LEXINGTON, Ohio — You don’t have the Fourth of July without fireworks. Most Americans hear the blasting noise of the pyrotechnics at any hours of the night in the days leading up to the birthdate of the United States. On the eve of the holiday, the Honda Indy 200 gave us a 1-hour, 46-minute and 43-second firework show in rural Ohio.
That time range was how long it took to complete the 9th race of the NTT INDYCAR Series season and every bit of it was fitting for a grand holiday weekend.
Pole sitter Pato O’Ward led the opening 28 laps before giving way to the lead for Scott McLaughlin. However, that didn’t come without some controversy.
At that point of the race, O’Ward’s No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet was nursing around the 2.258-mile road course. He knew what eventually would come. An early retirement due to engine problems. The same thing happened to his Arrow McLaren SP teammate of Felix Rosenqvist on just the 8th lap of the day when his No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet went up in smoke and came to a rest in Turn 4 bringing out the second caution of the afternoon.
The only reason it wasn’t the first?
That’s because the green flag was waived off due to the 27 car field not being packed up properly. We should have known then that this race would look like none other.
Once we went back green, O’Ward would pull away but McLaughlin would stay hot on his rear wing for most of the opening stint. That’s because O’Ward’s power was down compared to his pole winning run on Saturday.
Kyle Kirkwood would bunch them back up and bring out another round of fireworks when his No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet found the Turn 9 wall. However, while a lot of the field had already pit, series officials allowed the leaders to hit pit lane before throwing the 3rd caution of the day.
That drew the ire of a lot of drivers who felt like it the incident was enough to merit a caution, and it was, then you can’t not throw the yellow out immediately.
It allowed O’Ward, McLaughlin, Colton Herta and others to pit and not be penalized for running the opening stint long.
During this sequence, McLaughlin would undercut O’Ward and be shown as the leader. That was the start of O’Ward’s demise as he would fade the rest of the day and end up an early retirement in 24th.
McLaughlin was the lead driver for most of the way and controlled the race. Herta was there and when we’d see Tatiana Calderon stall and bring out the third consecutive caution of the race for AJ Foyt Racing, series officials were once again left pit road open to allow the leaders to duck in before displaying the yellow.
All obliged. Colton Herta didn’t. He never pit and was now in a lame duck situation. While he had the lead, he still had to pit again. That’s why when he did on Lap 59, it handed the lead back over to McLaughlin who set sail to score his 2nd career INDYCAR victory and landed Roger Penske in victory lane for the 6th time in 9 races run this season.
Between Herta pitting and McLaughlin winning, Andretti Autosport self destructed in their own phenomenal grand finale.
McLaughlin topped Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou by .5512-seconds. It was Palou’s 4th podium of the season and 13th of his career.
“Yeah, amazing day,” McLaughlin quipped. “Obviously the plan was just to slot into P2 if we could. Best case was to get ahead of Pato but worse case was to slot in behind him and get into it. I felt pretty good, felt pretty strong straight away and then I think we lost the balance towards the end of the race a little bit. Just the car wasn’t as nice those last few stints even though we were leading, but thankfully had enough to hold off Alex there.
“Yeah, some pretty tense restarts and defending and doing bits and pieces, but really proud of everyone. The car has been awesome. We’ve had promise of top 5s in bits and pieces but we just haven’t put it together, and to finally put together after two good races, had Road America P7 and today winning the race, it’s a really proud moment for us all.”
Will Power put on a dazzling show good enough for his own firework performance in starting 21st, falling to last after an opening lap spin and back for a podium in his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet to give 2 Penske’s on the podium.
Rinus VeeKay, Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson and Josef Newgarden rounded out the top 7. VeeKay was the lone driver not of Penske and Ganassi represented in the top 7 with the “Big 2” taking 6 of the top 7 finishers when it was all said and done.
First it was Alexander Rossi and Romain Grosjean having their on track run-in on Lap 59. That’s the lap Herta pit because of that 6th and final caution. Herta handed the keys to victory lane to McLaughlin then as he’d lead the final 20 laps. Little did we know then, that the firework show was about to take a wild turn that led us on a 20 lap grand finale.
Grosjean and Rossi was now turning into a feud. A few laps later, Grosjean got into Herta on track creating some animosity there. Then, we saw a run in late in the event between Rossi and Devlin DeFrancesco.
All this happened in the final 21 laps. Michael Andretti was fuming mad. He had a team meeting directly after the 80 lap event which lasted barely 5 minutes and Andretti riding off on his scooter and not wanting to speak.
Andretti Drama Not Done
Michael Andretti knows how to win races. After all, he’s won 111 of them in INDYCAR. 69 of them as an owner and 42 as a driver. He knows first how to get to victory lane and what it takes out of the entire organization to do so.
That’s why he was embarrassed and fuming mad with how Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 played out for him and his team. Over the final 21 laps, he watched Andretti Autosport self destruct and become a laughingstock in the paddock.
That’s not what Andretti built his name as a driver for or a brand he’s built as a respected racing team one that he’s trying to branch into Formula One. He’s having a hard time proving he belongs and days like Sunday in rural Ohio surely don’t help.
One driver, Romain Grosjean, isn’t happy with another driver, Alexander Rossi. Reports have been circulating that Rossi hasn’t been too fond of Grosjean anyhow. The two now had an on track spat that has flooded into the paddock.
Graham Rahal had his run in with Grosjean back on May 1 at the Barber Motorsports Park saying then that Grosjean had run his course within the NTT INDYCAR Series paddock and that most were no longer fond of him any longer.
As we sit here now, I go back to that moment that Rahal and Rossi had together on pit lane when Rahal was clearly venting to Rossi about his Andretti Autosport teammate. Rossi seemed then to be agreeing with Rahal which at at time, puzzled me a bit.
Now, it doesn’t anymore. I don’t think Rossi was likely simpatico with Grosjean then and he surely isn’t now. It’s not a secret that Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay got along well together as teammates at Andretti. Rossi was even really good friends with Colton Herta and we know how close he is with James Hinchcliffe.
The drivers room at Andretti was as tight as ever last year. It wasn’t as wild as the days of Dan Wheldon, Tony Kanaan, Bryan Herta and Danica Patrick, but it was a close knit group like those days were.
This year, that room has changed. Rookie Devlin DeFrancesco has replaced Hinchcliffe in the No. 29 Dallara-Honda. Grosjean stepped in for Hunter-Reay.
Rossi noted last month in Belle Isle that he knew his time with Andretti was coming to an end last year even when he was watching all this change coming on the horizon. He was frustrated and figured his time was running out. The team could no longer provide him with a car capable of championship.
“So, yeah, I mean, this decision was made for me kind of last summer,” said Rossi in Belle Isle. “It was clear that I was going to look at different options and explore what was out there.
“I’ve driven for Andretti Autosport for a long time. Sometimes you need to change things, whether that’s on a personal side, a professional side or the both combined. I think it was time for a change. Ultimately I don’t think this has met anyone’s expectations, myself, the team’s, Honda’s. I don’t think it’s necessarily a huge surprise for everyone.
“That being said, I think there have been scenarios that have been outside of our control. But that’s motorsports, life, just the way things go sometimes.”
So he sought elsewhere in the paddock. He landed at Arrow McLaren SP. This is his final season.
“I think it’s been very obvious what Zak and Taylor have done over the last couple of years,” Rossi said of AMSP.” Arrow McLaren SP’s competitive. The overall performance of the team has exponentially increased every event we go to. That was a pretty easy decision for me to see them as a championship contender. Going forward into the future, I think it’s only going to get better.
“I think when you look, Taylor and Zak got control and got to have the direction of the team not too long ago. What they’ve accomplished in a short period of time speaks for itself. The result they had last year, a huge amount of respect for Pato obviously, but he’s still new to the championship, relatively young. The results he had was phenomenal.
“I think the inherent performance is there, it exists. I think if you look at what the team did at Indy this year, they were the second strongest team. I think what Ganassi was able to do was phenomenal. We’ve all touched on that. I think Arrow McLaren SP was certainly the next best shot.
“Yeah, I think this is a team that is going to be a championship challenger. They already were last year. They will be this year. I certainly think it will be the case going forward.”
While Rossi had turned things around from Belle Isle on, Mid-Ohio could be the turning point of maybe an ugly divorce. Rossi only qualified 12th on Saturday. He had a ho-hum afternoon. He got his way inside the top 10 before that contact with Grosjean.
Rossi said that the deal was just “a racing incident.”
“He was on a softer tire and probably going to get around me, but he likes to do it fast and early,” Rossi said of the Turn 2 contact with Grosjean. “I had to test him there and obviously that’s unfortunate to tap into a teammate, but that’s the way it goes.”
Grosjean didn’t see it that way.
“What the hell is wrong with him?” a pissed off Grosjean said on the radio. He pleaded for Andretti to sit Rossi down after the race to discuss with him why Rossi was a fault.
So a few laps later, you can imagine how irate Grosjean was to hear he was being given team order to help Rossi’s finish as Rossi was still on the lead lap and Grosjean not.
“What do you want me to do? Just block everyone behind and not go ahead?” Grosjean asked his pit stand at the time.
When told that’s exactly what they’re asking, Grosjean declined to do so.
“Because Rossi put me in the wall, so I am not going to protect him,” Grosjean replied to them.
In the meantime, Grosjean made contact with Colton Herta on track and Rossi with DeFrancesco. In a span of 21 laps, all four drivers had contact with one another in some way.
Grosjean got his wish. Andretti was going to sit Rossi down. This time, it wasn’t just going to be Rossi. It was all 4 drivers.
Andretti rode a scooter to Rossi’s pit box after the race. “Where he is,” he exclaimed loudly and very stern. When told he already was heading back to the hauler, Andretti sped on.
Andretti stomped inside with all 4 drivers waiting. The meeting was brief. Out came Andretti and climbed back on his scooter declining to discuss the incidents and the meeting. Then came Herta. He too briskly walked away without saying a word. Grosjean was next out. He did speak.
“It wasn’t pleasant, but it was good that he did it,” Grosjean said of the meeting. “I understand he’s frustrated and not happy with us.”
You’d think a closed door brief and likely one way discussion would get the attention of everyone in the room. It must have fallen on deaf ears though which is why I feel like this is far from over.
“He’s an absolute idiot,” Grosjean told myself and a small group of reporters waiting outside the hauler on Sunday. “I don’t know why he does that. He’s on black tires, I’m on reds. I’m on the outside and I carry more speed through the corner. He did it once on the restart. OK, maybe he slipped on cold tires. Do it again the next lap. Then, he did it on purpose. My hand is hurting. We lost the bloody race.”
For those comments to come out of his mouth minutes after the meeting tells me this likely is the tip of the iceberg.
Rossi came out last and sped off the opposite direction.
Grosjean did make a note to apologize about the Herta incident though.
“I must apologize to Colton,” said Grosjean. “I had a lot more grip than everyone else so I just braked. I didn’t realize Colton would brake so early. So I tried to avoid contact. That wasn’t good from my side, but I think that’s going to be it as far as today, it’s just that Rossi is an absolute idiot out there.”
He was interrupted by his PR team and led away. Enough was enough. They stopped him before he said more damaging words. But he said enough already.
Rossi is gone in 8 more races. His shot at a title is basically gone now as he sits 8th (-92) in points. He didn’t race his teammates any differently prior to today, but I wonder now…
“Of course not. We’re teammates for Andretti Autosport and trying to get the best result possible,” he said of if he races his teammates any differently now since he’ll be gone next year.
Now I wonder..
Penske/Ganassi Continue Dominance
With Andretti Autosport self destruction and Arrow McLaren SP having engine reliability issues, it opened the door for Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing to do what they do best – take home trophies.
The swept the podium on Sunday with 2 Penske’s (Scott McLaughlin-Will Power) and 1 Ganassi (Alex Palou). In fact, out of the entire top 7 of the finishing order, these two teams combined to take 6 of them. It’s the second time of the year they’ve done this as they went 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 in Texas back in March.
Pato O’Ward’s engine went sour. Felix Rosenqvist’s exploded on Lap 9. Colton Herta didn’t pit when Tatiana Calderon stalled on Lap 54.
That handed the win to McLaughlin for his 2nd of his career, both coming this season. It also gave a runner-up to Palou who pulled a brilliant undercut on his first pit stop to gain track position in the long run. Power stormed from last to finish 3rd.
Penske and Ganassi have 6 of the top 7 in points now that we enter the 2nd half of the season. They’ve won 13 out of the last 14 series titles including 10 straight and look like the clear front runners to extend this streak to 11 consecutively.
Plus, during the Aeroscreen era (18 races) on natural road courses, both Penske has won 7 of them with Ganassi 6 accounting for a 72% win rate.
With 3 of the final 8 races contesting on tracks like this, it’s going to be hard to make up that gap up on them.
Championship Type Of Day For Top Finishers
This day started off as a just get by for a clean race day for several of the championship contenders. Marcus Ericsson entered with the points lead but was starting 13th. Will Power was 2nd in points but coming from 21st. Josef Newgarden was 3rd but he shared Row 7 with Ericsson.
Meanwhile, Pato O’Ward was 4th in points coming into the day but started on the pole. Alex Palou and Scott Dixon were 5th and 6th respectively themselves in the standings but qualified 5th (Dixon) and 7th (Palou) respectively.
That’s why Ericsson, Power and Newgarden just hoped to skate by and get a top 10 if they could. Just limit the damage.
However, O’Ward suffered a mechanical failure and would finish 24th. Scott McLaughlin who was 9th in points won. Palou did finish 2nd and Dixon in 5th but Power stormed back to make up 24 spots after his opening lap spin that dropped him to last to finish 3rd. Ericsson came from 13th to 6th with Newgarden shadowing him all day and finishing one spot behind.
Ericsson’s lead only dropped by 7 points as he still leads Power by 20. Newgarden went from 32 down to 34 with Palou going from 47 back to 35. O’Ward went from 45 behind in 4th to 65 behind now in 5th.
That’s what you call championship salvaging days for Ericsson, Power and Newgarden on Sunday.
McLaughlin, Palou Get Seasons Back On Track Again
Scott McLaughlin started the 2022 NTT INDYCAR Series season off with his first career pole and first career win. Both occurred 24 hours from one another in the season opener on the streets of St. Pete. The 2nd race saw the Team Penske driver start 2nd, lead a race-high 186 of 248 laps and come home a close runner-up at Texas in a thrilling photo finish with teammate Josef Newgarden.
Meanwhile, defending series champion Alex Palou was having a strong start to his title defense year. He was 2nd to McLaughlin in St. Pete, 7th in Texas but 3rd in Long Beach and 2nd in Barber.
McLaughlin was only 14th in Long Beach was 6th at Barber.
McLaughlin had 3 top 6 finishes in the first 4 races run. Palou had 3 podiums and 4 top 7’s in the same 4 races. They sat 1-2 in points coming into the Month of May. Little did we know then, that neither would score a top 5 in the 4 upcoming races.
McLaughlin qualified 11th and 26th for the 2 races at Indianapolis and finished 20th and 29th respectively in them. For Belle Isle McLaughlin started 10th and finished 19th. The slump dropped him to 10th in points now.
Palou qualified 2nd for both Indy races, but was 18th in the GMR Grand Prix (spin in the rain) and 9th in the Indy 500 (unlucky caution). He was then 6th in Belle Isle to drop him to 4th in points.
They both came to Road America in their worst point standing of the season. Palou had contact with a teammate in Marcus Ericsson in Road America and would finish last (27th). He was not 5th in points.
McLaughlin just needed a clean weekend and would get it. He qualified 9th and finished 7th.
Both leave Mid-Ohio now with some momentum back. McLaughlin beat Palou for their 2nd 1-2 result of the year. This time, can they sustain it?
Malukas Shines While Other Rookies Fade
I wrote on Saturday how I was watching the rookies on Sunday. There were 3 of them in the top 10 of the starting lineup. Kyle Kirkwood had never lost any of his 6 races here in the Road to Indy. Callum Ilott was in the top 10 again on a natural road course while David Malukas was quietly excelling.
Kirkwood found the wall and finished 26th. Ilott, who started 10th, maintained his position throughout the first part of the race before the first caution came out on lap-9. Ilott went on to make his first pit stop just a few laps before the second caution of the day on lap-30. The third caution followed quickly after when another car went off track during the restart. Ilott was running 14th before a mechanical failure would retire the No. 77 JHR Chevrolet on lap-57. Ilott’s first appearance at Mid-Ohio came to a close, finishing 23rd.
It was Malukas who was 8th in Friday’s practice, 4th on Saturday morning and quickest in Sunday morning’s warmup. He qualified 8th. On a day that saw so much chaos, he flew under the radar to finish 9th for his 1st career top 10 finish.