to the end. 

2023 IndyCar Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix Results

Next time out, the NTT IndyCar series kicks off racing action in the historic Month of May with the GMR Grand Prix from the infield road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock.

About the author

swansey.jack

Jack Swansey primarily covers open-wheel racing for Frontstretch and co-hosts The Pit Straight Podcast,but you can also catch him writing about NASCAR, sports cars, and anything else with four wheels and a motor. Originally from North Carolina and now residing in Los Angeles, he joined the site as Sunday news writer midway through 2022 and is an avid collector (some would say hoarder) of die-cast cars.

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Jeremy

Another heart-wrenching “close but no cigar” for Romain! He’s running well and did everything right yesterday. Unfortunately, Scott was a bit better and put on a masterful show.

Congrats to Scott, what a drive!

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