Three-time Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin celebrated his finest hour in America by winning the first IndyCar race since his US move.
New Zealand’s Scott McLaughlin roared to the first IndyCar victory of his career on Monday morning (AEDT) to win the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in Florida.
The 28-year-old Team Penske driver claimed his maiden win after holding off a fierce challenge from reigning IndyCar champion Alex Palou of Spain in 1hr 51 min 27.34sec.
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McLaughlin, who started on pole, edged out Chip Ganassi Racing ace Palou by just over half a second in a thrilling finish that saw both drivers battling through heavy traffic.
“It was crazy, really struggled those last couple laps just to keep my head and then save the fuel and all that sort of stuff,” McLaughlin said.
“But we did it … I can’t believe it.
“Thank you to Roger Penske for trusting me and giving me the opportunity to come here. He’s the one that calmed me down last year. He said, ‘Hey, it’s a long story, not a short one’.”
McLaughlin is a three-time Supercars champion in Australia and made his IndyCar debut back in 2020. On his third trip back to the race, he qualified on pole position and made the most of his advantage, justifying his move to America’s iconic racing class.
Australia’s Will Power finished third as Penske drivers claimed two spots on the podium after the 100-lap race.
Palou meanwhile paid tribute to McLaughlin’s coolness under pressure in the closing stages.
“It was really, really close, but I don’t think we had the pace he had today,” the Spaniard said.
“He was on rails, and he knew where to go fast and where to obviously save some fuel at the end.
“I was just there trying to make some pressure so hopefully he made a mistake but no … Congrats to him, I’m super happy that he got his first win.”
Andretti Autosports’ US driver Colton Herta finished fourth ahead of teammate Romain Grosjean in fifth.
McLaughlin’s compatriot Scott Dixon, chasing a record-equalling seventh IndyCar season crown, finished in eighth.
The second race of the season will be the XPel 375 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth on March 20.