Scott McLaughlin, working to be IndyCar force, as first Indianapolis 500 looms

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Scott McLaughlin has made the most of his opportunity to drive for legendary team owner Roger Penske, first becoming a three-time Supercars champion for Team Penske in Australia and now having a strong rookie season in the IndyCar series.

No race is bigger for Penske than the Indianapolis 500, and McLaughlin is looking forward to his first ride in the prestigious race on May 30.

Scott McLaughlin will be competing in his first Indianapolis 500 on May 30.

This will be Penske’s 52nd year of running cars in the Indy 500 and his Team Penske drivers have won 18 times, including Will Power in 2018 and Simon Pagenaud in 2019.

Takuma Sato enters as the defending Indy 500 winner — competing for Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing — also winning the Memorial Day weekend race in 2017 for Andretti Autosport.

McLaughlin, a 27-year-old native of New Zealand, made a name for himself while driving for Penske in the Australian Supercars Championship, that country’s version of NASCAR, winning the series title in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

“I was scouted by Roger and his team in 2016 and asked to join their team for the 2017 season, and it really happened from there,” said McLaughlin, who won 48 races in the Supercars series.

“I always wanted to come to America somehow because I had an infatuation for American racing," he said, "but it was all about making sure that we were successful Down Under first and we won championships and we won the biggest race of the year at Bathurst, and then eventually I had the chance to come here this year and haven’t looked back.”

McLaughlin has been impressive since moving over to the IndyCar series, where he has three straight top-10 finishes, including a second-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway’s 1½-mile oval and an eighth-place finish at Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course, which also is a part of the famed Brickyard track.

“There’s been some little speed bumps here and there, but it’s one of the toughest series in the world, very competitive,” McLaughlin said. “IndyCar is brutal at the moment, so many good teams and good drivers so coming in as a rookie is always a bit difficult, especially when you have to learn tracks, including the one at Detroit.

“I’m excited for what’s ahead in learning the tracks and the different cities, but the way that you have to find the speed in the car is a something that I’ve really had to learn because at the base it’s a different car. It’s very powerful, lots of aerodynamics, you have to really trust the car. It’s a thrill driving one for sure.”

McLaughlin has practiced at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to prepare for qualifying this weekend, then the race on Memorial Day weekend.

“(The Indianapolis Motor Speedway) oozes history, so you have to come in here with respect, it’s a place that will bite you if you do drop your guard,” McLaughlin said. “We’re solidly building up to it. Our fastest average speed has been 225, 226 (mph) so we’re obviously going to be looking at another 10 mph up when we turn the boost up and qualify. We have time and the amount of practice that we’ve had is ample for me to get comfortable.”

McLaughlin will be making his first trip to Belle Isle June 11-13, competing on the 13-turn, 2.3-mile street course in consecutive 70-lap races on the final two days of the event.

The addition of McLaughlin puts Team Penske as a four-car team. He joins Josef Newgarden, the 2017 and ’19 series champion, Power — the 2014 series champ — and the 2016 series champion Pagenaud.

“The pedigree is renowned, most of them have won Indy 500s, all of them have won a championship,” McLaughlin said. “They have been really good to me, open and honest and allowing me to pick their brain. They are probably not telling me too much, but are welcome with most things I’m asking and that comes from the top of the leadership. When then team wins, we win and that’s the motto and you feel that throughout the team.”

david.goricki@detroitnews.com