How McLaughlin can win IndyCar Rookie of the Year
Friday 24th September, 2021 - 12:00pm
After 16 rounds, the 2021 IndyCar Series titles will be decided this weekend on the streets of Long Beach.
With manufacturer honours decided last week the way of Chevrolet, just two titles are up for grabs; the drivers’ Astor Cup and the Rookie of the Year crown.
In Team Penske’s illustrious IndyCar history, never has it had a driver be ‘Rookie of the Year’ since the outfit’s debut in 1968.
McLaughlin has had stiff opposition in the Rookie of the Year battle, facing seasoned Formula 1 driver Romain Grosjean.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Jimmie Johnson has also been vying for rookie honours, but is out of the running with one event remaining.
As it stands, 20 points separate McLaughlin and Grosjean in the title chase, who sit 13th and 15th respectively in the overall drivers’ standings.
Even if McLaughlin has a DNF and earns no bonus points, he’ll earn five points by starting. That presents a few options for Grosjean to win the title.
On the basis that McLaughlin scores the minimum amount of points, Grosjean can win the title by finishing seventh.
Grosjean can also win the title by finishing eighth and claiming two bonus points, if McLaughlin records just the minimum five.
The Frenchman can also do it by earning pole position, leading the most laps, and finish ninth.
Eighth without bonus points or lower for Grosjean will see McLaughlin take the title.
McLaughlin himself can put the result beyond doubt if he finishes third or higher. He can also win if he claims fourth with the full slew of bonus points.
In the instance of a tie, a countback would see Grosjean get the nod for the most second place finishes.
Three drivers remain in contention for the Astor Cup: Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou, McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward, and Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden.
A driver can only score a maximum of 54 points across the race weekend.
The race win is worth 50 points with bonus points for most laps led (2), pole position (1), and leading a lap (1).
As it stands, Palou leads the series standings on 517 points with O’Ward second on 482 points and 35 adrift of the lead.
Newgarden has the hardest job of all, sitting third on 469 points and 48 in arrears.
In the best case scenario, O’Ward would have to take pole position, lead a lap, and lead the most laps, then hope Palou finishes 12th or lower to win the title.
In the instance where O’Ward does not take pole position, but wins the race and by virtue gets a point by leading a lap, Palou would then need to finish 15th or lower for things to go the Mexican’s way.
O’Ward can win the title if he claims second place and an additional bonus point – one way or another – though Palou would have to finish 25th or lower.
O’Ward can also win the title if he claims second and gets all four bonus points on the basis Palou finishes 23rd or worse.
In the case of a tie-breaker, Palou would get the win on a countback. Even if O’Ward won the race and there was a tie Palou would earn the title based on second place finishes.
As for Newgarden, his equation is fairly simple. The Team Penske pilot must win the race and earn the full suite of bonus points and hope Palou is 25th or worse.
For Palou, it’s even simpler. Finishing 11th or better will seal the deal for the Spaniard.
Practice for the Grand Prix of Long Beach begins tomorrow at 08:00 (AEST).
IndyCar Series points structure
Pole award: 1 point
Leading at least one lap: 1 point
Most laps led: 2 points