Tuesday, December 6, 2022

‘More Diverse’ McLaughlin has Learned, Ready for Another Indy 500 Run

Scott McLaughlin sits in his No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet.
The Indianapolis 500 can be a great opportunity for Scott McLaughlin to chip away at the 18 points he is behind on the championship lead. Image courtesy of Chris Owens / Penske Entertainment

One year removed from Scott McLaughlin’s first month of May experience, he now returns to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with an NTT IndyCar Series victory and a fighting spot in the championship.

The 28-year-old New Zealand native switched from Australia’s premier racing series, the Supercars Championship, after having much success compiling three titles and over 50 race victories. He made the move to the United States and continued running for Roger Penske in the final race of the 2020 season.

In open-wheel competition, McLaughlin was not all too impressive during his debut year despite a single podium at the Texas Motor Speedway and another four top 10s to go along with it. A 14th-place in the standings was expected, but not ideal.

This season, the No. 3 Penske Chevrolet took no time to grab a checkered flag and won at St. Petersburg. With most drivers acquiring knowledge slowly such as a typical rookie, with McLaughlin that wasn’t the case.

He needed to adjust all of the antics and normalities that he once learned in a whole other series to compete at a high level in IndyCar. Instead of gradually becoming a factor every event, he switched the flip and won in just his 18th start.

“I got a question do I think I am a better driver than I am in Supercars,” McLaughlin said. “I think I’m just a different driver. I feel like I’m at the peak of my career. I’ve had to learn a whole different discipline in terms of where I’m at and my driving and learning aerodynamics and how to race a lighter car, a very powerful car.

“Yes I am a better driver, but I’m probably a bit more of a diverse driver. I’m racing on ovals now, short tracks, long tracks, tracks like this (Indianapolis), then you go to street courses. That’s what I think is very cool about IndyCar, it allows you to grow as a driver.”

McLaughlin is no stranger to large events in motorsport, being the 2019 winner of the Bathurst 1000; a race he won in his eighth try and already stood as a title holder the year previous.

With one Indy 500 start, the Kiwi understands the importance of how to play the perfect game in order to find himself at the top towards the end. The team will have no problem delivering a race winning strategy having done it a record 18 times.

“Just how long the race is,” he said. “How big and you’ve just got to dot every I and cross every T, you can’t afford a mistake. Even if it’s a little one, you can’t afford a hiccup, like you got to have a perfect day. I think that’s why I align it with the Bathurst 1000 in Australia because that race you have to have perfect race.

“Which is why I’ve probably held it in more higher regard than winning a championship, because a championship you can come back from a bad result or whatever. But if you muck up on this once day, you only get once chance 365 days later. I love this race for that, I’m excited to put in the experience I learned last year put it into force for Sunday for sure.”

Ahead are 200 laps and McLaughlin is starting towards the rear of the field in 26th, last out of his fellow teammates, Will Power and Josef Newgarden. He was primed for a 15th starting spot, but in his second four-lap qualifying run, the new time knocked him down to 26th.

In last year’s 500, McLaughlin rolled off the grid in 17th and placed 20th.

“Yeah we have goals (race plan),” said McLaughlin. “Like strategy goals and we are still working through them at the moment, where we’re going to be. But if I’m in the back end of the (top) 10, half distance then we are right in the fight. Half race distance if we are there, then I think that will be a good thing.

“I think we are just going to have to be realistic about that (downforce) and what we are doing. One thing that’s been really cool is that we’ve been able to try both ways throughout practice. How I like it and I like either way. So certainly if we need to move forward a bit quicker and be little more daring with the car setup and downforce levels. We can definitely trim out if we need to.”

Matt Narváez
Matt Narváez
Matthew is a NASCAR contributor apart of the team. A fan of racing since 2011, he has had passion for sports journalism since 2015 and is a current Mass Communications student at the University of South Florida.

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