ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Three-time Virgin Australia Supercars Championship titlist Scott McLaughlin hasn’t competed in his first NTT IndyCar Series race yet and he’s already earned a ride with one of the sport’s premier teams.
McLaughlin, who is set to make his debut in Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, has been named to a full-time ride at Team Penske next year.
The team will expand to four cars, with the 27-year-old from New Zealand joining two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden, 2014 IndyCar Series champion and 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner Will Power and 2016 IndyCar Series champion and 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud on the team.
“I’m so excited for the opportunity to take the next step in my career and compete against some of the best drivers in the world in the IndyCar Series,” McLaughlin said. “The last four years racing for DJR Team Penske has been amazing. I want to thank every single person on the team, and everyone that has helped me reach this point in my career. I wouldn’t be in position to continue to chase my dream without the hard work of so many people along the way. I’m looking forward to the challenge of joining one of the most iconic motorsports programs of all time – Team Penske’s IndyCar team. I wish the 2021 season would begin tomorrow.”
McLaughlin ranks fourth on the all-time Supercars win list with 56 victories and second on the all-time list with 76 career poles in just eight full seasons of racing. After four seasons competing for Team Penske, McLaughlin already ranks third on the organization’s all-time wins list, trailing only Brad Keselowski and Mark Donohue.
Team Penske will no longer be affiliated with DJR in the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship, but will help the program transition into 2021.
McLaughlin will be the second driver from New Zealand competing in the NTT IndyCar Series, joining fellow Kiwi and five-time series champion Scott Dixon.
“He’s damn good,” said Dixon, who is attempting to win his sixth IndyCar Series championship if he finishes ninth or better in Sunday’s first and only street course race of the season. “I’m super excited for him. I met him maybe four or five years ago. We had to do an appearance at some event in Auckland, do autograph sessions. We had to sit around for a long time and chat. This is before he had gone to Team Penske.
“He’s been crushing it obviously down there with his pole record, championship situation. Then for him to have this opportunity, I know he loves America, always wanted to come to America. I think it’s really cool to have another Kiwi in the field, which didn’t really even seem to be on the radar for quite a few years.”
Newgarden, who enters the weekend 32 points behind Dixon in the championship standings, will have another fast teammate to contend with.
“It’s going to be really fascinating to see how he handles this challenge,” Newgarden said. “This is going to be an enormous task for Scott. He’s really, really good. We already know that. You could see that a mile away. I think we all admire his strengths around the Supercar side. I think he’s a great racer overall, doesn’t matter what car you put him in.
“As far as IndyCar specifically this weekend, he doesn’t have a lot of time. This is a very abnormal St. Pete weekend. Normally you have three practices, an hour apiece, maybe about two and a half hours total. He’d have an overnight to kind of understand things and make sure to distill it down to useful information for him, review in a longer time period.
“He’s got to work on the fly. He’s never been to this track. He’s never really driven the car on a true street circuit. It’s an enormous task. If he finishes in the top 10, it’s a great weekend. If he finishes in the top five, it’s an amazing weekend. Who knows, maybe he goes and wins the race. Very possible for someone like him.”
As for McLaughlin, he gets a chance to race against some of his heroes.
“I’ve always been an IndyCar fan,” he said. “I said that from the start. I’ve always been a Scott Dixon fan due to the Kiwi connection. It’s a bit weird now, I have to work out who I’m going for now that I’m at Team Penske.
“For me it’s one of the most competitive series if not the most competitive series in the world. You look at the closeness, how different the winners can be up and down the field. It’s an all-around package. You can race on road courses, ovals.
“For me it’s a fresh start with being an open-wheeler, very different to what I’ve had before. I guess, yeah, it’s a different experience. If I’ve got the opportunity to be able to do it, I’ve got to grab it with both hands.”
McLaughlin is ready to leave the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship in order to try and dominate a new series.
“It’s a dream come true,” McLaughlin said. “As a young person, you join the sport, or you join the sport as a hobby with your mum and dad. Thankfully I was lucky to turn it into a profession ‘Down Under.’ I achieved a lot of my dreams, like I said, winning Bathurst, winning a championship.
“Then to have the opportunity to drive with a world class organization that’s got so many opportunities elsewhere to further my career… When I initially signed with Roger, that was a part of my thought process, was I wanted to potentially expand the horizon if I wanted to.
“I’ve always been a person once I have ticked a box, I want to go to another spot and tick another box and whatever. Never want to stop and be content.
“This is the biggest challenge of my career. Yeah, I can’t believe I’m here, especially with COVID right now. Seriously, looking forward to meeting a lot of people, the fans, other drivers, getting to know them not just through the computer screen like I was with the IndyCar Series on iRacing. It was a bit different.
“It’s certainly a very proud moment for me, my family. My family are a bit funny because they’re getting up at 4 a.m. to watch me race this week. It’s a bit different. It’s going to be cool. It’s going to be very cool.”