James Davison’s Byrd Racing entry and COTA winner Lando Norris in the Arrow McLaren SP entry overwhelmed Team Penske-Chevrolet polesitter McLaughlin by the end of the opening lap, but the Kiwi rookie hung tough, battling Rahal for third, with Power and Speed next up.
Davison fell to the bottom of the Top 10 as Scott Speed hit the front, chased by Graham Rahal’s Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing-Honda on Lap 4 when a full-course yellow flew. Palou’s Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh car got squeezed against the pitwall, and Tony Kanaan (AJ Foyt Racing) and Jack Harvey (Meyer Shank Racingh) couldn’t help but run into him.
Several drivers took the opportunity to pit early, but the front runners stayed out front. Following the restart, Speed, Rahal, Power and Norris got stuck into a frantic battle, allowing Dreyer & Reinbold Racing’s Sage Karam, and McLaughlin and Davison hauled up on the back of them.
Power pulled out and dived down the inside of Speed at Turn 3 to grab the lead on Lap 13, and Speed drifted up and lost momentum. The ensuing check up caused bunching which damaged Rahal’s car, and left Power, Norris, Davison and Karam as the top four.
Behind them, Speed ducked into the pits on Lap 21, and Carpenter stopped a couple laps later, with another Top 10 runner, series debutant Stefan Wilson’s Juncos Racing entry, stopping on Lap 24. Penske were looking ominously strong, since it had not only Power out front but McLaughlin and Pagenaud in fifth and sixth.
Davison pitted on Lap 30 and emerged just ahead of Speed and Carpenter.
Power and Norris finally broke up their battle to pit on Lap 33, the Penske driver’s stop losing less time. Karam stopped next time by but damaged his car on the pit wall. Pagenaud managed to stretch his ‘fuel’ to Lap 36 but then ran out coming down pitroad so he stalled, and by the time he emerged he was outside the Top 20.
Once the early stoppers pitted for a second time, Power was left out front ahead of Davison, Norris, and Speed, ahead of the highly impressive Wilson. But then Power ducked into the pits with 27 to go for an early second stop, and Davison and Wilson followed similar tactics. Norris went a further nine laps and had just stopped when Davison, Speed and Wilson collided coming down the back straight.
Most of those who hadn’t stopped for a second time by then now grabbed the opportunity to pit. For the restart with 14 to go, Rahal was up front ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist, Pagenaud, Carlin’s Max Chilton, AJ Foyt Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais, Norris, Power and Speed.
Pagenaud – winner at Motegi and Michigan – took one lap to move to the front, but rapidly there was another caution as there was carnage in the mid pack involving Newgarden, Takuma Sato (RLLR), Karam and others.
The next restart, with nine to go, left Pagenaud, Rahal, Rosenqvist, Norris, Chilton, Askew, McLaughlin and Power as the top eight. Rahal took the lead but when Norris went for the lead in the short chute, Pagenaud ended up in the wall. Patricio O’Ward had made a terrific restart and moved up to join teammates Norris and Askew, creating an Arrow McLaren SP 1-2-3.
However, Ganassi’s Marcus Ericsson moved in on them, and soon Norris was out after a collision with a limping Pagenaud. When Ericsson passed both of them down the back straight on the final lap, O’Ward wasn’t prepared to stand for that, and tagged the Ganassi driver into a spin. Askew then appeared to have a clear run to the checker but Santino Ferrucci in the Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan entry hit him along the front straight, and it was McLaughlin who came through to win for a second time in this six-race Challenge.
Even more unexpected was Carlin’s Conor Daly ducking through to grab second while the still-shunting Ferrucci and Askew were classified third and fourth ahead of O’Ward and Bourdais.