One-and-a-half seasons into his transition from multiple Australian Supercars champion to NTT IndyCar Series driver, Mid-Ohio winner Scott McLaughlin believes that his recent results reflect the huge gains he’s made over the past year.
“It’s night and day,” said the New Zealander. “Even my experience in terms of what I want from the car, what I’m asking from the team, what I want from the car in a pit stop, wing changes, whatever. I’m a lot more assertive now with what I want. I’m not second-guessing what I’m doing. I’m just, this is what it’s going to be, and so be it.
“I’m super-proud with where we’re going and my development, and I think we can continue to push, and I think it’s been building. Since we had Barber and then we went to Indy and we were basically leading that race and then obviously slick tires didn’t work in the wet, and basically every race since then I’ve been there or thereabouts. Indy, I crashed when I was in a good spot; not going to win the race but a good spot for points. Every race since then we’ve been in a spot to be top five or top eight. We’ve converted it the last two races, and that’s what we’ve got to continue to do if we want to get back into this fight.”
McLaughlin finished 14th in his rookie season, and climbed to seventh in this year’s standings off the back of his Mid-Ohio win, which made him just the second multiple winner so far this season alongside Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden.
“I think it’s just all about just belief, believing in what you can do, going back to the basics and just trusting your feel,” he said. “That’s certainly what I’ve done the last six months, last eight months.
“I’m privileged to be able to compete against Will (Power) and Josef as teammates and see their data and it allows me to develop better. They’re absolutely at the top of their game. They’ve been at the top of their game for a long time, and I’m able to rebound off them.
“Before qualifying, Josef was really the one that said, hey, you should maybe go back to your old setup because you looked stronger on that, and we actually ended up doing that, and that’s what happened. We qualified really well, and it worked out good. We’ve got a really good relationship between the three of us. We want to beat each other more than anything, but it’s solid, it’s a partnership that I think is going to push Team Penske more and more forward in the future, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
Power, who made a handful of starts in what was then the V8 Supercar Series between 2002 and 2012, attributes McLaughlin’s rapid progress to the lessons he learned during his years in Australia, even if there’s almost no correlation between the cars.
“He’s just a fast driver,” Power said. “He’s doing all the work he needs to do. No surprise to me that he’s winning this year and running up front. Obviously it’s only his second year in this series, but he’s gained a lot of experience at a very high level. He dominated down in Australia, and that isn’t an easy series, either.
“I think what was good for him was, he had the maturity of a professional driver. He didn’t have to learn like a rookie and make all these silly mistakes and a lot of trial and error. But he’s doing a great job, great job. I mean, to come from sedans to open wheels and be competitive is impressive.”
McLaughlin’s next target is to become a championship-winner for Penske in multiple disciplines. His victory on Sunday narrowed his deficit to championship leader Marcus Ericsson to 69 points with eight races remaining.
“I just never give up, but in IndyCar things can change in a heartbeat,” he said. “I’ve just got to keep building – every race I’ve got to keep making the most of the situation that I’ve got, and that’s something that I probably didn’t do the last month.
“I’m excited for what’s ahead. A win is a big thing for us, moved us forward a little bit. If we keep building, I feel like Toronto is going to be a track that’s going to suit me. I haven’t been there, but I’m excited for it, and then Iowa I felt really strong at the test and it’s two races there. If we can have a solid next three races, who knows where it puts us?
“The days when things are going bad, I just probably was trying to overachieve: I was trying to win the race from a position where it was just wasn’t going to happen unless something fell our way tremendously.
“I’ve just got to settle down in some situations, take the races as they come and just let IndyCar be IndyCar and hopefully it falls my way.”