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Scott McLaughlin: A Man of Many Racing Talents

Written by Archie O’Reilly, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri

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It’s fair to say people were in awe when Scott McLaughlin - a great of the Australia Supercars Championship, yet one having no high level open wheel experience - picked up a second-place finish in only his fourth IndyCar race, and his first race on an oval.

No experience of American racing was one thing, but the fact he had never raced in a single-seater car at a level remotely close to IndyCar, with his background predominantly touring cars, was a whole different thing.

McLaughlin is a unique racing driver. Many tend to stay in the same series throughout their career, aside from maybe the odd race here and there. But McLaughlin has proven to be different. He thrives off a challenge, thus his move to a discipline of racing completely dissimilar to that of V8 Supercars, moving stateside to drive for Team Penske in IndyCar.

There is a confident air around McLaughlin that he can jump in any car and deliver, and his adaptation to IndyCar has been staggeringly good, even if he is driving for a high echelon team in Penske.

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McLaughlin’s pedigree was abundant in Supercars. He made the step up to the big league in 2013, having won the V8 Supercar Series - the primary feeder series for the main V8 Supercars Championship - in 2012, having taken two wins, including in the third round at home in New Zealand. This was on his way to becoming the youngest ever winner, en-route to finishing as the highest-placed rookie, 10th in the championship.

McLaughlin continued to make further headway, with a fifth-place championship finish in 2014, taking four wins on the way. Although, he regressed slightly to eighth with no wins, the following year. A significant step forward saw McLaughlin finish third in 2016, earning him a drive with Team Penske. Despite eight wins in 2017, McLaughlin fell short of the championship in gut-wrenching fashion, by a marginal 21 points after the final race, in which he only had to finish 11th to be crowned champion.

However, come 2018, displaying the elite mentality he possesses, McLaughlin bounced back and stood on the podium 22 times, winning on nine occasions, to win his maiden championship. And in 2019, McLaughlin was formidable: he clinched his second consecutive championship in dominant fashion, after taking a single-season record of 18 victories. McLaughlin also added the iconic Bathurst 1000 to his winning resume that season.

The Kiwi became the first driver to win three successive Supercars championships, sealing a hat trick of titles in 2020, winning 13 of the 27 races and matching his podium tally from the year prior. Yet, despite being cemented as one of the greatest ever Supercars drivers with 55 wins, it was during 2020 that McLaughlin had the chance to try something new stateside, as he competed in his first IndyCar race at St. Petersburg in late 2020.

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McLaughlin has openly spoken about it being his dream to race in the USA, and the pedigree of Penske in America offered that opportunity. NASCAR would have seemed the logical route, given greater similarities to Supercars, but McLaughlin had long been an IndyCar fan. His decision to go down the latter route would later be vindicated.

A rookie test day for Penske at Sebring in early 2020 was an initial reward for his success with the team in Supercars, and McLaughlin impressed by finishing third in a further test at the Circuit of the Americas. He also gained some oval experience, with a test at Texas Motor Speedway. This all led up to his maiden race in St. Pete later in the year, in which he finished 22nd.

This was all while he remained primarily a Supercars driver, but the COVID-19 lockdown saw him win two IndyCar races virtually on iRacing, finishing on the podium thrice in the six races he competed. This offered a chance for McLaughlin to get familiarised with some of the tracks, and allowed him to acquaint himself with IndyCar drivers and fans too.

A full-time drive for Penske in IndyCar came in 2021, and McLaughlin quickly got up to speed, adapting to machinery vastly different to his time in Supercars There were, of course, some teething problems throughout this maiden season, but a 14th-place championship finish, which earned him the Rookie of the Year award, was respectable.

In only his fourth race (the third of the 2021 season), and first on an oval, McLaughlin stood on the podium for the first time, finishing just behind countryman Scott Dixon. This came at Texas Motor Speedway - a track notoriously difficult for drivers to grasp, hence displaying McLaughlin’s ability to adapt to different machinery.

He would pick up a further four top 10s in 2021, including another impressive oval finish - fourth at Gateway. But a huge step up came in his second full season, as he converted pole position at St. Pete to his maiden win in the championship, ahead of reigning champion, Alex Palou, and teammate Will Power, who would go on to eventually win the title that year.

Such a start to the season was evidence of McLaughlin’s ability to compete with the very best in IndyCar - an excellent reflection on the calibre of driver he is, given the incredibly competitive nature of IndyCar, whereby most drivers could feasibly win in any given race.

His pedigree continued to be proven throughout the 2022 season, when McLaughlin would win twice more, and become the winningest driver in the series aside from other teammate, Josef Newgarden. These two victories came on road circuits in Mid-Ohio and Portland, evidencing his versatility as a driver. He also picked up two second-places at Texas and Nashville, and two third places at Gateway and Iowa.

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McLaughlin also displayed strong one-lap pace in 2022, with three pole positions and a total of 10 top sixes, and only three starts outside the top 10, displaying the multi-faceted nature of McLaughlin’s performance.

He would ultimately end the season fourth in the standings, and if it wasn’t for a selection of errant results, particularly a crash at the Indy 500, when double points were still awarded, he could have been closer than 41 points from the comparatively, mightily consistent Power.

Nonetheless, performances across 2022 cemented McLaughlin’s status as a viable championship pick ahead of only his third complete season in IndyCar.

The season didn’t start in the finest fashion, crashing on cold tyres after coming out of the pits, taking Romain Grosjean with him as the pair battled for the lead in St. Pete. McLaughlin was more at fault for the collision, but he graciously accepted this and apologised. After all, racing drivers will never yield with the lead on the line.

The subsequent two races weren’t the most straightforward. There was work to do after a more difficult qualifying at Texas, but McLaughlin did recover from 15th to sixth; the race offered good education of pack racing, and McLaughlin even posted a meticulous analysis of one sequence on social media. The strategy then didn’t work out, en-route to 10th at Long Beach, but such a result on a ‘bad’ day is positive.

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Following on from Long Beach, Barber felt like a turning point in McLaughlin’s season. He engaged in another intense wheel-to-wheel battle with Grosjean, finding himself behind, ahead, behind and ahead of the Frenchman again. It was McLaughlin that ultimately managed his tyres and executed his strategy better, bringing home the win in relatively controlling fashion, inside the last 20 laps.

It was McLaughlin’s third road course win, but he is by no means one-dimensional - in fact, far from it. He has the sole street course win, and a further street course podium, as well as four podiums on ovals - both super speedways and short ovals.

Penske struggled somewhat as a team in the GMR Grand Prix at the Indy Road Course the subsequent race weekend, and this was compounded as a new front wing was needed for McLaughlin under an early caution after contact; he showed his skillset to recover well to run in 11th but dropped down to finish 16th after running out of fuel on the last lap.

McLaughlin’s versatility stretches beyond being able to compete on numerous types of circuit, too. His move to America has encompassed two races in another type of car in the IMSA SportsCar Championship this year, and after issues with the car riddled the Daytona 24 Hours, which was raced alongside Penske teammate Newgarden, the Sebring 12 Hours was a perfect display of McLaughlin’s ability to seamlessly adapt to new machinery.

It was an uphill climb at times at Sebring, especially after Tower Motorsports teammate and Indy NXT driver Kyffin Simpson crashed the No.8 car and incurred some minor damage. However, particularly with McLaughlin at the wheel, there was an incredible display of pace, and the LMP2 win. Given late chaos involving a number of the GTP cars, the overall podium finish was achieved, at one of the tracks considered the ‘crown jewel of endurance racing.’

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McLaughlin’s ability to excel in different disciplines separates him from many other racing drivers. He can jump in any car and be reliable within a minute number of races: A win in his third race in Supercars, a podium in his fourth in IndyCar, and a class win in his second IMSA race exemplifying this. Experience matters little, in the case of McLaughlin.

His character has endeared him to fans as well, and his personable nature no doubt lends McLaughlin the ability to operate within different teams with different crews of people. His active presence online, whether that be through Twitter or his Bus Bros YouTube work with Newgarden, is also something that is excellent for IndyCar as a series.

McLaughlin still has momentum heading into the crunch period of the Month of May, and he will no doubt hope for a better result at the Indy 500 on Memorial Weekend than he managed in his first two attempts. Regardless, come the end of this season, there is little doubt McLaughlin will be in and around the championship fight. That is credit to his unique ability to adapt to varying machinery and surroundings.

He is indeed a man of many racing talents.


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