By: Spencer Neff
October 22, 2020
This weekend, one of auto racing’s most decorated drivers makes his NTT IndyCar Series debut. At the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Scott McLaughlin will make his debut with Team Penske.
Although Open-Wheel Racing and America in general will be uncharted territory for McLaughlin’s racing career, the 27-year-old has proven his talent in a short amount of time.
Here’s a look at McLaughlin’s journey to IndyCar.
After moving to Queensland, Australia from his birthplace of Hamilton, New Zealand, McLaughlin began his karting career at the age of six. Soon after, he traveled to Italy for the Rotax MAX Challenge, representing his native New Zealand at the Italian championship.
McLaughlin’s initial karting venture mirrors that of many of his peers across several racing disciplines. Following his stint there, he pursued his dream of the V8 Supercars.
Moving to Supercars
In 2010, McLaughlin became the youngest Supercars competitor when he made his debut for Stone Brothers Racing at the age of 17. Although he missed the first two rounds of the season, McLaughlin was able to end his rookie campaign 12th in points.
For 2011, he continued with Stone Brothers. At Queensland Raceway, he earned his first career victory. By season’s end, he would finish fourth in the standings in his sophomore season.
By 2012, the time came for McLaughlin’s entry into V8 Supercars following his championship run during the V8 SuperTourers season.
In a substitute role with Gary Rogers Motorsport, McLaughlin finished 10th and competed two more races-earning best finish of seventh at Mount Panorama in Bathurst, New South Wales.
During his first race as a full-time Supercars entrant, McLaughlin qualified in the Top 10. Two races later, he earned his maiden victory in front of his home fans at Pukekohe Park Raceway in Pukekohe, New Zealand.
Later in the year, he also earned a victory at Queensland Raceway and ultimately finished tenth in the championship standings and won the Mike Kable Young Gun Award.
In 2014, he returned to GRM and raced the team’s Volvo S60, finishing fifth in the standings with four victories and earned the Barry Sheene Medal, his first of three times winning the coveted award (including 2020).
Honoring the deceased motorcycle racer and television commentator, the award is given to the driver who displays “outstanding leadership, media interaction, character, personality, fan appeal and sportsmanship throughout the season”.
Follwing his successes into 2015 proved difficult for McLaughlin, who earned three runner-up finishes but was unable to reach the top step of the podium.
For 2016, the rising star and Gary Rogers Mototorsport put the disappointments of the last year behind them. In a season that included a sweep of the Phillip Island rounds, McLaughlin earned a career-best finish of third in the points standings. After a successful run with GRM, he opted to move on for 2017.
After four years with Gary Rogers Motorsport, McLaughlin opted to join DJR Team Penske for 2017. By doing so, he joined a team run by one of Australia’s most successful Touring Car drivers in Dick Johnson, as well as Roger Penske, a famed car owner across international motorsports.
Despite winning eight races in his debut season with the team, McLaughlin finished second in the championship, just 21 markers shy of title winner Jamie Whincup.
Following the disappointment of 2017, McLaughlin came back even stronger for 2018. In 30 races, he earned nine victories and 13 pole positions, both series best marks.
On the back of those achievements, he earned his first Supercars Championship. At the famed Bathurst 1000, McLaughlin and teammate Alexandre Prémat finished third, the best finish in his career at the historic race.
Continuing off his stellar 2018, McLaughlin kicked off 2019 be winning six of the first seven rounds (he did not start in the seventh event). By the end of the season, he earned a record-setting 19 victories and captured his second consecutive title by 562 points.
At the Bathurst 1000, McLaughlin and Prémat started on the pole and went on to win the 161-lap event at Mount Panorama, earning Penske his first win at the event and Dick Johnson his first win as Car Owner since he co-drove to victory 1994.
Crossing the Globe
Although McLaughlin continued with DJR Team Penske for the 2020 Australian V8 Supercars Season, the Christchurch, New Zealand driver began to venture into other racing disciplines.
In January, he traveled to Florida and tested one of Team Penske’s NTT IndyCar Series entries. On February 5, he was confirmed for his debut at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Road Course in the May 9 GMR Grand Prix.
A week later, McLaughlin joined the field for the Open Test at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. During the two-day session at the 3.41-mile, 20-turn road course, McLaughlin finished third-fastest in the field.
“I’m really lucky to have them and privileged,” McLaughlin reflected of his teammates (Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden) afterward.
“But I also have Roger and TC, Tim Cindric, and my engineer Jonathan Diuguid, who has been fantastic with me. I’m just trying to soak it all up like a sponge and at the same time, I’m living the dream. I’m having a great time.”
“I’d like to explore (the NTT INDYCAR SERIES) more,” he said.
“And I’d like to explore more in America. I’d love to get to America one day. That’s my ultimate goal. Whether it’s here or whether it’s anywhere, I just want to try to be here one day. I love the country. I love the people. I love the sport that it is, and we’ll see what happens.”
Unfortunately for McLaughlin, his IndyCar plans would be shelved when the novel coronavirus pandemic sent the motorsports world into a grinding halt.
Despite his on-track debut being pushed back, McLaughlin did join the series’ iRacing IndyCar Challenge.
In the six-race virtual series, McLaughlin won twice, including a last-lap thriller at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway finale. When all was said and done, McLaughlin beat out Power by 18 points for the title.
In his Supercars effort, he completed all 1,134 laps, collecting 13 victories and 15 pole positions in 27 races.
For the third consecutive year, he was crowned the winner of the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship. Last weekend, he finished his campaign with a fifth-place effort in the Bathurst 1000.
On September 17, his much-anticipated debut was confirmed for the October 25 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
“This is something I haven’t stopped thinking about, but I wanted to ensure my focus was on winning our third-straight Supercars championship for DJR Team Penske and all our partners in Australia,” McLaughlin notes in the press release announcing his debut.
“I’ve been doing everything I can to keep up with the series this year, from watching as many races as I can on TV to even talking to the drivers and some of the engineers back at the Team Penske shop,” McLaughlin exclaimed in the press release announcing his entry.
“I never knew if I would be able to get behind the wheel of one of these cars this year due to all the COVID-19 restrictions, but I wanted to be ready if it became an opportunity.”
Although Team Penske was adamant that McLaughlin’s IndyCar pursuit not take away from his Supercars efforts, Team President Tim Cindric echoed the anticipation for McLaughlin’s first race.
“COVID-19 certainly altered those plans early on, but with the way the schedules have lined up at the end of this season, St. Pete became an available option and we remain committed to getting him some INDYCAR seat time,” Cindric noted in the release.
“We know Scott is ready for this challenge and this should add even more excitement to the 2020 season finale in St. Petersburg.”
Header Image By INDYCAR