About half of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES teams recently staged their first test of the 2021 season at Sebring (Florida) International Raceway. On Monday, Feb. 1, it’s Team Penske’s turn.
The debut of the new year couldn’t come quickly enough for Scott McLaughlin, who will drive Team Penske’s No. 3 PPG Chevrolet in his first full season in the series.
“Normally in the offseason I just try to get away from it all, but (this year) it’s been difficult because I’ve been so excited for this opportunity,” said McLaughlin, the winner of the past three Australian Supercars touring car championships. “I came (to the U.S.), went straight to (St. Petersburg) for (last year’s season-ending race), had some testing at (Indianapolis Motor Speedway), had some testing at Barber (Motorsports Park) and then all of a sudden it stopped for me.
“I’ve been itching to get going again.”
McLaughlin will have Penske veterans Jonathan Diuguid (engineer) and Jon Bouslog (strategist) on his pit stand, and he also can learn from three former NTT INDYCAR SERIES champions as teammates – Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power.
Now McLaughlin needs track time to apply what he’s learned – and what he’s trying to unlearn from his days Down Under – in preparation for the season-opening race April 18 at Barber Motorsports Park.
“I’ve been trying to manipulate (this) car like we do in Australia,” he said of the transition curve. “In the middle of the corner, (you carry) the brake to keep the front turning (because) with that big, heavy (Supercar) you need to keep the weight in the front to keep the tires turning. Here, you’ve got to really trust the aerodynamics.
“It’s learning how much I can push the car, a trust (between) me and the machine.”
McLaughlin will join Newgarden, Power and Pagenaud, along with drivers from other teams, at the Sebring test.
New Zealand native McLaughlin said numerous simulation tests afforded Chevrolet drivers has helped his transition, and he has watched a significant amount of footage from past races and qualifying sessions. The fact he got the opportunity to race a Team Penske car last year – in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Oct. 25 – gave him a head start on 2021.
McLaughlin is surprised by how much ground he has already covered. It was almost exactly a year ago that he climbed into an Indy car for the first time at Sebring, and a reminder of that day recently appeared in a photograph on his cell phone.
“It was a special day driving an Indy car for the first time, and now to find myself in PPG colors and be really excited to be a full-time driver in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES is a special moment for me and my family,” he said. “It’s a privilege and an honor to wear the No. 3 that’s synonymous with the team.”
Helio Castroneves used No. 3 with the team for 308 races, winning the Indianapolis 500 in 2002 and 2009 with it. Bobby Unser (1981) and Rick Mears (1991) also won Indy for Team Penske with that number.
Speaking of Indy, McLaughlin said the thought of racing in the “500” has not escaped his mind since testing there Nov. 3. He completed the Rookie Orientation Program that day, making him eligible to run as soon as the track opens for business.
“You’d be surprised (how much) I’ve dreamt of racing that race since I was a little kid,” he said. “When Scotty Dixon won it in 2008, it was one thing I really wanted to (do). I’ve always been an INDYCAR fan, but to see him do that and put New Zealand on the map with regards to American motor racing – it’s something that was very special, and I dream about it that race more than a lot of people think.
“I’ve got a lot to worry about and a lot to think about before then, but at the end of the day the ‘500’ and the Month of May – jeesh! – I’m looking forward to it.”
McLaughlin said the Sebring test will be followed by a test at Barber before the first race of the season. The “500” will be held Sunday, May 30. He’ll be ready.