ST. PETERSBURG, Fla — Scott McLaughlin, the newest signee in the NTT IndyCar Series, found out just hard how and close qualifying is in the open wheel series. McLaughlin, a 56 time winner in Supercars over in Australia, knew that he would be in store for a challenge this weekend in St. Pete. He’s never raced in an INDYCAR before, only tested one in COTA. That occurred back in February.
“For me it’s one of the most competitive series if not the most competitive series in the world,” McLaughlin said on Thursday. “You look at the closeness, how different the winners can be up and down the field. It’s an all-around package.
He said this past week that this Sunday’s race was going to be a massive challenge for him. No one ever said that this was going to be easy. He knows that. He was expecting this.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s a big challenge. There’s a lot of different things I have to learn. Even on the simulator Monday, Tuesday, I had a couple bad habits and stuff, not trusting the aerodynamics of the race car, something you really can’t do in a Supercar.
“Even coming to St. Pete on a street circuit, the car will handle a lot different than what I’m used to over bumps and stuff. A Supercar, you do a Supercross jump, no drama, you wouldn’t even feel it. In regards to the INDYCAR, it’s the complete opposite.”
Here he is though in the season finale, trying out the series in preparation for his full season debut in 2021. The New Zealand native looked good in practice in chiming in with the 10th fastest speed in the lone session around the street course on Saturday morning.
But, in qualifying later on in the day, McLaughlin found out the hard way with how difficult this series is. He qualified his No. 3 Chevrolet on the second to last row in 21st. From 10th to 21st in one session.
McLaughlin turned in a top qualifying lap of 1:01.6409-seconds.
“We were probably better than where we ended up,” McLaughlin said. “But I stuffed up my red tire lap – I just need to get used to the grip. It was nice in practice because I had a lot of black tire runs but only got one on the red, and it was the same in qualifying.
“I’m not making any excuses. With a little more time, we will be OK.
“I’m disappointed with myself, but it is what it is. It’s tough to learn on a road course and learning the space around you. I’m used to knocking mirrors off on a wall, not necessarily my tire. We are just pushing trying to find our limits in a fast–forward motion. I just need to thank everyone with Shell V-Power Nitro +, Team Penske and everyone. We will have a go at it tomorrow.”
Now, he’ll have his work cut out for him in trying to come through the field on Sunday. He wasn’t expecting a top 10 finish anyways as this weekend is all about learning and seat time.
“I think if I finish top 10, I’ll be doing cartwheels, going crazy,” McLaughlin said of expectations this weekend. “I think, look, it depends on what goes on. I’m fully expecting a tough battle. I might have a great, great experience running last. I don’t know. It’s not going to change how I feel or whatever. I’ve got a lot to learn. I’m fully expecting I could be last.
“At the end of the day, as long as I get a good feel for the category, a good feel for the cars, we’ll be all right.”
With the challenge and anticipation comes expectations. He’s in a Penske car. He knows that while he’s new, he has to perform too. That’s has him feeling some pressure inside the cockpit as well.
“I think I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling some pressure, but it’s probably from myself more than anything,” McLaughlin said. “I’m pretty hard on myself in regards to where I’m at in terms even on the simulator. I was a little bit slower than the guys. Most people would be pretty happy still where I was, but I wasn’t. I wanted to be closer than I was, which wasn’t far.
“Yeah, there’s probably I wouldn’t say intimidation but there’s an unknown there. I’m excited to see how I fare in a racing situation because I haven’t had that before. Like I said, it’s going to be a lot different.
“But I trust my ability. I trust what I can do in a race car. I trust the process that Team Penske have put me on. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think I was ready and they wanted me to do it. That gives me already a lot of confidence in the process, what goes on.
“Yeah, probably the only thing I’m just getting used to is dealing with the media, dealing with other things in the team. It’s a lot bigger than what I’m used to. That other stuff has probably been the harder part.”
McLaughlin, said he hopes to finish every lap on Sunday and not get too many enemies in the process.