IndyCar

IndyCar Rookie of the Year McLaughlin targets Indy 500 win in 2022

McLaughlin seemed underwhelmed with his race at Long Beach, with the caution flags disrupting his strategy, limiting his progress to 11th place having started 13th.

However, with fellow IndyCar rookie Romain Grosjean eliminating himself from the Long Beach race by brushing the wall at two-thirds distance, McLaughlin clinched the Rookie of the Year title by 33 points.

“We took a little bit of a punt with the strategy at the start, staying out [under the second caution]. Would have worked out if there wasn’t another quick yellow, and unfortunately there was,” McLaughlin said. “We pitted, it put us back to sort of P22, 23. After that it was all just about trying to make the most of what we had. We moved our way forward all the way to 11th.”

When it was pointed out that he had become Team Penske’s first-ever winner of the Rookie of the Year in the 42 years since its inception, McLaughlin self-deprecatingly grinned and said: “I think it just shows that Roger doesn’t really employ rookies.”

“You get one shot to win this, it’s a proud moment regardless,” the 27-year-old New Zealander added, having won Supercars’ equivalent accolade – the Mike Kable Young Gun Award – in 2013, before eventually becoming a three-time Supercars champion with DJR Team Penske.

“To win the Rookie of the Year, it will sit with me forever and no one can ever take it away from me.”

Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske Chevrolet

Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske Chevrolet

Photo by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images

As he explained in a recent interview with Autosport, McLaughlin felt far more at one with his IndyCar in the season’s final quarter, and he regards qualifying – and in particular, understanding tyre compounds – as his Achilles’ heel.

He told the media on Sunday that for 2021 his “ultimate goal” had been “top 12, top 10 in the championship” and he was disappointed to learn that he had finished up 14th in the final standings.

But asked by Autosport what would be a realistic target for his sophomore year, he replied: “I think top 10 in the championship, I need to be pushing there. I think we’ve got that merit.

“I think we took a few risks on strategy the last few races because of where we were in the championship, we had nothing to lose. But it’s exciting where I am and where I feel. I certainly believe in my mind that I can be right there in that top eight, really be contesting for wins and podiums more regularly.

“I’ve still got a lot to learn. I think next year being able to go back to all these tracks that I learnt, it’s going to feel amazing.”

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McLaughlin also won the Indy 500 Rookie of the Year title, but got a drivethrough penalty for speeding in the pitlane while appearing set for a top-six finish, meaning he ended up 20th, after qualifying fastest of the four Penske drivers in what was a bad year at the Speedway for its most legendary team.

“I’m going next year to Indy with the idea of winning,” said McLaughlin, who scored a runner-up finish at Texas Motor Speedway. “I’m going to be in a car that can win the race.

“I know I’m quick there. I know I’m quick on ovals. I feel like I’ve got a handle on it. It’s just a matter of having a good month, building up to it – dotting my Is, crossing my Ts, not speeding in pitlane. That really hampered me. I think we were on for a top five.

“I was infatuated with the Bathurst 1000 before I won it. Now I’m infatuated with the Indy 500. With my wife, I’ll watch old Indy 500s on telly, YouTube videos, watch anything. I just will be infatuated with it until I go good there and get a result. Certainly I want to get there next year.”

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