Happy 'Month of May' race, fans.! There is a lot of excitement shaping up for America's IndyCar series this month, with so many champion race drivers and their teams lining up to take a very solid run for both the series points and the upcoming historic Indianapolis 500.
Here is what we know so far- strategy is very important. Tires are very important. Drivers and team members are very important. Cars are very important.
Relationships are very important- and who among us can say we can even do relationships perfectly? To make it more complex, they may all be equally important, so it is almost a miracle that anyone gets over the finish line at all.
It is all a part of racing.
Going into the Alabama race, the relationship between Scott Dixon and Pato O'Ward was on the minds of the announcers after the two drivers had bumped tires at Long Beach the race before, with Dixon feeling slighted that O'Ward was too aggressive, and with O'Ward and officials saying O'Ward was 'Racing Hard". O'Ward would not apologize but did try to check in with Dixon to talk it out, and Dixon refused and rejected O'Ward's gesture.
Scott McLaughlin, who won the Alabama Grand Prix on Sunday, was asked repeatedly if he was mad at Romain Grosjean, the pole sitter for Alabama for bumping tires with him, and Mclaughlin said no- it was racing hard.
But he may have been struggling- deep down inside.
Grosjean had gotten a reputation, right or wrong, in the last season for being too aggressive and has also been getting a lot of attention from the sports announcers for having a more even-keel attitude this year. Yet, he happened to knock tires - slightly- with Scott McLaughlin on Sunday- and the media noticed and asked.
Read more about Dixon and O'Ward:
Here is the view of the battle between Grosjean and McLaughlin:
In the post-race interview, McLaughlin told the media that Grosjean did, in fact, touch tires but said that he is not holding a grudge against Grosjean about the aggressiveness on the track.
Notably, McLaughlin did appear for his post-race interview long after the interview started and after Grosjean, who placed second, and Will Power, who came in third, had vacated their positions leaving McLaughlin to speak alone.
Typically in the post-race interview, all three positions are represented.
The optics may be telling us a different story about the relationships between McLaughling and Grosjean, both excellent champs; time will tell.
Relationships are not something most IndyCar race fans want to think about too much, but the truth is that relationships affect strategy- and strategy is important.
The Alabama Grand Prix on Sunday at the Barber Motorsports Speedway saw hard racing again and hard relationships spilling out- after the Long Beach Grand Prix, with numerous changing race leaders and growing anticipation of over-race strategy on a difficult twisting and turning road course.
These men are top athletes and have a lot to keep straight in their minds, even on the winding turns.
The brutal track and tight rows of eager champs in top-notch cars chewed the race tires off of Colton Herta's car early in the race. Herta had to make quick adjustments to his team's overall race strategy.
Herta, whose Dad, Brian Herta worked so well with him last year on tire strategy leading the young driver to victory, is now working with Kyle Kirkwood. Kirkwood had his first victory at Long Beach Grand Prix earlier in the month.
It begs the question:
Who among us has not struggled with the parent-child relationship? There is no judgment here, but it is notable that these racers and team members expose a lot of their personal laundry for the world to see- as they challenge themselves to get over that finish line, each from their respective position on their teams.
We covered the first half of the Alabama race and Herta's tire strategy:
NBC news wrote about some of the details between Driver and Tire strategist about the changes in the League:
"The biggest change came at Texas, where Andretti Autosport made the internal decision to remove Herta’s father as his race strategist. Bryan Herta, a former IndyCar driver who twice won the Indianapolis 500 as a car owner, is his son’s manager and had been his strategist the last two seasons.
But just like Michael and Marco Andretti, or Bobby and Graham Rahal, the father-son relationship eventually stopped working. There had been instances of in-race sniping between the two, with Colton sometimes exploding in anger and falling short on the racetrack.
Herta crashed in this year’s season-opening race and by the time IndyCar got to Texas, Andretti leadership had decided to move Bryan Herta to Kyle Kirkwood’s car. Scott Harner moved from Kirkwood to Colton Herta.
Both drivers were clear in that neither asked for the change, and word of it was simply relayed to them, with no explanation offered. Kirkwood even said he asked for a reason.
“I don’t know what it is with the family deal, I don’t know if they want to separate that, but they just said this was best for the team and they think it’s going to be really good for me, and they feel Colton is ready for Scott,” Kirkwood said.
Colton Herta, who became IndyCar’s youngest winner with a 2019 victory days shy of his 19th birthday, has won just six times since. Although he finished third in the 2020 standings, he’s yet to be a true IndyCar title contender and finished 10th in last year’s standings – and was then rewarded with a four-year contract extension through the 2027 season."
That is sort of painful...
It seems that without his Dad, Colton is having a difficult couple of weeks, and he sits at 10th in points, coming in 14th at Alabama's Grand Prix.
These are some of the details of IndyCar that make the series absolutely thrilling and sometimes a little heartbreaking.
The more you know, the more you can rise and fall with the sport.
Herta congratulates Kirkwood for Long Beach's win, with his own Dad as Kirkwood's strategist:
Herta Sr was asked after the Kirkwood victory how he felt about the situation, and the response was that Colton was always first in his heart but he was excited to have contributed to young Kirkwood's victory.
What else could he have said? Wow..
And now this at Alabama.
From NTT IndyCar with the details of McLaughlin's awesome victory:
McLaughlin Prevails in Strategic Duel for Victory at Barber
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Sunday, April 30, 2023) – With equal parts skill and strategy, Scott McLaughlin drove to his first victory of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season in the Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix on Sunday at Barber Motorsports Park.
McLaughlin drove to his fourth career victory in the No. 3 Good Ranchers Team Penske Chevrolet by 1.7854 seconds over runner-up and NTT P1 Award winner Romain Grosjean in the No. 28 Delaware Life/DHL Honda. McLaughlin, from New Zealand, is the fourth different winner this season in as many races.
SEE: Race Results
2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES Rookie of the Year McLaughlin prevailed on a three-pit stop strategy after starting fourth, while Grosjean and Andretti Autosport used a two-stop tactic. The three-stop strategy allowed McLaughlin to go full tilt during stints and avoid worrying about having enough Shell fuel remaining to finish the race, unlike the drivers who made two stops.
“I call it a ‘happy driver strategy,’” McLaughlin said. “I was a lot happier doing that. We went past Grosjean there on a little bit of strategy, and I feel really good about it.” Reigning series champion Will Power finished third in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet for his first podium position of the season.
Pato O’Ward finished fourth in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, with 2021 series champion Alex Palou rounding out the top five in the No. 10 Ridgeline Lubricants Honda in the 90-lap race.
The duel between McLaughlin and Grosjean was set up when they each made their final pit stops with less than 30 laps to go. Grosjean got service for the second and final time on Lap 61. McLaughlin made his third and final stop three laps later, exiting the pits just in front of McLaughlin but on cold Firestone tires. One lap later, Grosjean made a textbook inside-out move to pass McLaughlin for position in the final turn of the 17-turn, 2.3-mile roller coaster of a circuit. Grosjean inherited the lead on Lap 66 when Power made his third and final pit stop.
McLaughlin hounded Grosjean’s gearbox for the next six laps, staying within three- to four-tenths of a second of the Frenchman. Grosjean had used all his push-to-pass by that point, while McLaughlin had some in reserve. So, when Grosjean went wide in Turn 5 on Lap 72, McLaughlin drove under him and pounded the push-to-pass button to complete the pass and build a gap, never trailing thereafter. The compelling duel for the lead between the two was fierce but stayed clean throughout, unlike the season opener last month in St. Petersburg when they both hit the tire barrier after contact with each other while racing for the lead.
“We’re racers; you just get on with it,” McLaughlin said. “We talked it out man to man (after St. Petersburg), and as far as I’m concerned and he’s concerned, we race hard and fair and press on. No hard feelings between the two of us.”
After losing the lead, Grosjean then had to worry about the hard-charging Power, who sliced a four-second deficit to less than a second over the closing laps. But Power’s softer-but-faster Firestone alternate tires began to wear on the closing laps, and he had to settle for third, 1.4845 seconds behind Grosjean.4-
Grosjean second finished for the fifth time in his NTT INDYCAR SERIES career as he seeks his first victory. “It hurts,” said Grosjean, who led a race-high 57 laps. “The three-stop never wins at Barber, but today the pits stayed open. That gave McLaughlin and Power the edge on the three-stop. Look at the two-stop (cars) behind us – 20 seconds behind us. We had an incredible car, drove really well, gave it 100 percent, but we just got unlucky with that yellow.
“Congrats to Scott. He deserved that win.”
The three-stop strategy used by Team Penske for McLaughlin, Power and Josef Newgarden got a boost on Lap 38 when Sting Ray Robb’s No. 51 biohaven Honda stopped at the exit of Turn 9 with an apparent mechanical problem. The pits stayed open until a full-course caution was called for Robb’s crippled car on Lap 39, as leader McLaughlin dipped into the pits for his second stop just before the full-course caution.
McLaughlin will split $10,000 with Team Penske and his chosen charity, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, for his victory as part of the PeopleReady Force For Good Challenge.
2022 Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson kept the series championship lead by three points over O’Ward, 130-127, after finishing 10th in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
The fabled Month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is next for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, with the GMR Grand Prix on Saturday, May 13 on the road course and the 107th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday, May 28.
And remember that victory is in the points too.
HERE ARE YOUR STATS
Results Sunday of the Children's of Alabama Indy Grand Prix NTT INDYCAR SERIES event on the 2.3-mile Barber Motorsports Park, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):
1. (4) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 90, Running 2. (1) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 90, Running 3. (11) Will Power, Chevrolet, 90, Running 4. (3) Pato O'Ward, Chevrolet, 90, Running 5. (2) Alex Palou, Honda, 90, Running 6. (6) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 90, Running 7. (5) Scott Dixon, Honda, 90, Running 8. (10) Alexander Rossi, Chevrolet, 90, Running 9. (8) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 90, Running 10. (13) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 90, Running 11. (26) Marcus Armstrong, Honda, 90, Running 12. (12) Kyle Kirkwood, Honda, 90, Running 13. (15) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 90, Running 14. (14) Colton Herta, Honda, 90, Running 15. (7) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 90, Running 16. (9) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 90, Running 17. (19) Graham Rahal, Honda, 90, Running 18. (16) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 90, Running 19. (17) David Malukas, Honda, 90, Running 20. (27) Santino Ferrucci, Chevrolet, 90, Running 21. (21) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 90, Running 22. (25) Benjamin Pedersen, Chevrolet, 90, Running 23. (18) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 90, Running 24. (24) Jack Harvey, Honda, 90, Running 25. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 90, Running 26. (22) Agustin Canapino, Chevrolet, 90, Running 27. (23) Sting Ray Robb, Honda, 36, Mechanical
Race StatisticsWinner's average speed: 115.019 mph Time of Race: 1:47:58.9401 Margin of victory: 1.7854 seconds Cautions: 1 for 3 laps Lead changes: 7 among 4 drivers
Lap Leaders: Grosjean, Romain 1 - 30 Newgarden, Josef 31 - 36 McLaughlin, Scott 37 - 38 Grosjean, Romain 39 - 59 McLaughlin, Scott 60 - 62 Power, Will 63 - 65 Grosjean, Romain 66 - 71 McLaughlin, Scott 72 - 90
NTT INDYCAR SERIES Point Standings: Ericsson 130, O'Ward 127, Palou 121, McLaughlin 119, Grosjean 115, Newgarden 105, Power 104, Dixon 98, Kirkwood 92, Herta 85, Ilott 80, Lundgaard 77, Malukas 74, Rossi 72, Rosenqvist 66, Rahal 65, Armstrong 62, Canapino 47, VeeKay 47, Pagenaud 45, Castroneves 45, Ferrucci 44, Harvey 43, Daly 38, Robb 37, Pedersen 34, DeFrancesco 33, Ed Carpenter 17, Takuma Sato 5