- Young Kiwi right on the pace
- Noncommital about US future
- Aussie IndyCar legend impressed with performance
After his first-ever drive of an IndyCar, Scott McLaughlin has the racing world talking. The young Kiwi and two-time defending Supercars champion had earned a chance to put himself firmly in the frame for a future outside the Antipodes, and he didn’t waste it.
As a reward for those two championships, and for winning the Bathurst 1000 last year, team owner and industry doyen Roger Penske gifted McLaughlin seat time on an IndyCar rookie test day at Sebring in Florida – a track that McLaughlin has never seen, and in a 560kW open-wheel monster than he had never driven.
And it was not a hit-and-giggle affair, either – it’s not the Penske way. A large complement of crew (some 40 in all) was on hand, as was Penske’s most trusted lieutenant Tim Cindric, Penske alumni Rick Mears and current drivers Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and current champion Josef Newgarden.
Track time in any lead series is a precious commodity, and McLaughlin knew he had to hit the ground running – and like any good race driver, he needed to keep an eye on his lap times relative to his competition.
“I was able to prep with Penske in a simulator, and I came in knowing the track and knowing which way to turn – and I’ve turned plenty of laps on iRacing,” McLaughlin told US-based Racer magazine. “But the biggest thing for me was the braking – the first time I hit the pedal, I thought my head was going to rip off and hit the steering wheel!
“I’ve never driven anything else in my career, really. You can do as many laps as you want in the simulator, but when you’re going around and your head is shaking around and your eyeballs are rattling out of your head, it’s fantastic, it’s so cool.
“In the end, we turned over 140 laps, got through a big program and tried a lot of things for the team, and I got a really good feel for the car. At the end of the day it just clicked. It probably happened at the wrong end of the day on the wrong set of tyres, but that was a really proud moment for me.”
Watching the test from the pitlane was former Indy 500 winner and 2014 series champion Will Power, the Toowoomba native who exited 2019 as the Indycar driver with the most victories in the preceding decade, and he was impressed with what he saw.
“Scott did a good job,” he told WhichCar. “He got the hang of the car by the end of the day.”
Power, whose career is closer to the end than the start, could well be the key to McLaughlin making the transition to the US after at least one more season in a Penske Mustang Supercar, but McLaughlin is keeping his feet firmly on the ground.
“Today was an opportunity,” he said. “I’m thankful for that. Where it goes, I’m not sure, but I’ve always been interested in racing outside of Australia, especially now that I’ve ticked my goal of winning the Bathurst 1000 and a couple of championships… but I’m heading home tonight, back to Brisbane and straight back into to the workshop and training.
“I’ve made it really clear to the team that I’d love to try and pursue opportunities in the States, and I’m really happy that today went well.”
And it did go well, finishing the day with a best lap time of 53.3sec, just four-tenths of a second behind reigning Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew, and a second away from the best lap of the day.
“For me today was huge,” he reflected. “I’ve always been an IndyCar fan. Scott [Dixon] is a bloody icon in New Zealand which is why I’ve always kept an eye on what went on in IndyCars. Now to drive for Roger in Team Penske in Australia, and then to drive an IndyCar, was like a life achievement for me. It was very cool.”
A quick chat with Scott McLaughlin after his rookie IndyCar test
Thoughts on the day?
SM: Unreal, the car is a beast. It’s everything I dreamt of. I’m so thankful to Roger, Tim and Team Penske to be able to come over here and run an IndyCar. It’s a dream come true. It’s been a big day. 141 laps, the neck is pretty sore. We held on and did a long run at the end, and I got a feel for everything. Qualifying runs, race runs, long runs, fuel loads and pit exits so it was really cool.
What was the biggest challenge/difference?
SM: Trusting the aerodynamics. Trusting the grip underneath me was probably the biggest thing I learned. It’s very hard to come out of the habits I’ve gained driving Supercars over the last 10 years. To jump into this, where there is hundreds of pounds of downforce is really cool and so exciting. Hopefully I’ll get another opportunity, who knows. But I’m really proud, and it’s a big tick on my bucket list for sure.
What was it like working with the team?
SM: It was really cool. I think we had half the crew here form the whole shop, so there were 40-odd people. Really good people, they got me comfortable in the car, that was the main focus. Once we did that, we went through a plan that the guys had, using this test for future races down the track. Hopefully I’ve done my bit for the team.
Thoughts on the aeroscreen?
SM: I was quite oblivious to the windscreen. I didn’t really notice it. Probably towards the end, as it got darker I started noticing reflections off the dash, that was probably the main thing I noticed. I think it’s a really good thing, doesn’t really affect the drivers and it actually looks really cool, and I’ve been a long-time IndyCar fan.
How was it having Will, Simon, Josef and Rick here to support you?
SM: I can’t believe it that they were all here, including the legend Rick Mears. Just to bounce ideas off all of them. Simon was a big help at the end, in regards to telling me how to give my feedback as I wanted to go in a certain direction. We went that way towards the end, and it felt so good. I owe a lot to those guys for coming, they could easily have stayed at home, but it shows how good Team Penske is not only here, but in Australia as well.
How would you wrap up your feelings about the day?
SM: It’s an overwhelming sense of achievement. I’m very proud to have been chosen to do something like this, to have the trust from the team to bring a whole crew and a truck all the way down to Florida to give me a go. It’s a massive bucket list, and hopefully there is more later on.