Scott McLaughlin came up short of scoring the NTT P1 Award for Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear, but he’s not upset with starting second.
The New Zealander pushed his No. 3 Gallagher Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet to a flying lap of 1 minute, 2.1592 seconds, which was good enough for second but exactly .300 of a second off the pole-winning time set by Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou.
“Full credit, Alex, that was a bad-ass lap, man,” McLaughlin said. “Good job on the older tires there. Pretty happy with P2.”
It was refreshing after McLaughlin endured “a pretty average Month of May by my standards” at the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, qualifying and finishing 14th.
“Nice to bounce-back here in Detroit,” McLaughlin said. “New track. Rebound with a P2 to start tomorrow. But see how we go.”
There were many eyes on the opening race of the doubleheader weekend for INDY NXT by Firestone, which ran before NTT INDYCAR SERIES qualifying. It allowed McLaughlin a chance to take some notes for Sunday’s 100-lap race on the nine-turn, 1.7-mile street course, which is narrow in spots and bumpy.
“I watched it,” McLaughlin said. “What's exciting for me is if you got a fast car, you can make moves. You can come through. It's going to be all that tire life; tire life is going to be key. One thing that's good about this track, it's a lot of stop-start corners. If you get better runs than others, use the push to pass, I think it's going to race similar to Nashville.
“Everyone says we crash a lot in Nashville. I think it's going to race very well. It's just going to be up to us with the etiquette of the drivers to leave it up to us and figure it out along the way. I think it's going to race very similar to Nashville. Looking at it, there's going to be a lot of passes, I think opportunities. Hopefully I only have to make one.”
Additionally, McLaughlin has felt part of the track evolving and getting rubbered in – more in some places than others – with the Firestone tires.
“Potentially where you could pass tomorrow is low grip,” McLaughlin said. “Anything off the line right now. That will rubber up pretty quick. Yeah, it's taking a lot of rubber. Even from practice to qualifying, after the INDY NXT race, it already took a ton of rubber, as well.
“It's nice, though, because the first session I felt like it was pretty green. It was hard to get a bearing. But now that rubber is going down, it's turning the racetrack into a lot of fun. It's a great racetrack to lay a lap down. It was a blast.”
Overnight Track Alterations
There were a few changes made overnight to the 1.7-mile, nine-turn temporary street circuit in an effort to improve the maiden downtown event:
- The pit exit line has been shortened by approximately 3 feet.
- The pit/track delineation line has been angled 3 feet to driver’s right.
- A single row of tires was removed from the exit of Turn 1.
- The start zone is now indicated by cones.
- A banner was installed at pit in.
- The pace car will be dispatched at Turn 9.
Kevin “Rocket” Blanch, technical director of INDYCAR, said conversation will continue with drivers to make improvements, with small tweaks for Sunday, if necessary.
“We really asked them to help us because it's so important here that they help us because we're not driving,” Blanch said. “Just like pit lane speed, we had an idea of what we thought was going to be good. Then, when they came out and gave us their side of the story and said, ‘Really, it'll be better this way.’
There’s also another element to ensuring a smooth, competitive race Sunday that doesn’t include track changes, Blanch said.
“There's certain places where you just have to show respect,” Blanch said. “We could write all the rules we want and if they don't respect each other, then it'll never work. I think we'll get there – just going to take a little bit of time.”
Malukas Looking for Motor City Magic
David Malukas is looking at getting his season back on track.
The Chicago-born Lithuanian American opened the year with two top-10 finishes, including a best of fourth at Texas Motor Speedway. However, he finds himself in a four-race slide that has seen him finish inside the top 20 once, a 19th-place result in late April at Barber Motorsports Park.
As a rookie last year in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, Malukas said the weekend in Detroit, specifically the previous circuit at Belle Isle Park, is when things turned around. He went on a run of five top-12 finishes, including runner-up at World Wide Technology Raceway.
Although the venue has changed in the trip to Michigan this year, Malukas, who sits 18th in the championship standings, is hoping it could be another turning point for his No. 18 HMD Trucking Honda for Dale Coyne Racing with HMD.
“Maybe,” Malukas said. “I don't really know the state of where a car is at the moment.
“You know, we started off very strong on street courses and ovals and then we had a bit of an issue of at road courses. So, that was something that I felt like we expected, but then we unloaded at the ‘500,’ and our oval car wasn’t good.
“So, now, it's kind of like a situation that I don't really know where the trend is going with our car and if everything is going more toward the downhill part or it's just something of a hiccup. But, going off of last year, Detroit was the weekend where we kind of turned things around, did 180 and things started to go better for us. So, hopefully we can repeat it.”
Malukas was 12th (1:04.1853) on the timesheets after Saturday morning’s practice. He qualified 21st (1:03.2126) for Sunday’s race.
Odds & Ends
- Meyer Shank Racing changed engines ahead of the second practice on the No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda driven by Simon Pagenaud.
- Since 2005, Scott Dixon has five wins at new venues, most among active drivers.
- Nolan Siegel, who drives the No. 39 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry in INDY NXT by Firestone, will graduate from high school next weekend.
- After never previously having scored a pole on an oval or a street circuit, Palou has accomplished the two feats in as many races. He claimed the top spot in qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on May 21, and secured his maiden pole on a street course in today’s qualifying bout in downtown Detroit with a flying lap at 1:01.8592.
- It was a career-best day for each podium finisher in INDY NXT by Firestone’s opening race of the doubleheader weekend, with Reece Gold (HMD Motorsports with DCR) scoring his win, followed by runner-up Jagger Jones (Cape Motorsports) and third-place Ernie Francis Jr. (HMD Motorsports with Force Indy). It marked the first time any of the drivers finished on the podium.
- Francis’ result came four weeks after wrist surgery to repair a fracture suffered in the race in late April at Barber Motorsports Park, which left him out of the previous round last month at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Holding a bag of ice on his left wrist in the post-race press conference, the recovery for Sunday’s Race 2 for INDY NXT by Firestone is already underway, and the pain is minimal: “Adrenaline is still up pretty high, so pain level is not too bad. I'm just trying to ice it to get some preventative work done on it. Tonight's just going to be about resting it, icing it and then just trying to recover the best that I can for tomorrow. Once you get in the car, adrenaline gets going, and you don't really think about it too much. I really didn't think about it too much in the race here. The biggest thing is just trying to get a good grip on the wheel with it during the race. I'm having to move my hand around a little bit to make it work, but doing pretty good at it so far, I'd say. Just got to manage it again tomorrow, and I think we'll be great.”