By: Ashley McCubbin
Coming into the NTT IndyCar Series as a rookie competitor under Team Penske can bring forth a lot of pressure and focus on a driver. Now try doing that without open-wheel experience under your belt.
Scott McLaughlin did exactly that this past season, making the switch over after earning three championships in V8 SuperCar competition.
His rookie campaign would see some highs and lows, as he scored five top-10’s while leading five laps, to go with four results of 20th or worse.
“Honestly, we knew this would be more of a foundational year for me and the team,” he told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “Not that we weren’t trying to win every race, but racing in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES is full of nuances. How to be good on new red Firestone tires vs. scuffs. Same thing with blacks. How to effectively approach a qualifying session. Those are just a few of the little things that I needed a full season to fully learn and understand.
“We did that and now 2022 is a year we want to go out and run up front consistently.”
McLaughlin took this year as the learning season, in knowing the only similarities between V8 Supercars and IndyCar is having “four tires and a steering wheel.”
“The tools that you have in the cockpit are a big difference,” he added. “That definitely takes some getting used to, and really just knowing what adjustments to ask for when the car is doing this or that. All of that can only come with experience.”
He was able to run up front this past season, scoring a season-best second at Texas Motor Speedway in his first oval appearance. McLaughlin said it was made extra special being a Kiwi 1-2 with Scott Dixon winning.
“That was a great day, but probably my favorite moment was the Indianapolis 500,” he added. “We were in good position to have a solid finish before my pit road penalty, but just running that race for the first time and actually being a part of the pageantry that makes it the biggest race in the world.”
Looking back on the 16 races, McLaughlin admits being surprised with how competitive the series is.
“Until you race a full season in INDYCAR, it’s hard to have an appreciation of just how competitive this series is,” he explained. “Any driver on any team can win if they hit their strategy right and make no mistakes. The talent level in this series is off the charts and I love that kind of competitive environment.”
Knowing how strong everybody is, McLaughlin feels qualifying is important, and the preparation that goes into it. His average last year was 15.3, which made it hard to make into the top-five “without some serious strategy plays and help from the other drivers.”
“It sounds easy – like you just go out and try to turn the fastest lap you can in each round – but there is so much more to it than that,” he commented. “That was probably our Achilles heel this year because we had good race pace. Really good at many of the races, but we just gave up too much track position in qualifying. I’m confident we will be much better in that regard next season.”