Scott McLaughlin made his second start at Mid-Ohio on Sunday, and after a 12th place finish a year ago, the Team Penske sophomore driver led 45 laps around the 13-turn road course en route to his second career victory.
Mid-Ohio has been described by many drivers as a short-track-style race track with a lot of contact through very tight corners.
“I owe a lot of this to Team Penske,” McLaughlin said. “They have a really strong plan when they get here to Mid-Ohio and I just drive the car, but I did take some adjustment from my run last year.”
One of the biggest challenges for McLaughlin and the other drivers is that the track surface is old and wears tires.
“We really had to work on managing tires for this race,” McLaughlin said.
Starting the race out on the alternative red tires, McLaughlin fell in behind polesitter Pato O’Ward.
“I had a chance to jump to his outside after the green, or fall in behind, I didn’t want to push it so early, so I took the safer option,” McLaughlin said.
Riding behind O’Ward may have lasted a little longer than he had hoped as McLaughlin’s teammate Will Power spun out trying to avoid another car, and lap one was completed under caution. Power put on a clinic over the 80 laps, driving from dead last on the field back to third.
“It was a lot of fun to drive back through that, it’s especially fun now with this result.” Power said.
Chasing McLaughlin back to the checkered flag was 2021 series Champion Alex Palou, and if not for a late caution, Palou may have stolen the victory.
“I was to his right rear heading in to turn 1 as the caution came out, I may have had a chance to get by, but that really hurt us as I couldn’t get back to him.” Palou said.
Currently sitting 35 points out of the lead, Palou heads to a Toronto circuit that he’s never seen before, and one that Will Power said can get very slick and troubling in some places, a lot like Mid-Ohio.
That late race caution may have helped McLaughlin hold on as he came out of the pits on fresh black tires, and Palou was on the reds.
“It allowed us get a few laps of building heat in them, and once we went back green, he couldn’t get back to us,” he said.
It was all a part of that strategy that McLaughlin talked about.
“It really worked out for us,” he added.
One of the biggest bonuses of McLaughlin winning this race was his mom and dad being at the track.
It’s the first time they’ve been able to be in the U.S. as they flew over for this race.
McLaughlin’s father was sitting on the pit box and trying to remain calm in the final laps. Reasonably, he alluded to his father’s nervousness when victory is within grasp.
“He’s a lot like a butterfly, one minute sitting perfectly still and calm, the next up and away as fast as he can go.” McLaughlin said. “That may be not be the best way to describe him as a butterfly, but it works.”
That response got a chuckle from the media as the Kiwi was having a lot of fun following his Mid-Ohio win.
With his second win of the season, McLaughlin knows the championship is still a ways off, but he’s hopeful about the upcoming races.
“We just hope we have built some momentum here, plus we’ve got a great street course package heading for Toronto,” he observed. “And with two races at Iowa, anything can happen.”
McLaughlin now sits 69 points out of the lead behind Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson.