INDIANAPOLIS — It’s only happened three times since 1967 and 10 times in 104 years here. Juan Pablo Montoya did it in 2000. Helio Castroneves accomplished the feat one year later. Alexander Rossi did the same in 2016. That feat is winning the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. The odds are obviously stacked against Scott McLaughlin next weekend. Can he join history on May 30?
“He’s obviously a fast learner,” said Tim Cindric. “I think you learn here every year you’re here, and every year you’re here you put yourself in different circumstances, different situations. Just qualifying for the race is going to be the first step of that, is where you start.
“I guess the only thing we’ve really said to Scott is just try and worry about the things you can control. He’s a race car driver. He’s a winner. He’s had a taste of oval racing at Texas, obviously, and he responded to that quite well.
“This place, it’s a long race, but yet it seems really short sometimes. It’s like Simon was talking about his race where if you’re sitting in my shoes, you’re wondering why he’s leading so many laps, but he’s learned that there’s times when that’s the right thing to do, depending on what car you have and all the rest of it, and I do believe that this place chooses you sometimes.
“For him, he wasn’t going to have enough fuel to make it happen until there was a caution, and it all came at the right time, and he took advantage of that.
“I think Scott has as good a chance as any rookie here has ever had. But experience, you can’t put really a value on the experience around here. Yeah, he’s with our team for a reason.”
McLaughlin, says that no one puts more pressure on himself than he does. He says that he’s always run by that.
“I’m in a car that certainly can win the race. I’ll be right there,” he said.
“But I’ve got to work on my timing, I’ve got to learn this, I’m trying to learn it at a very fast rate, understand the mountain that I’ve got to climb to be in that bracket, buy my ticket to that last stint.
“At the same time, I back myself to learn as much as I can at a fast rate, and I back the team that I have around me. Yeah, I don’t think nothing is possible. I think we can for sure give it a good shake, and if the opportunity presents at the end to take it, I back myself to take it when I need to.”
McLaughlin said that it’s been nice to have some different conditions throughout the week. It’s got hotter and hotter as we’ve got on. The wind has changed in various amounts but not a huge amount but those are key for his learning. By virtue of that, he feels like they’re progressing very nicely in his development.
“I think that’s the same across all four cars,” he continued. “I think we’ve been pretty methodical in the way we’ve approached it from a race trim perspective and then trying out some qualifying and all that sort of stuff, and just really preparing me for what’s ahead, I think.”
He notes that he’s really excited to how the boost levels feel on Fast Friday and what it’s like going into Turn 1 for the first time at 240 mph.
Another reason as to why he has a good advantage is the value of having four-time winner Rick Mears in his ear. McLaughlin said that having Rick in the garage is such a fantastic moral boost, morale boost, and he’s such a nice guy.
“For a guy that’s done it all in INDYCAR racing, to lend a hand and really just simplify a lot of things, especially for me, when things are coming at me very quickly, especially these last few days, he’s even making little changes just in terms of car setup to make sure I’m comfortable before I go out, and that was in the first day,” he said of Mears. “We made a really good change before I went out, and it worked out really good, and I gained a whole heap of confidence from it.
“To have a guy come in like that, talk about lines, he calls them patterns, get my timing right, it’s a really cool thing and very unique, and I’m really taking it in my stride as well as everyone else on this table.”
As to the best advise Mears has given him thus far?
“Trust your ass. Feel the car. Feel the car. Sorry, but that’s literally the best piece I’ve ever had. Trust it. If something doesn’t feel right, come in. If it feels good, play with it, get used to it, the front bar, the rear bar, the weight jacker. But yeah, he’s been phenomenal.”