Team Penske managing director Ron Ruzewski says a top-eight finish in the IndyCar standings next year would be a success for his team’s newest addition Scott McLaughlin.
Earlier this year, McLaughlin confirmed the long-awaited news that he would be leaving the Supercars Championship after the 2020 season.
He then made his debut IndyCar race that same weekend in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg where he started 22nd and finished 21st.
But even before the St Petersburg race, the Kiwi competed in several tests with the Penske squad in the build-up to the new season.
His performances across a selection of weather conditions, ovals and road courses caught the attention of watching paddock.
Ruzewski was working with Andretti Autosport driver Alexander Rossi at Sebring when McLaughlin made his debut outing in an IndyCar. He said McLaughlin’s performance as a rookie that day impressed himself and Rossi.
“He’s from New Zealand but acts like an Aussie at times,” Ruzewski told IndyCar.com. “He already has the attention of the paddock from his resume.
“I was working with Alexander Rossi at Sebring, and he said, ‘Man, he’s going to be fast.’ The competition acknowledges the guy is talented and he gets it.”
However, he insisted that neither himself nor the team is expecting McLaughlin to be a championship contender on his first full rookie season.
Instead, the focus is on in constant improvement so that eventually the 27-year-old works himself up towards a finish on the podium.
“We would like to see him win races, but you have to realistic,” Ruzewski said.
“I want to see him progress every week and minimise mistakes. I would like to see him on the podium.
“Ultimately, you want to see him in the top eight in the championship. That would be a success. You hope for more, but you have to be realistic in expectations.
“If we can get him to progress every week, get on the podium at times and make the fast six (in qualifying), good things will happen. But he is also going to make mistakes.
“To expect him to be a championship contender the first year is a bit much to ask. I want to see him improve.”
Ruzewski also confirmed that seasoned IndyCar and Sportscar engineer Jonathan Diuguid would have the role of leading McLaughlin from a technical standpoint.
Diuguid has been a cornerstone in the Penske stable since joining the organisation in 2007. He was the first-choice engineer for the Acura Team Penske ARX-05 Daytona Prototype project, capturing Acura Penske’s first IMSA title last season.
He has worked alongside champion IndyCar drivers such as Simon Pagenaud and finished runner-up in the title race with the Helio Castroneves in 2013.
“Duguid will run the car for Scott,” Ruzewski added.
“Right now, I don’t see us bringing in any outside people because we have enough talent inside of the building.
“But the biggest thing with Scott is keeping in perspective what our expectations are of him.
“Typically, we’ve had guys in the series that want to drive for us. With Scott, he is so competitive, but from our standpoint if he can run in the top 10, that will be a big accomplishment for him in the first year.”