Scott McLaughlin is on the verge of claiming the 2021 IndyCar Rookie of the Year championship though he admits it’s not his main focus heading into the last round at Long Beach.
McLaughlin recently spoke to Autosport about his season so far.
“The rookie championship isn’t as important to me as where I’m at compared to everyone, which is 13th at the moment. I think we’re probably where the team wanted me or expected me to be in my first year, and we still have a chance to finish in the top 10. If we can do that… that’s a huge goal and it’s a win for us.
“I’ve done three more races than Grosjean so I don’t want to lose it, just from that perspective!”
“I feel good about where I am now compared with where I was at the start of the year.”
One of the biggest challanges has been the different qualifying style used in IndyCar.
“Qualifying’s been tough, but actually, understanding the tyres has been tough to learn too.
“There’s different configurations between road courses and street courses, but also between different road courses.
“I’ve never really had to run a different tyre in the same qualifying session like we do here. And the sessions are so short and sharp,” McLaughlin said.
“The biggest problem is that, if I don’t make it through to Q2, I don’t get another shot on the red tyres until the race. And the experience you get there on reds isn’t really usable at the next race, because by then your car is heavy with fuel, heavy with aero downforce too, and so it has a completely different feel.
“Nothing you do in the race while you’re on reds is useful experience for running reds in quali next time, so if I don’t get through to Q2, I’ve lost the chance to get more qualifying experience of low fuel, light downforce on the red tyre.
“When I feel comfortable with the car, we do something like I did at GP Indy in May, and we get through to the Firestone Fast Six.
“Now, I don’t know why that didn’t work in the second race on the Indy road course [in August], but that’s how qualifying is in IndyCar. If you don’t get everything right, you don’t get in. I’d say that’s what makes IndyCar so hard.”
The most recent round at Laguna Seca was strong for McLaughlin, topping the timesheets at the end of practice two, and an opening lap performance that saw him move into 11th after starting from 16th.
“My lap times were good and I was able to pass cars.
“It was a race where I felt, ‘Man, I actually belong here.’ At Nashville, Portland, Gateway and now Laguna, I’ve felt really, really strong and at-one with the car. I’m really excited for Long Beach. It’s not a place I’ve been to before obviously, and most of the other guys have, but… we’ll see what we’ve got.”
McLaughlin was the only Penske driver to test at Gateway ahead of this years race, helping the team to develop their cars before the event, something Josef Newgarden credited him for after taking the race win there.
All the Team Penske cars finished in the top eight, with McLaughlin waking away with fourth.
“That was good because it meant that the feel of the car was right,” he says. “What I want from the car correlates to what everyone wants, and the things I’m asking for to set up the car right are the right things to ask for.
“For me as a rookie, and someone who hadn’t raced ovals before this year, that was a nice feeling. I came out of Gateway thinking the result’s great, but to have the winner making that comment was also great.
“Josef didn’t have to say that; he’s a great bloke and certainly it gave me a big confidence boost, particularly for ovals. Man, I can’t wait to get back to Indy next year, and have a good go.
Main Image: Chris Jones