DJR Team Penske’s reigning Australian Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin was a rocket during his first NTT IndyCar Series test on Monday at Sebring International Raceway. The test was both a gift and recognition for his accomplishments on behalf of The Captain’s Supercars program.
Other than his formative years in karting and two Formula Ford races back in 2010, McLaughlin’s spent his entire career in touring cars.
The New Zealander, driving the No. 3 Team Penske Chevy, had a new circuit to learn, a much faster car to figure out after years of piloting a Ford Mustang GT, and young Road To Indy talent from Arrow McLaren SP, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, and Ed Carpenter Racing to face.
And despite those challenges, McLaughlin impressed Team Penske with a fast lap of 53.3 seconds around the Sebring short course.
It compared favorably to ECR’s Rinus VeeKay, who led the day with an unofficial 52.3-second lap, AMSP’s Oliver Askew – the 2019 Indy Lights champion – in second at 52.9s, and 2013 Indy Lights champion Sage Karam, who was behind the Kiwi in fourth at 54.3s in the DRR Chevy.
“Today was a massive bucket list item; a massive life achievement for me,” the 26-year-old told RACER. “I kept driving as fast as I could and [they] didn’t tell me much about lap times; I knew mine obviously, but didn’t know what the other rookies were doing. I had Tim Cindric there today, all the drivers were there, including Rick Mears, which was cool.”
Penske’s 2016 IndyCar champion and 2019 Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud stepped into assist with some chassis setup suggestions that McLaughlin and race engineer Jonathan Diuguid found useful.
“Simon actually helped me with a direction with the car, a direction I hadn’t gone previously, and we managed to get a really good balance towards the end of the day,” McLaughlin said. “That made me feel really good. I had a couple of little moments trying to find the grip of the car, and I thought I was at my limit, but when you get that little light at the end of the tunnel with a setup change, it really felt really good.”
Slinging a Mustang Supercar around Bathurst is far from easy work, which made the raw speed of an IndyCar, with carbon brakes and more than 5000 pounds of downforce, feel like McLaughlin was in a fist fight with the No. 3 Chevy.
“I’ve never experienced a braking force like it,” he said. “When I hit the brake pedal for the first time, I thought my head was about to rip off. In the end, we turned over 140 laps and got through a large program. I got a really good feel for the car. At the end of the day, it clicked. For me to walk away now, it’s a really proud moment.”