Scott McLaughlin had to wait longer than he might have expected to secure IndyCar’s 2021 Rookie of the Year honors given that main rival Romain Grosjean didn’t contest all of the races, but he got the job done with an 11th-place finish at Long Beach on Sunday.
The New Zealander ended the season 33 points clear of Grosjean; his cause helped by the Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing driver’s charge through the top 10 ending when he tagged the wall on lap 57.
“You get one shot to win this,” said McLaughlin. “It’s a proud moment to win it. My ultimate goal was potentially top 12, top 10 in the championship. You always strive for more. To win the Rookie of the Year will sit with me forever, and no one can ever take it away from me.”
McLaughlin narrowly missed his top 12 target – his final championship position was 14th — and he has clear ideas about what he’s going to focus on ahead of 2022.
“I need to get qualifying sorted and understand the tire,” he said. “The hardest thing for me here is, I’ve been so used to extracting qualifying (speed) from the (Australian) Supercar — you only had one lap to do it, basically. The peak of the tire, you learnt that quite quickly, how to get it to its peak early enough in the lap to do a really good lap time over one lap.
“Here, your fastest lap sometimes happens on lap two, three, potentially lap four. Trying to get the tire to come on at the right time is very difficult, and hard to understand or explain.
“But that will be certainly what I work on in the off-season. But I think I’ve slowly got it. It’s just that the guys that have got it sorted, the guys that have been around for many years — even guys like Romain, who have been on different compounds for a long time (in Formula 1) — they’ve got it sorted. I have to work hard to make it to that point. If I can get qualifying sorted, I feel like I’m as good as many people in the race.”
While the three-time Supercar champion and 2019 Bathurst 1000 winner’s roots lie in road and street courses, his best results in his first IndyCar campaign came on ovals, with a second at the opening Texas race followed later by a fourth at WWTR.
Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, who formed the third prong of a remarkably star-studded rookie field, ran a road/street campaign similar to Grosjean’s and ended the season 23rd in the standings.