ST. PETERSBURG, Fla — Scott McLaughlin knew that his INDYCAR debut would be difficult this weekend. If he got a top 10, he would voluntarily do cartwheels down the 1.8 mile St. Pete race track.
See, McLaughlin 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.”
“I’m fully expecting a tough battle,” McLaughlin said this past week. “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.”
Unfortunately for him, that day was short lived. McLaughlin, tried to pass Marco Andretti on the Lap 47 restart into Turn 1, but the two instead made contact which sent McLaughlin’s No. 3 Chevrolet spinning. Rookie Rinus VeeKay had no where to go and ran into him, effectively ending their days early.
“What a day,” he said after his first INDYCARrace. “The best day of my life, except for my wedding. The Shell V-Power Nitro+ INDYCAR was going really well. Then I just made a move trying to block Marco (Andretti). Then I felt like I made a half of a rear lock, but I’m not exactly sure. Cold tires caught me out a little bit. But I had a lot of fun today. I just can’t thank my guys, Roger (Penske), Tim (Cindric), Shell V-Power and the entire organization for the weekend. It was so much fun. I wish the 2021 season was starting tomorrow. I can’t wait to get back behind the wheel of this car.”
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.”
He will be back though. He signed a contact to race full time here in 2021 with Penske.