The NTT IndyCar Series begins the Month of May boasting four different winners in four races following Scott McLaughlin’s victory in the Children’s of Alabama Grand Prix Sunday afternoon. McLaughlin, who recorded his fourth career series victory, outran Romain Grosjean in the final 20 laps en route to victory.
“That was probably the most complete IndyCar race I’ve ever driven, to be honest,” said race winner McLaughlin in the press conference. “That was a really proud drive for me, personally.”
Strategy was the name of the game during Sunday’s race. Teams throughout the paddock seemed split on whether a two-stop strategy or a three-stop would be most effective. Pole sitter Romain Grosjean and his Andretti Autosport team elected for a two-stop strategy, whereas Team Penske elected for three pit stops during the race.
In the early stages of the race, it appeared as though the two-stop strategy would be the most effective. Romain Grosjean dominated the opening stint while holding off hard chargers like Alex Palou and Pato O’Ward. Scott McLaughlin however, never let Grosjean out of his sights.
“In the first stint when I saw everyone saving fuel about eight to 10 laps in, I said to the guys, ‘maybe we should switch to a three-stopper here,’” said third-place finisher Will Power. “It was the best thing to do at that time.”
The advantage of the two-stop strategy evaporated shortly before the halfway mark of the race. Sting Ray Robb’s No. 51 car stalled off-track on lap 36, but IndyCar waited until the then-current pit cycle completed before declaring a full-course yellow. The yellow, the only caution all afternoon, evened the playing field and bunched everyone up for the restart.
Romain Grosjean and Scott McLaughlin became the stories of the second half. The two battled hard on the restart, with Grosjean maintaining a narrow lead. However, McLaughlin’s extra pit stop gave him an advantage on fuel and tires, making things even harder for Grosjean to capture his first career IndyCar victory.
“Scott and Will were much better on fuel in the last stint. It would have been tough to keep them behind,” noted Grosjean after the race. “You know, you need to do everything perfect to win. Today we didn't have the right strategy. It is what it is. Control what you can control. That's what we did.”
While the racing in the pit lane was exciting in its own right, the racing on track didn’t disappoint either. Grosjean and McLaughlin raced wheel-to-wheel and even touched at one point, but unlike in St. Petersburg, both drivers kept things clean.
“There’s no beef there, it’s just hard racing,” said McLaughlin about racing against Grosjean. “We’ll race each other to every bit of the track and use each other up when we need to and that’s just part of it. That’s why I enjoy racing Romain.”
McLaughlin’s win vaulted him into fourth in the championship points standings while Grosjean’s runner-up finish moved him to fifth. The points championship seemed to be on everyone’s mind, especially with the Month of May around the corner. The sentiment in the press conference was one of “big picture” thinking. Drivers were fine with a good finish even if more could have been achieved with aggressive driving.
“You can't win 'em all,” said Will Power. “In fact, it's very difficult to win one or two in a season. You just have to keep racking up good finishes.”
With Barber in the rear-view mirror, all eyes now point to Indianapolis. The next race for the NTT IndyCar Series is May 13th at the Indianapolis Road Course and will feature the top 5 in points separated by just 15 points. One thing is for sure, the Month of May will be another ‘can’t miss’ event in the IndyCar Series.