Scott McLaughlin in the driver’s seat

  • Scott McLaughlin of Team Penske holds his trophy after winning the NTT IndyCar season opener in St Petersburg. (Photo courtesy of LAT Images/Team Penske)

  • Indycar teammates Josef Newgarden (left), of Nashville, Tennessee, and Scott McLaughlin (right), Christchurch, New Zealand, talk in the pits before the first practice session at the 46th Acura Grand Prix at Long Beach in Long Beach on Friday, September 24, 2021. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

  • Scott McLaughlin in car 3 during IndyCar practice on day one of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach in Long Beach on Friday, September 24, 2021. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

  • Scott McLaughlin and his wife Karly perform the national anthem before an NTT IndyCar race. (Photo courtesy of LAT Images/Team Penske)

  • Scott McLaughlin will be looking to extend his points lead in the NTT IndyCar Series when he takes to the track on Sunday at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. (Photo courtesy of NTT IndyCar)

Scott McLaughlin won the NTT IndyCar Rookie of the Year award in 2021, a year after winning his third consecutive Australian Supercars Series title.

Big problem, you might say. After all, the runner-up – former Formula 1 driver Romain Grosjean – did 13 of the 16 races while McLaughlin did them all.

Still, it’s, in a way, a cool reward because McLaughlin went from driving touring cars to open-wheel cars. He is also the first from Team Penske to win the award.

“I guess the Supercar isn’t too reliant on aerodynamics like the Indy car is,” McLaughlin said when asked about the adjustments he had to make. “So it took me about a good year to really trust the aerodynamic forces of the car and the power that it actually has on the setup of the car, and your level of confidence and what that can help. “

A year, indeed. McLaughlin finished 14th in IndyCar points in 2021, with one podium – he finished second at the EXPEL 375 in Texas – and five top 10 finishes highlighting his rookie campaign.

Don’t look now, but the second-year man has been off to a great start this season. He won at St. Pete in the season opener and finished second in the XPEL 375, earning him a series-leading 97 points heading into the main event of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday.

Official practices are Friday and qualifying is Saturday on the streets of Long Beach.

You could say McLaughlin is happy with the start of 2022.

“Not winning Texas was probably the biggest issue on the radar, and that’s great,” he said. “If we were unhappy with a second place, that’s a good thing. But it’s a good start. You have to keep consistency. »

He said that’s what it takes to fight for the series championship.

“And I think we can continue that in Long Beach,” McLaughlin said. “I love racing there and I enjoy the track. Hopefully we can get there.

The New Zealander hinted that around the middle of the 2021 season he started to get a good idea of ​​the differences between the two types of cars.

“I think it clicked with me in the last three months of the season last year and then obviously having the whole offseason to work on that, tweaking a few elements of what I want,” a- he declared. “It definitely helped us and got us out with that quick start.”

how it started

Like so many racers, McLaughlin got his start in karts.

“Six years, you try anything,” he said. “It was a hobby and stuff that I used to do with my dad. We kind of spent a few years on the track and won a few titles and obviously at 8, 9 years old you have big dreams and I wanted to be a racing driver from that age.

“When I found out I could make money doing this, it was going to be pretty cool, you know? Yeah, I’m just one of the lucky few to have turned a hobby into a profession, and (I’m) really privileged.

McLaughlin and his family moved from New Zealand to Australia when he was 9 years old. It presented a challenge of a different kind – changing schools to another country. But he said it actually helped his career as he got older.

“Getting around and having to meet new people and talk to new people and all kind of prepared me to talk to sponsors, to talk to people in dressing rooms and corporate suites and, yes, to prepare for what was to come later in life,” he said.

Already candidate

His Penske teammate Will Power is impressed, of course, but it looks like he’s not surprised at what McLaughlin is doing.

“He can definitely be a contender,” said Power, who is currently second in series points with 69. “He has a lot of experience at a high level. He raced in Australia in a very competitive Supercars series.

To get an idea of ​​how McLaughlin performed in his nine years in Supercars – the last four of which were for DJR Team Penske – he won 56 races and achieved 76 poles and 106 podiums.

Power said one thing is certain: McLaughlin is not your typical sophomore runner.

“Yeah, he’s more than a step above someone who would be in his second year, you know, like a 20-year-old,” Power said. “He is certainly capable. As you have seen, he can win races, he is good on ovals. Yes, he will be a contender, no doubt.

Jim MichaelianCEO of the Long Beach Grand Prix Association, appreciates the professionalism with which McLaughlin handles his business.

“The first year I thought he was doing reasonably well for a rookie,” Michaelian said. “Every track you go to is a whole new experience and no matter how much (simulation) practice you have, why is there nothing like being on the track itself and doing experience what it takes to move quickly.

“And I think that’s helped him in terms of his approach through the winter and now that the new season is here and he’s coming back to a lot of the tracks he’s raced at before, he’s running really well and he seems to be a very kind of reasoned and focused driver.

Michaelian suggested the way McLaughlin works, he’s strong enough to stay in contention for a series title.

“And I guess he’ll be in that group with (Scott) Dixon and (Alex) Palou, who are constantly looking to rack up the points as they go,” Michaelian said. “And not necessarily always even podiums, but most important of all, a steady compilation of points so that at the end of the season I suspect he’ll be in that front group when it comes to racing. final at Laguna Seca (September 11).

Dixon has won six series championships. palou won the 2021 title in his second year in IndyCar. Both ride for Chip Ganassi Racing.

McLaughlin, 28, thinks he’s already a challenger for the series title.

“I have no doubts,” he said. “And I probably never doubted my talent. You have to have this conviction, you have to almost have this selfishness that you’re better than everyone.

“But at the same time, I knew I had a lot to learn and I still had a lot to do. I think I believe I’m good enough right now to win the title. But I know I have to focus on certain areas to make sure my consistency stays the same.

McLaughlin said he and his crew are always ready for a race, so they know exactly what they need from the car.

“I firmly believe I’m good enough and hopefully I’ll be there in the fight at the end,” he said.

A great performance at long beach will help in this regard. McLaughlin was 11th there in September, when the race was held nearly six months later than normal due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s a very historic course,” McLaughlin said. “You understand the history of the place and how dear it is to the heart of IndyCar. So it’s very cool as a driver to get up there and compete there. For me, I love the track. I think the track is a cool layout. It’s tough, it’s tough.”

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