Dre’s Race Review: IndyCar’s 2024 Grand Prix of Barber

A huge cheating scandal at Penske, a Scott McLaughlin beating in Barber, and David Malukas gets fired from McLaren. Dre reviews IndyCar’s most chaotic week in years.

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Dre Harrison Reviews



Read time: 12 mins

“Elephant in the Engine.”

I love IndyCar. Genuinely I do. But I’ve made it abundantly clear that it needs to stop tripping over its dick. Long Beach was the epitome of that. It was an excellent, strategic race with another iconic win for one of the greatest ever with Scott Dixon, but then it was marred by horrible TV Ratings. Just 303,000 viewers, the worst televised race ever on USA Network and worse than F1 in China, a race that aired at 3am on the East Coast. I thought that would be the end of it… but nope. On Thursday, we got a bombshell…

Do you know how wild shit has to be to get DQ’d in a North American racing series? Meyer Shank cheated with tyre pressures to win the 2022 24 Hours of Daytona and they still got to keep the win. Alex Rossi had an underweight car when he had his last win in Indianapolis that same year. He lost half his points for it but was allowed to keep the trophy. 

So on Thursday, the series changed its tune. In IndyCar, P2P is shut off immediately on a green flag, and the series flips the switch to turn on the system at their discretion.  It turns out that Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin had access to the push-to-pass system (Giving them an extra 50 or so horsepower) when they shouldn’t have done so, immediately after the restarts of the St Petersburg race back in March. 

Penske team manager Tim Cindric said it was a leftover software setting from the team’s last hybrid test before the season officially started, and the error itself wasn’t found until IndyCar checked the data during Long Beach, having seen irregularities in the engine mapping during Sunday’s warmup. 

Marshall Pruett did a superb job of trying to get to the bottom of the story. And via some anonymous tipping off from within the paddock, only the Penske cars had a glitch in their engine software that allowed them to bypass the signal that IndyCar sends from Race Control to activate/disable the P2P system on the car. There was even a startling admittance that at least one team sent footage to Race Control asking the series to check that Penske was acting within the rules, suspecting what they eventually got busted for. 

Pruett understandably asked further questions, like why on earth no one in either Penske’s camp or Chevrolet’s who built their engines spotted the irregularity of higher revs coming from their cars when the car was being run illegally during St Pete’s weekend. Penske had opportunities to self-police this and was either too incompetent to check their data or worse, knew this was going on and kept going hoping they wouldn’t get caught.  

The punishment was swift – Disqualification for Newgarden and McLaughlin’s cars, with Will Power being deducted 10 points for having the exploit on his car, but not using the button itself,  gaining no competitive advantage, and fines totalling $75,000. As a result, Pato O’Ward inherited the win in St. Pete, with Will Power ironically promoted to second. 

McLaughlin admitted in a Twitter statement he did so for 1.9 seconds during a restart, as a “force of habit”. Newgarden would later admit on Friday’s press conference that he did so four times on two restarts during the race, a race he’d go on to win by eight seconds. More on that later. 

My initial thoughts? It’s foolish that the series missed this and a race result is being overturned 45 days after it initially finished. American Motorsport HATES to overturn a final result but it had no choice here given the size of the mistake. I originally thought Power should have been disqualified, but because Power didn’t press the button, it ultimately means you can’t prove his car had the issue. As a result of the promotions via his teammates DQ’s, Power only got hit with a net two-point penalty. 

Much was made of the immediate aftermath of this. McLaughlin owned his error and despite some questions over his “force of habit”, it blew over. Power had little to answer for, given the benefit of the doubt for not pressing his button. Josef Newgarden took his press conference on Friday to address it in what was…a bizarre and wild presser. 

He seemed to hold back tears on multiple occasions and apologised profusely for his mistake, admitting his four presses of the button during two of the restarts. He swears he didn’t know of the No-P2P on a restart rule. “You can call me an idiot or an asshole, but I am not a liar”.

It’s led to a lot of emotional reactions to the conference, on the classic judging range of “He’s being human” to “He’s getting an Oscar nomination!”. Me personally… I don’t know. I’ve never directly interacted with Josef, so I’m not going to take broad strokes on his character. I can only go by what I’ve seen within the confines of IndyCar, and to that I say, like with many elements of life, the true answer is probably somewhere in the middle. 

From his rookie days with Sarah Fisher, Josef has always been prepared to put himself forward to promote himself and the series. He’s never taken himself too seriously, been prepared to go the extra mile to make the series look good and he’s been a charming, likeable driver who’s become the series’ poster boy as the wins came under the Penske banner. I get those who were forgiving and sincere concerning Josef’s apology.

There’s a hint of his nastier side, like with the Grosjean tangle at Nashville in 2022, but I think the good of Newgarden FAR outweighs the bad. What I find crafty is that McLaughlin released a statement admitting he cheated, never spoke on it again, and has largely dodged criticism while Newgarden faced the music, also admitted his faults and it turned into a mass Twitter debate. But what I will say is, with all three of their drivers giving different sides of the story compared to Penske’s own words, I’m not sure five days later exactly how this went down and that doesn’t help anyone involved.

On a macro level, Josef or Scott shouldn’t be fronting the responsibility of this situation in the first place. If Penske’s car is legal, it doesn’t matter if Josef pushed the button or not because his car doesn’t get the P2P either way. Did Josef have the intent to cheat? Maybe. Should it have even gotten to this point? Fuck no. The drivers shouldn’t be the ones Roger Penske is interrogating, it’s the managers and technicians who didn’t raise the alarm in St Pete in the first place. Like with many other elements of the sport, sometimes the drivers need to be saved from themselves.

In any case, it’s a black mark for everyone involved in Penske. It damages the integrity of McLaughlin and Newgarden, two of the best drivers in IndyCar because there’s enough evidence to suggest that they intended to cheat their fellow competitors. It damaged the reputation of Tim Cindric, a respected figure in IndyCar’s paddock and the negligence of his team for not spotting the issue when they had ample opportunity to sound the alarm.

It throws further question marks about the nature of Team Penske as competitors and Penske Entertainment as owners. I’m glad Jay Fyre was not afraid of throwing the book at the man who signs his cheques, but given how embedded Penske is in the series, as owner, competitor and engine supplier, it’s going to put further strain on a relationship that’s already taken scrutiny in 2024 over the overall direction of the series. Imagine how Honda feels as the series other supplier, already thinking about quitting in 18 months.

But hey, on the plus side, INDY RIVALS is back. Penske are the villains again after becoming apathetic figures due to the recent dominance of Chip Ganassi across the aisle. Newgarden cut a lonely figure as he headed to his #2 Car at Barber’s practice session on Friday. He’s too sincere a person to lean into the villainy (He’s a loving jock family man and fan favourite who married a Disney Princess for fuck sake), but it’s going to be intriguing to see the fireworks from the drivers as the news settles. Colton Herta, now second in the Championship post-DQs, calling Penske liars and saying “bullshit” to describe their explanations could be a sign of what’s to come.

I’d say IndyCar badly needs the month of May to land… but maybe a chaotic race can cleanse the palate… 

Well, if you don’t want people to talk about you and your team’s cheating, completely dominating the first race back certainly helps and Scott McLaughlin reminded everyone why Penske took such a punt on him in the first place. Scott scored the pole over teammate Will Power, pulled away from him and third-place sitter Christian Lundgaard early on, immediately countered when Power passed him off a restart and for 90% of the race, he was dictating the terms of engagement. It’s back-to-back wins for McLaughlin in Barber and the first time he’s defended one of his series wins on the calendar and he did it superbly.

The only man who looked like he might have had a shot at winning was Alex Palou, who did an excellent job early on leading the 2-stop strategy runners as opposed to Scotty’s 3-stopper. He had a weird weekend in general with an astonishing 1:05.5 qualifying lap in Round 1, but then went eight-tenths slower in Round 2 and was forced to qualify in 10th. And then he nearly made the fuel save work, but an awkwardly timed caution meant he had to stretch his final stint on the Black tyre with less than a full tank and had to settle for fifth after Rosenqvist passed him in the final 2-lap sprint. A weird, but still effective weekend for the reigning Champion.

Shoutouts are needed though for teammate Linus Lundqvist who stormed through the field in the back half of the race to take his first IndyCar podium in third place, and Marcus Armstrong for running Top 6 most of the day before falling to ninth late on with fuel-saving. 

This is where the Lightning Round WOULD have been if it wasn’t for the breaking news that dropped today, which is David Malukas being fired from McLaren after missing the first four rounds of the 2024 season. 

I find this whole affair to be gut-wrenching. Malukas felt like chopped liver from the start. He was never McLaren’s #1 option given the Alex Palou fallout. You could argue he wasn’t even Plan B because they failed to get Callum Illot. (I still maintain, why else are you buddying up with Juncos?) 

So Malukas felt like McLaren was picking up the scraps, but even then, I liked this move. Malukas was still pretty raw but showed a fair amount of speed and upside, especially given Dale Coyne Racing has been one of the biggest strugglers in the series for some time. He had multiple podiums for them and he probably wins the 2022 race at Gateway if the race is one lap longer! And beyond that, he’s exactly what McLaren needed off-track too, a young, charismatic, charming, Gen-Z driver who’s very easy to like and is genuinely down with the kids. He was at the White House promoting the series a fortnight ago and no one gave a shit!

But the timing of his mountain biking accident couldn’t have been worse. Yes, you can ride a bike at home, but I’ve seen a thousand dumber ways in sports an athlete has injured themselves. Given Rinus Veekay had a similar injury that caused him to miss time and NOT lose his job, to me, it’s an accepted way of physical training. Hell, Chase Elliott broke his leg snowboarding in the middle of a NASCAR season, but the most punishment he got was a bruised ego and some jabs in the commentary booth. 

Malukas is no Elliott, but the clout argument is annoyingly hard to ignore. GM had already told McLaren behind the scenes that they weren’t paying out the same dividend as Rossi and O’Ward for his presence in the seat, which already reeks of a lack of confidence, and I suspect feet may have gotten itchier after Theo Pourchaire’s 11th place at Long Beach, and running Callum for peanuts, a guy they’ve always wanted. And with the Indy 500 just four weeks out, if Malukas can’t complete a full prep for the defining race of their season, where literally millions of dollars are potentially on the line… you can see why Zak’s pulled the pin. 

The sad reality is, Motorsport contracts are like many others in the world of sports, there’s always an escape road if shit gets murky. And in David’s case, if you miss four rounds, McLaren can release you. According to Nathan Brown at the Indianapolis Star, if Brown had elected to keep Malukas on, they’d be forced into guaranteeing his return otherwise risk potential legal drama for false promises. Ironic reasoning from Brown, the man who’s made more broken promises than my local bridge salesman in West London. 

And on any level, the treatment is brutal. The rallying cries of support from his team less than a week ago ultimately meant nothing. Brown couldn’t say it to his face because he was in Monaco bandaging another broken wrist, this time for Sam Bird. Malukas was only told an hour after the chequered flag fell at Barber, with a Tiktok being shared of him still helping to pack up for the team, despite being injured and just being told he lost his job. On any human level, it’s a horrendous and incredibly undignified way of doing your business, even more so when you’re hiding the replies on X. 

I sincerely hope David lands on his feet. He’s an exciting, brash, bold driver and exactly the sort of talent that the younger audience can get behind. 

Finally, given the way they’ve messed about with Alex Palou, Colton Herta, Pato O’Ward, Daniel Ricciardo, James Hinchcliffe and Oliver Askew… why do we keep giving McLaren the benefit of the doubt? 

Pato O’Ward has a win in IndyCar this year and he’s led a total of zero laps. In any case, I fear he’s still making the same errors he made last year. Ploughing into Pietro Fittipaldi at the fast crossover reeked of a lack of patience, and then spinning your teammate out on the final lap is just petty. No McLaren had a finishing position starting in a one. Without a doubt their worst-ever weekend in the series. Pato drove like he was in a dodgem, Pourchaire was slow, and Rossi had a tyre fall off his car. Just horrendous execution across the board.

The driving standards across the board in this race were… rough. Shoutout to Jonty for pointing out on X that over 90% of the field had initiated contact with another driver at some point in the race. Newgarden bitched about Herta’s lovetap at Long Beach and yet he had no problem barging Tom Blomqvist off the road at the Hairpin. Scott Dixon jumped off the track when he missed his braking point, as did Pato. The amount of wheel bangs and hip checks was off the charts. This is open-wheel racing, and this shouldn’t be happening. 

Georgina, the famous art piece of the woman hanging from the bridge fell next to the track during the race. It led to general hilarity as eventually it had to be taken away by the Safety Team, but not before Scotty nearly ran her over. Luckily, they seem to have kissed and made up since then. Given Awful Announcing picked it up on Twitter, it’s probably the best accidental marketing the series has had in years.

So given Pray.com sponsors him, did Sting Ray Robb say “Jesus Take The Wheel” when his steering rack came off his car?

The most attention Sting Ray’s had since featuring on FP1Will’s Comedy Review.

So your new IndyCar leader after three races now we have the points settled? Colton Herta is on 101, with Will Power -1, Alex Palou -3, Scott Dixon -7, and Felix Rosenqvist only -13 off the lead. Once again, the Month of May is going to tell us a lot more about the state of the season because IndyCar has had no dominant driver so far this season. FIVE men have had Top 10s in all three races so far, and Kyle Kirkwood hasn’t even been mentioned yet. 

And I cannot stress this enough, Christian Lundgaard is too good for RLL Racing. If somehow Newgarden doesn’t get a deal, Penske NEEDS to tie his ass down, the man is a stud being held back by a team who’s being unserious. 

About the Author:

Dre Harrison

Somehow can now call himself a Production Coordinator at the Motorsport Network, coming off the back of being part of the awkward Johto Era at WTF1. All off a University Project that went massively out of hand. Weird huh?

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