Three-time Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin will finally have his shot at an IndyCar Series debut. Originally scheduled to compete in the Indianapolis Grand Prix in May, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the New Zealander to put his open-wheel plans on hold. But today at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, he’ll be competing in IndyCar for the first time ahead of a full-time season in 2021.
“I’ve always been an IndyCar fan,” McLaughlin said during a Thursday press conference. “I said that from the start. I’ve always been a Scott Dixon fan due to the Kiwi connection... It’s certainly been a transition that has happened pretty fast. I know I probably initially didn’t think that Roger [Penske] and Tim [Cindric] would think I’d be ready for an IndyCar, sort of consider me, just because of my touring car roots, having a roof over my head.
“They put the proposition to me about a year and a half now. I have haven’t looked back since... For me, it was always a cool thing to be a part of, but never thought I could be because I’ve been in a touring car for most of my career.”
27-year-old McLaughlin has been racing n the Australian Supercars series since 2012, scoring his first batch of wins the following year. When he finished third overall in the championship with Garry Rogers Motorsport, he caught Penske’s eye. In 2017, he was racing for DJR Team Penske, finishing second overall to Jamie Whincup, who secured his seventh championship that year.
In 2018, McLaughlin began a streak of dominance that has resulted in three consecutive championships, cementing his status as one of the more talented young drivers in the field.
His interest in IndyCar, though, began to signal a big career shift. At last weekend’s Bathurst 1000, McLaughlin was vague about his future plans but did note that, “If it is [the end of my Supercars career], I’m completely satisfied.”
He echoed that sentiment during Thursday’s press conference, noting that he was looking for a fresh start in a whole new series, adding, “I’ve done everything I want to achieve [in Australia].” He said he’d need to actually contest this weekend’s race before he makes a decision about his future but that “I’m pretty confident that I’m going to like the series, I’m going to like the cars, I’m going to like everything.”
On Friday night, though, he proved that he didn’t need the time to wait and see. Team Penske announced that McLaughlin will be a full-time member of the team in 2021.
That said, he’s keeping his expectations reasonable for this weekend:
I think if I finish top 10, I’ll be doing cartwheels, going crazy!
I think, look, it depends on what goes on. I’m fully expecting a tough battle. I might have a great, great experience running last. I don’t know. It’s not going to change how I feel or whatever. I’ve got a lot to learn. I’m fully expecting I could be last.
At the end of the day, as long as I get a good feel for the category, a good feel for the cars, we’ll be all right.
His big goal is finishing the race and getting laps under his belt, a crucial element for any driver entering a new series—and especially since track time is heavily limited due to coronavirus protocols.
On the crucial first lap of the race, he noted that “I just don’t want to rip a corner off. Let’s just say that. Get through, keep my front wing on, don’t piss off anyone. As long as I get out of here with no enemy, I’ll be happy.”
“I’ve always been a person once I have ticked a box, I want to go to another spot and tick another box and whatever,” he said later. “I never want to stop and be content.”