McLaughlin puts maiden IndyCar pole down to taking pressure off himself

Scott McLaughlin

Scott McLaughlin says that his first ever IndyCar pole position is a result of taking pressure off himself.

The New Zealander prevailed in qualifying for the first race of the season in St Petersburg when he wheeled the #3 Team Penske entry to a 59.4821s in the Fast Six, beating team-mate Will Power by just over a tenth of a second.

Embarking now on his second full season in IndyCar, McLaughlin had not previously qualified any better than fifth, and missed the top 10 at every other time of asking last year.

“It’s amazing,” said the three-time Supercars champion.

“I don’t know what other words; pretty speechless.

“It’s something that you know you can do, but there’s something sometimes…

“Obviously, in Australia we had a lot of success with poles and wins and all that sort of stuff, and you know you can do it, but you have a hard year like ‘21 where it just didn’t click and there’s a few things that you just didn’t put it together.

“But, you know the speed’s there, it’s all about taking pressure off yourself and just focusing on what you need to do, and that’s what we did today.”

The pole is also the best possible start to the new driver-engineer relationship with Ben Bretzman, although McLaughlin also had praised for his former engineer, Jonathan Diuguid, who is now on Penske’s LMDh programme.

“I’m really working well with my new engineer Ben Bretzman, who’s been fantastic for me,” he remarked.

“Jonathan Diuguid basically helped me to this moment – he was the one engineer I worked with to this point – and Ben’s picked me up and just polished me off a little bit there.

“So I feel good, it’s one [pole], hopefully I’d love to have more, but at the end the day, it’s qualifying, and tomorrow’s the big day, so we’ll see what we’ve got.”

According to McLaughlin, pre-season simulator work has paid dividends given he has not had to worry about chasing a car set-up, and hence can concentrate on his driving.

“I think I just put it together this time,” he explained.

“I felt like we showed some speed last year and I was just getting better and better as the car went on, and I think rolling out with a car that suited me from the get-go was important.

“We worked very hard on this on this track with the simulator and thankfully the simulator has been fantastic for that and getting me to a great baseline set-up that I’ve really only touched a little bit here and there; just tweaking it, trying to figure out what was right.

“So, I know what I’m driving out there and I’m able to just punch out the laps and find the time with myself, which is exactly what I did in that Q3 [Fast Six] lap.

“You know, I put together a lap that I had worked on the whole session. I didn’t quite get it right [before], looked at a bit of Will’s [Power] data, looked at a bit of Josef’s [Newgarden], and just slowly put it together, and didn’t panic.

“And, I guess, experience; you can’t buy experience and I’m certainly feeling really comfortable now in the series and the car.”

One area, specifically, where McLaughlin has more experience is his perception of where the walls are in relation to his car, without having the closed cockpit and protruding mirrors of a Supercar to rely on as feelers.

“I guess one thing I’ve learned as well, as I’ve got used to these open-wheelers, is my proximity to the walls,” he noted.

“I’m used to slamming the walls with my doors and whacking the mirrors off; I can’t do that.

“I’ve done it plenty of times in IndyCar and didn’t come off too good, so didn’t do it today and it worked out good.”

After a 30-minute qualifying session, race start is due tomorrow at 04:25 AEDT, with live streaming on Stan Sport from 04:00 AEDT.

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