Hired Gun: The ups and downs of St. Petersburg

Scott McLaughlin reflects on the ups and downs of Round 2 of the IndyCar Series at St. Petersburg, in his column, Hired Gun, presented by Grove Hire.

We’re getting there guys. Slowly but surely. Inch by inch. Lap by lap. I know they’re a bunch of clichés – but it’s all we’re concentrating on right now.

We’re ticking lots of boxes – making improvements in every session, finishing every lap, and learning every single time I hop in the car.

In the end it’s a sign of how far we’ve progressed in such a short time that we were shattered after qualifying on Saturday. Our practice pace was awesome from the moment we hit the track and we should have been in the top eight. So that’s on me.

The red tyres I’m just struggling to feel right now. I have to get better at understanding them – and it’ll come, I’m confident in that. Again – we’re learning as we go. With everyone watching.

So to the weekend.

It was cool to get back to St. Petersburg in Florida – to a track I’ve actually seen and been on before, last October. It’s a great event and reminds me so much of the Gold Coast street race back in Queensland with the water so close, the party atmosphere, and the great vibe. And it was bloody hot and sticky, so it was taxing on the body.

It was great to see more and more fans back trackside as well – I wouldn’t say the USA is getting on top of COVID, but we’re certainly pushing on and trying to get back to life as normal.

As I said before – our practice pace was bang on and made everyone take notice. All four Penske cars were in the top 10 so it was a super positive feel in our paddock area.

Unfortunately qualifying then came and me and Will Power were dragging our bottom lip afterwards. He was flat after his worst quali, and we were stuck starting 14th – worse than last week, which I was filthy with.

Yesterday’s opening few laps were absolutely bonkers – and again I’m learning real fast how to handle the starts and how crazy they are. I got caught out and lost a few spots straight away – but we were playing the long game and I didn’t want to knock the wing off early in the chaos.

We pitted early and took full advantage – we jumped as high as second so it was a really positive run. It was a damn solid strategy that would have worked beautifully if another caution came late – but it never did.

In the end we finished 11th – three spots higher than last weekend. Again we finished the race, we clocked plenty of laps and I feel more and more comfortable out there.

So if you’re reading this, you know me well enough to know I’m not doing cartwheels over finishing 11th – but on this occasion, I leave content. We’re playing the long game, and I hope it pays dividends down the track.

I write this on Monday morning and I’m taking the rest of the day off to have a break, and then it’s into the swing of things for Texas this weekend. It’s cool to have back-to-back-to-back race weekends – after such a long layoff over the off-season, we get real momentum. I love it.

After Barber and St. Pete – this is really going to be eye-opening heading for the Texas oval. Crazy speeds, wheel to wheel racing, and the boys tell me – it’s insane white-knuckle fun. Again, it’ll be a weekend of learning and giving it all we have.

Bring it on!

Will debrief with you next week.

Scotty.

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