Welcome to the NTT IndyCar Series, Scott McLaughlin.
On his first day of proper running on the full Circuit of The Americas layout, and on only his second day in an Indy car, the back-to-back Australian Supercars champion rocketed to third overall in the No. 2 Team Penske Chevy once the bad weather cleared.
Talent, as Wednesday’s results from COTA confirms, is universal. Trading a 3000-pound Ford Mustang GT machine for a guided IndyCar missile could have exposed McLaughlin’s extreme lack of experience in open-wheel cars — he did a total of two Formula Ford races 10 years ago — but the New Zealander showed how innate skill travels well between racing disciplines.
“This is an altogether new feeling,” he said. “I’m a race car driver and I like going fast. This is definitely faster and I’m having a lot of fun. These cars have a lot of grip but they are tough to drive as well. These last few days have been tough because I’ve really wanted to get out there and learn.”
With fresh Firestone tires installed, most of the established IndyCar stars used the final hour of running to post their quickest laps. McLaughlin’s 1m47.2630s lap was 0.2396 seconds behind Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi and a respectable 0.5027s off of Penske teammate Will Power, who paced the field of 27 drivers on Wednesday.
Imagine what the Kiwi might be capable of with more than a half-day of testing a Sebring from January and six hours in mixed conditions at COTA.
“As soon as you drive out on to the track, it’s got a lot of power, a lot of braking,” he said of the massive adjustment from a tin-top DJR Team Penske Mustang. “The first time I hit the brakes at Sebring my head nearly hit the steering wheel, I swear. It’s unbelievable and I’m just really privileged to drive this car.
“There is so much grip in these cars. It is hard on your neck for sure, man. I’ve been training really hard for this and I’m really happy with the car. The speed I can carry through the corners, it’s insane. I’m getting used to being able to use the aero. You feel every bump. The g-forces are huge. Your neck gets a hammering. There is no power steering. In the V8 cars, we are quite lucky with that. You really have to force the car. We are going 250k (155mph) through the corners, so it is full on. I have a new sense of speed.”
Just before his statement-making outing, McLaughlin acknowledged the legions of fans and family back home keeping track of his IndyCar progress. In less than three months, he’ll be back to make his race debut for Roger Penske in the U.S. at the Indianapolis Grand Prix where, based on his COTA performance, more fireworks could be on the way.
“Yeah, Mum and Dad; my wife’s watching at home,” he said. “I think half of Australia is, Australia and New Zealand. So, hi to everyone at home. Roger and everyone at Team Penske have given me a go and I’m just trying to enjoy it as much as I can with a smile on my face.”