Roger Penske was immensely pleased to have won his 600th motor race after Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin delivered a Team Penske 1-2-4 at Texas Motor Speedway, with Will Power nearly completing a podium sweep.
The Captain was also beaming after watching his triple Australian Supercars champion start on the front row at TMS and lead the majority of the race before Newgarden snuck by to claim victory on the last lap. Penske’s delight came from the realization that after a lifetime of road racing, McLaughlin – with all of five ovals to his credit – has become a threat to win at every stop on the calendar.
The New Zealander’s triumph to open the season on the streets of St. Petersburg with new race engineer Ben Bretzman set the stage for his commanding performance at TMS, and with the Indianapolis 500 on the horizon, Penske knows he has three drivers who are capable of reaching victory lane.
Bretzman, an IndyCar champion and Indy 500 winner with former Penske driver Simon Pagenaud, is also confident in the Kiwi’s abilities to get the job done on ovals. After observing McLaughlin’s demeanor in the cockpit, he knew something special was in the making.
“When I watched him last year, I knew he was going to be very successful at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, just because of the way drives and way approaches things,” Bretzman told RACER. “On an oval, there’s a lot of give and take with setup, and give and take with traffic, and how to manage the car, and he doesn’t get overly flustered with anything. It’s not too much for him.
“And I don’t want to say it’s been easy, but it’s been super straightforward with him getting going on the ovals. He’s really controlled in the car, which is quite nice on a big oval.
“He knows how to get good speed out of every situation, whether it’s a road or street course or an oval; he’s just naturally good at doing that. But he keeps himself very controlled and calm in his approach. And he doesn’t overdrive the car and doesn’t overextend it.
“He’s very smooth. It’s all the types of things you’d ask for in a driver.”
The combination of McLaughlin and Bretzman is the biggest story to start the new season. With a pole, a win and a second place from two races, plus having led 68 percent of all laps run so far in 2022, Penske’s newest driver and engineer combo and the crew on the No.3 Chevy hold a healthy lead in the championship standings entering round three at Long Beach. Credit the relaxed relationship between the person in the car and his ally on the timing stand for the effectiveness that’s been on display.
“For my style of work, I’m not a dictator by any fashion; to me, it’s how well we work together,” Bretzman explained. “We’re in this together, no matter what. Being around, doing this for 20-plus years, I’ve been trying to help him understand why things are the way they are, why cars position themselves certain ways, why certain drivers drive a certain way, why ovals are the way they are, and he’s still very green. He picks everything up super-fast, but still, he’s only got one full year of IndyCar experience.
“So we talk about why all the setups are the way they are. There’s a lot of things that doesn’t make sense for probably any driver like Scott that comes over and has never driven an oval. This is why we run the car asymmetric. This is why we run the spring here, and this is why we run the front wing the way it is, and this is why I run the cross weight the way it is.
“We have to learn all that stuff, and I want to make sure we learn all that together so he can come back and know what he wants to change. It’s really important for us to teach him what each one of the parts of the car does so he can help me to make the car goes faster. And he’s definitely taking it all in and making it his primary concern.”
McLaughlin’s intelligence and eagerness to play the role of student among Team Penske’s vast engineering corps is another ingredient in how the Kiwi has become a title contender in his second IndyCar season.
“Everybody in our entire group and engineering group and on the team believes in him,” Bretzman said. We all have this common knowledge base and we all know what this does and what that does on the car, so we’re working from that approach with Scott and once something is understood, because this car is so different from anything he’s raced before, we go to the next thing.
“Scott just wants to learn about all the car stuff and he’s also mainly focused on what he what he needs to do to be better. It just takes time to really experience all the different situations to assemble your firsthand knowledge about the cars and the tracks we race on, so when you look at a guy like Scott Dixon, he’s lived in IndyCar for 20 years and knows everything about everything.
“So what do you do with a guy like our Scott, who doesn’t have all those years of experience, but has the potential to be really amazing? You do all you can to download information to him so he doesn’t have to wait on time to learn everything on his own, and he’s doing a great job at absorbing everything he sees on track and in the engineering conversations.”