McLaughlin: I have to step up in second IndyCar season

Scott McLaughlin scored a career-best second in his maiden IndyCar Series season. Picture: Joe Skibinski

As his second IndyCar Series season looms, Scott McLaughlin says he needs to step up his game at a condensed three-car Team Penske.

In the wake of the squad’s collaboration with Porsche to contest the World Endurance Championship and IMSA SportsCar Championship with new-for-2023 LMDh prototypes, Team Penske downscaled its IndyCar Series squad from four cars.

That will see McLaughlin alongside champions Josef Newgarden and Will Power while Simon Pagenaud has departed for Meyer Shank Racing.

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Last year the three-time Supercars champion earned IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year honours.

With all but one circuit on the 2022 schedule familiar to the New Zealander, the forthcoming season is about making a marked improvement.

That’ll be especially important with one less driver having input in the team’s set-up direction.

McLaughlin was praised by his team-mates late last year for helping with car set-up philosophy.

“I guess I’ve got to step up, absolutely, to make sure that I’m at the point where I know what I’m feeling in the car, what changes and developments we’re making,” said McLaughlin.

“We’ve built a solid base there, but we’re all in the same direction where we want to go. I feel like the best thing is we’re on the same page. I think it’s going to be interesting.

“I feel like I’m a lot more confident in my feedback and how I’m giving the feedback back to the engineers, giving the feedback back to Josef and Will, which will certainly help us move forward.

“I think around that Gateway time is when I felt I was really feeling comfortable with the race car, knew exactly what I was talking about a little bit there.

“Yeah, I don’t think I’ve lost any of that. Certainly feel like I’m going to, like I said, step up. I know I’m ready for that, ready to move the team forward along with Josef and Will.”

McLaughlin wound up 14th at the end of the 2021 season having at times been inside the top 10 standings.

Asked whether top 10 finishes were the expectation heading into 2022, the Kiwi said that’s the aim.

However, to do that, McLaughlin believes qualifying will have to be where he makes the biggest strides forward.

“I certainly believe I can do that,” he said of finishing inside the top 10.

“I feel like I’ve got a great team behind me. I feel like I’m in a good spot to really move my way forward.

“I’m not really going to forecast wins and stuff like that. I certainly feel like I can be right there and challenge for them. I feel like I got the pace to do as well.

“I have to sort my qualifying out. That’s half my job done if I can qualify in that top eight. It’s going to be a lot easier to move forward through that than starting 15th, 16th.

“Looking back at 2021, I think if I had finished some of the races where I probably should have, [the Indianapolis 500] was one that stuck out with the big points, the pit lane penalty really cost me a ton there.

“Everyone says everything, but I certainly felt we were going to be right inside the top 10 which would have completely changed my points structure.

“I probably would have made the top 10 by end of year. Ifs and maybes. I have to make sure I finish the races as I should and that will certainly help our positions as well.”

The first round of the 2022 IndyCar Series gets underway on the streets of St Petersburg on February 27 (local time).

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