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Grand Prix winner awaits ‘the Monaco of IndyCar’

Mark Parker

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Scott McLaughlin (center) won his first IndyCar race at the 2022 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. He was joined on the podium by Team Penske teammate Will Power and defending IndyCar champion Alex Palou (right). Photos by Mark Parker.

Scott McLaughlin is a fan of St. Petersburg; although the 2023 Grand Prix is still a few days away, there is a good chance he is already enjoying the city, playing some golf and soaking up the sun.

The New Zealander has good reasons to anticipate the March 3 season-opening race. After all, McLaughlin earned his first trip to the NTT IndyCar Series’ victory lane at last year’s event.

In 2021, during his first year with IndyCar, he developed an affinity for the city, its weather and its “vibes.” McLaughlin said the Grand Prix is now a date he circles on his calendar.

“I genuinely enjoy going to St. Pete,” McLaughlin said. “I go early and play a bit of golf and just hang out down there. It’s a good part of the world, so you automatically feel good about things.”

Despite averaging around 100 mph around the city’s downtown streets, he said racers appreciate seeing fans fill the Mahaffey Theater lawn along a narrow track and the rows of yachts moored adjacent to the Dali Museum and Albert Whitted Park.

He compared the scene to Formula One’s Monaco Grand Prix on the French Riviera. It is widely considered one of the world’s most prestigious races and joins the Indianapolis 500 and 24 Hours of Le Mans to form the “Triple Crown of Motorsports.”

“You could say it’s the Monaco of IndyCar in some ways,” McLaughlin said with a laugh. “You’re along the water with the big boats and the yachts, and that’s certainly a cool feeling for a driver.”

A record-breaking crowd packed into the downtown St. Pete waterfront for the 2022 race.

Despite dominating the Australian Supercar circuit – he joined IndyCar and Team Penske after three-straight championships – the transition proved challenging. The Grand Prix helped change that trajectory.

McLaughlin placed a respectable 11th at the 2021 Grand Prix and finished his first season as IndyCar’s Rookie of the Year. However, the self-described “competitive bloke” found it challenging to change his mindset from expecting a win every weekend to hoping for a top-15 finish.

Everything changed in 2022, as McLaughlin won the Grand Prix’s qualifying round and held off defending IndyCar champion Alex Palou in the main event’s final laps to claim his first win.

McLaughlin paced the field for 49 out of 100 laps around St. Pete’s waterfront but finished just half a second before Palou. The Kiwi, who takes pride in his “what you see is what you get” press conferences, feels good about his chance to repeat that success.

“Obviously, when you get a win, it’s a fantastic start to the year,” McLaughlin said. “So, hopefully, we can do it again. I know our Dex Imaging car feels good, and we’ve got great people on board. So, there’s no reason why we can’t.”

Crew members take the No. 3 Chevy driven by Scott McLaughlin off the track after the 2021 Grand Prix.

Tampa-based Dex Imaging is again McLaughlin’s primary sponsor for the Grand Prix and a few other races. He called CEO Dan Doyle Jr. a close friend.

Dex always has “a massive presence” at the Grand Prix, noted McLaughlin, and he said company officials bring several local employees and customers to the race. He said securing a win for the home team last year felt “like it was meant to happen, because they were very loyal to me.

“I had a tough 2021 season, and then to start the way we did, it just felt like I repaid them for the hard times we went through. That’s what’s really cool about the whole thing.”

While he believed it could happen, McLaughlin relayed that no one – including himself – expected the sophomore racer to win. He went on to earn two more victories during the 2022 season and finished fourth in the overall standings.

Now in his third year with IndyCar, McLaughlin realizes expectations have elevated. However, he called that a good thing and said it is less than the pressure he puts on himself.

“I’m excited to be talked about as a contender, and it’s something that I’ve worked very hard to be,” McLaughlin said. “But now I’m going to work even harder to make sure that I live up to what everyone is saying – and live up to what I believe I can do.”

Before the 100 1.8-mile mile laps around the downtown waterfront March 5, McLaughlin intends to grab lunch at The Pier and take in some views of the bay. He will also stay the night on his bus after Sunday’s race.

If he drives well enough, McLaughlin said he gets post-race ice cream. His wife will get one either way, and he said he could imagine himself calling the city home one day.

“I certainly love the atmosphere and love St. Pete,” McLaughlin said. “They always put on a great race along the water there, and there’s always this really cool vibe. It’s a place, certainly, that I’d love to think about living in one day.”

Following his 2022 victory, McLaughlin called his parents in New Zealand. He had not seen them since 2020 due to the pandemic.

 

 

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