By JENNA FRYER, AP Auto Racing Author
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Scott McLaughlin accomplished the Bathurst 1000 in Australia, collected his third consecutive Supercars championship, then hopped on a aircraft headed to the US to start out his IndyCar journey.
The grueling itinerary took McLaughlin first to Sydney to catch a connection to Los Angeles after which a closing leg to Charlotte — all in time for him to log a four-hour stint within the Chevrolet simulator as quickly as he landed.
McLaughlin’s pandemic-postponed IndyCar debut eventually comes Sunday within the season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida. He might be correctly ready.
“I clearly by no means thought I’d get an opportunity this 12 months because of the nature of the beast with COVID,” McLaughlin stated Thursday earlier than boarding one more flight, this one headed to his first IndyCar race. “This is a chance. It’s one thing that I’m simply going to go in like a sponge, soak every little thing up, see what comes out of it. I’m fairly assured that I’m going to love the sequence, I’m going to love the vehicles, I’m going to love every little thing.”
McLaughlin has completed all he can racing touring vehicles in Australia, the place he is received 56 races, together with final 12 months’s Bathurst 1000, and all these titles. He drives for Roger Penske in Supercars and in 2019 the boss requested McLaughlin if he was serious about driving an Indy automotive.
The New Zealander is a longtime fan of countryman Scott Dixon and sometimes wakes up at 3 a.m. to look at IndyCar races. A tryout in a Penske automotive was a no brainer, and plans had been set for McLaughlin to run the highway course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Could.
He accomplished three check periods earlier than the coronavirus decimated the IndyCar and Supercars schedules. McLaughlin could not journey exterior Australia and a debut race didn’t appear doable this 12 months.
He bought a reprieve when the St. Pete race, initially scheduled because the March 15 season opener earlier than its cancelation, made it again onto the IndyCar calendar as Sunday’s championship-deciding finale.
Crew Penske has not but introduced a 2021 schedule for McLaughlin however the 27-year-old has made clear that IndyCar is the place he needs to race.
“It’s some of the aggressive sequence if not probably the most aggressive sequence on this planet,” he stated. “It’s a contemporary begin with being an open-wheeler, very totally different to what I’ve had earlier than. If I’ve bought the chance to have the ability to do it, I’ve bought to seize it with each palms.”
McLaughlin’s debut is available in the identical occasion his Crew Penske teammate Josef Newgarden will race five-time sequence champion Dixon for the title. Newgarden assisted McLaughlin throughout his earlier check periods and believes St. Pete, the one avenue course on the schedule this 12 months, might be a “fascinating” problem for the newcomer.
The schedule has been whittled all the way down to only one true follow session on Saturday earlier than qualifying after which Sunday’s race. McLaughlin’s check periods had been all on highway programs.
“That is going to be an unlimited job for Scott,” Newgarden stated. “He doesn’t have loads of time. This can be a very irregular St. Pete weekend. He’s set to work on the fly. He’s by no means been to this monitor. He’s by no means actually pushed the automotive on a real avenue circuit.
“If he finishes within the prime 10, it’s an incredible weekend. If he finishes within the prime 5, it’s a tremendous weekend. Who is aware of? Perhaps he goes and wins the race. Very doable for somebody like him.”
It can doubtless be the beginning of a second profession for McLaughlin, who is anticipated to be introduced as the driving force of a brand new fourth automotive within the Penske secure. He was unable to defend his Bathurst victory final weekend, ending fifth, which might be a small incentive to return to Supercars.
“I’ve executed every little thing I wished to realize. I wished to win at Bathurst and a championship. Fortunately I received three championships and one Bathurst,” he stated. “If it did come to the purpose the place I used to be shifting on from Supercars, I’d be happy.”
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