By David Morgan, Associate Editor
As the newest member of Team Penske, NTT IndyCar Series rookie Scott McLaughlin has been pulling double duty during the Month of May as he tries to soak in all of the majesty of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and his first Indianapolis 500, while also attempting to lessen a steep learning curve to perform to the best of his ability on race day.
“I’ve been infatuated with America since I was a young kid,” McLaughlin said of racing at Indianapolis. “Mom and Dad had American muscle cars, Dad had Kenworth trucks, which were built here in the States. Obviously, I support the man and the Detroit diesels these days, so I’ve got to look after that part, but like I said, I’ve grown up infatuated with America and to be here and be competing for the biggest prize in American motorsports is a pretty proud moment.”
The three-time V8 Supercars champion went on to compare what he has seen in Indianapolis to what he experienced during the Bathurst 1000 in Australia.
“I’ve really enjoyed what the town turns into,” he said. “Obviously, this isn’t going to be a full 500, but I get half a taste before hopefully next year being back to full, which I’m sure it will be. I’ve really enjoyed the town, the buzz. I tweeted today, you can feel the buzz in the air already. The 500 is very close. I feel like everyone is getting pretty excited and everyone is pretty pumped about it. It’s just cool to be a part of all that, especially for my first one.
“Back home with Bathurst, it’s the same thing. It’s a little bit smaller scale, but the traditions and the way the town gets around the whole place is a huge thing back there. The history of this event is what is special. 105 years is amazing and to be a part of that is very cool. I think Bathurst is close to its 60th year, so it’s going strong as well and has that tradition and value of feeling within the whole of the town.
“But I think the only difference between here and Bathurst is that IndyCar was basically born here. You know, this is IndyCar’s town. Bathurst was a race track more so; the race track is its town. It’s one very cool thing knowing that a lot of the teams are here. Going down Speedway you see A.J. Foyt and his team and all of the restaurants have checkered flags out the front. It’s a cool thing.”
Starting mid-pack, he’ll be in the midst of the madness when the race gets underway, but the track time he has had thus far and the performance he has seen from his car has given him a notion of how well the car will be in race trim.
“For us as a team, it was a little bit underwhelming in terms of qualifying speed. We felt we were there or thereabouts, but as soon as we turned the boost up, it wasn’t there in terms of pace. I feel like we were continuously making our car better and better and I would have loved to have another shot there on Saturday to maybe move up the field a little bit further, but I was very pleased with my run because we made our car better. That was the first time in the whole week that I had been in the 230 (mph) bracket the whole time.”
McLaughlin noted that he has made a number of full fuel runs during the practice sessions leading into Sunday to try and get a gauge on how the handling on his car will change throughout the course of a run and will still be learning has he goes as the Indy 500 plays out. He added that being able to run a couple of oval races at Texas last month heading into Indianapolis has been extremely helpful in lessening the learning curve with the tools he has at his disposal in the cockpit.
“Having Texas a month or so ago and being able to learn all of that before this race has been huge for me. So having a superspeedway already gives me a lot of confidence heading into what’s going to be a bit of an unknown more so for the race and how long it is and getting used to that.”