McLaughlin: First IndyCar win ‘just in reach’
Friday 31st December, 2021 - 6:00am
Heading into his second season with Team Penske, Scott McLaughlin believes his first IndyCar Series win is just within reach.
In an unprecedented switch, McLaughlin made the move from Supercars to IndyCar at the back end of 2020.
The series are, for all intents and purposes, poles apart. However, the Kiwi acquitted himself well in his first year racing state-side.
His best result of 2021 came in only his third race of the year at Texas Motor Speedway, finishing runner-up to countryman Scott Dixon.
McLaughlin went on to finish 14th in the standings, crowned the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year.
Off the back of a confidence-inspiring close to the season, McLaughlin said his first win doesn’t feel far away.
“It’s just in reach,” McLaughlin told Speedcafe.com on Episode 11 of KTM Summer Grill.
“I think if everything goes our way and we do the right things – and I think we’ve got the right pace to potentially do it – for me, the first thing I need to do in plan of attack is qualify better.
“I think we need to give ourselves a bit more of a chance. I think our race pace is right there.
“If I’m put in a certain spot, I think I can hold my own up the front, but at the same time I’ve got to make sure I can make it easier for myself to get there rather than qualifying 15th and 16th.
“I think as a race win, if everything goes our way, I’d love to take the opportunity.
“If not, I think we can really push for plenty of top fives and a solid top 10 finish in the championship come the end of the year.
“For me, I would love to be solidly in the top 10 more often than now, pushing the top five, top three throughout next year,” he added.
“We need to find some speed overall as a team. We’re working pretty hard to sort that, because IndyCar has got so competitive of late.
“Personally, it gives me a lot of confidence heading to tracks that, like I said, I’ve been to before.
“I can hit the ground running with car set-up and knowing what each track is like to race and to qualify at, it’s going to be really important for me.”
That podium at Texas Motor Speedway came as a surprise to many, McLaughlin included.
Indeed, his best performances of the season were on ovals.
The Kiwi was on course for a strong result in his first Indianapolis 500, running comfortably inside the top 10, before receiving a drive-through penalty for speeding in pit lane.
McLaughlin finished just shy of the podium at Gateway too, crossing the line in fourth.
The 28-year-old said he benefitted from having no preconceived ideas on the ovals.
“I felt really ready for my first season in IndyCar, but at the end of the day, experience is huge,” said McLaughlin.
“I had to learn a ton in a short amount of time. I think I felt stronger on ovals because I had more to learn and I had less bad habits.
“It was a case of, I didn’t have a preconceived idea. Like the road courses, I had so many bad habits from the Supercar days that I was trying to get rid of in the IndyCar, but on the ovals, it was like a clean sheet of paper and I could learn from the get-go.
“Our goal was to win [series] Rookie of the Year, our goal was to win Rookie of the Year Indy 500, we did that.
“We got a podium, we led some laps, ideally, we would have loved to have been a little bit more competitive in the mid-season, but we have figured out a few things that didn’t quite go our way in terms of strategy.
“Also, the way I had the car set-up, but we got on top of that in the last few races and I felt we had a really strong end to the season, which really helped my confidence for 2022.”
The Indianapolis 500 remains a focal point for McLaughlin in 2022.
Having been in the mix late in the piece this year, the IndyCar Series sophomore is eager to return to the famed Brickyard.
“Indianapolis, I’m very excited for,” he said.
“I understand that race a lot more. I’m excited for that.
“I think we’ve got a really good chance there.”
McLaughlin will be joined by Will Power and Josef Newgarden as a downscaled three-car Team Penske operation.