While neither Kiwi competing in the final round of the 2021 IndyCar Series at Long Beach was truly in the championship hunt, it was nevertheless a big morning for both Scott Dixon and Scott McLaughlin.
Entering the series finale fourth in the standings, Dixon was able to finish fourth in the points by virtue of a fault-free third-place finish behind Josef Newgarden and race winner Colton Herta. It’s Dixon’s fifth podium of the season.
Dixon finished one spot ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Alex Palau. The result saw Palau claim a memorable championship crown; becoming the first Spaniard to do so.
Dixon and Palau benefited from the early dramas that ruined the race for McLaren Arrow SP driver Pato O’Ward. Having entered the weekend second in the points, O’Ward was spun on lap one by Ed Jones, causing terminal damage. After being in the championship hunt, O’Ward ended up third in the standings.
McLaughlin, meanwhile, was able to win the title of Rookie of the Year, after finishing 11th on his Long Beach debut and finishing 14th in the championship overall.
McLaughlin spent most of the year almost assured of the storied rookie crown, given that his core rivals, Romain Grosjean and Jimmie Johnson, weren’t doing the full schedule. But, a surge of impressive results from Grosjean put the former Formula 1 driver in the frame to challenge for the title.
Grosjean spent most of the race fighting a few positions ahead of McLaughlin. But, a late retirement settled the rookie battle-within-a-battle. McLaughlin joins the likes of Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Dan Wheldon as a winner of the title.
McLaughlin’s season was underlined by five top-10 finishes. These included a stunning second-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway back in May.
“I think the car has been awesome, and I finally got it to my liking the last six or seven races. I’m really proud of everyone. I’m really excited for next year. This year was a foundation year about building, and I feel like I’ve done that. Hopefully I can be a little further up next year,” said McLaughlin.
“Every area I need to get better. I need to study was Josef [Newgarden] does different, what Will [Power] does different, what Simon [Pagenaud] … figure out my flaws and where I’m strong, and then work out a ranking on what I work on.
“Jonathan Diuguid will be moving on to the IMSA WEC programme, the sportscar programme. So I’ve got a new engineer I’d got to work with, and it’s all about building relationships and getting better.”