McLaughlin tops Grosjean for Rookie Of The Year Honors, his thoughts on 2021 and goals for 2022

LONG BEACH, Calif — Scott McLaughlin was the head of one of the most talented rookie classes in the history of the NTT IndyCar Series. He came over here via Super Cars overseas. Joining him was ex F1-driver Romain Grosjean as well as seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.

McLaughlin, led Grosjean by 20 points entering the weekend and held him off to become the first Team Penske driver to earn the honors of being the top rookie driver in the history of the program.

“Yeah, I think you get one shot to win this. It’s a proud moment regardless to win it,” he said. “My ultimate goal was potentially top 12, top 10 in the championship. You always strive for more. To win the Rookie of the Year, it will sit with me forever and no one can ever take it away from me.”

McLaughlin, ended up 14th in points after scoring one podium, two top fives and five top 10’s. It was a solid year, but not great. He started to find his stride though late in the year and he says that gives him the upmost confidence heading into 2022.

“Overall towards the end of the season, since probably St. Louis, potentially before that, I felt like I’ve had a good stranglehold on the car,” he said. “I’ve come in leaps and bounds in terms of my confidence with the care. It really sets me up well for 2022.”

As far as what he needs to do better for next year, he says it has to be in qualifying. He had two top 10 qualifying efforts in 16 tries. Since the Indy 500, he was 15th or worse in qualifying in eight of the last 11 races.

“Qualifying is skill my Achilles’ heel right now, with the different compounds, getting used to that tire-wise,” he noted. “The hardest thing for me here is I’ve been so used in the super car extracting qualifying, you only had one lap to do it basically. The peak of the tire, you learnt that quite quickly, how to get it to its peak early enough in the lap to do a really good lap time over one lap.

“Here the laps — your fastest lap sometimes happens on lap two, three, potentially lap four. Trying to get the tire to come on at the very perfect, right time is very difficult and hard to understand or explain.

“But that will be certainly what I work on in the off-season, trying to understand. But I think I’ve slowly got it. It’s just the guys that have got it sorted, the guys that have been around for many years, even guys like Romain who have been on different compounds for a long time, they’ve got it sorted. I have to work hard to make it to that point.

“If I can get qualifying sorted, I feel like I’m as good as many people in the race.”

So, qualifying is one thing. If he can nail that down, what are some realistic expectations for 2022?

“I think top 10 in the championship, for sure, I need to be pushing there, getting results in the top 10,” McLaughlin said of his goals for 2022. “I think we’ve got that merit. I think we took a few risks on strategy the last few races because of where we were in the championship, we had nothing to lose.

“Next year, would we have taken that yellow at the start? Probably. Then we probably would have been a lot further up. But it’s exciting where I am and, like, where I feel. I certainly believe in my mind that I can be right there in that top eight, really be contesting for wins and podiums more regularly.

“I’ve still got a lot to learn. I think this year, being able to go back to all these tracks that I learnt, I feel, yeah, it’s going to feel amazing.”

One place that he feels like he can excel at is Indy. He had a quiet month this past year but grew comfortable there. He was runner-up and eighth at Texas and fourth in Gateway in three of his four oval starts.

Indy is where he expects to contend for a win. It’s a place that he’s grown infatuated with.

“Oh, I’m going next year to Indy with the idea of winning,” he said. “I’m going to be in a car that can win the race. I know I’m quick there. I know I’m quick on ovals. I feel like I’ve got a handle on it. It’s just a matter of having a good month, building up to it. Dotting my Is, crossing my Ts, not speeding in pit lane. That really hampered me. I think we were on for a top five.

“I feel like this whole rookie thing could have been sealed a lot longer if I could have finished where I was going to finish at the Indy 500. I was infatuated with the Bathurst 1000 before I won it. Now I’m infatuated with the Indy 500. With my wife, I’ll watch old Indy 500s on tele, YouTube videos, watch anything at the end of the day. I just will be infatuated with it until I go good there and get a result. Certainly I want to get there next year.”

He says Laguna Seca is the track he took to the best as he felt the most comfortable there. His favorite track was Indy and his favorite moment being Texas and the Indy 500.

“To be honest, I really enjoyed Laguna Seca. I felt really comfortable there. Felt like we had a really good car. Out of all the street tracks, I feel like this one’s probably my favorite. Out of the ovals, obviously Indianapolis was probably my favorite obviously just for obvious reasons.

“I think you have to go back to Texas, following Scottie there. I certainly didn’t think I’d be in that position. I thought we could have been easily top five. To be battling for the win almost, really chasing him till the end, that was a good feeling.

“I think also starting my first Indy 500, there’s nothing better. Rolling out and seeing all the fans. Every driver in the intro room was saying, Wait till you see it next year when it’s full. I can’t wait. What I saw, 50% or whatever it was, it’s going to be off the chain. I’m really excited for that.”

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