Before coming to the United States, Scott McLaughlin was a three-time champion in what is now known as the Repco Supercars Championship. He had 56 victories by the age of 26. But he wanted a new adventure.
At the time, he was driving for DJR Team Penske (now once again Dick Johnson Racing), which was partially owned by Roger Penske. During the four years driving for The Captain, McLaughlin formed a strong relationship with the rest of the Team Penske organization. They were supportive when McLaughlin expressed a desire to expand his horizons.
He tested a Dallara IR18 at Sebring in early 2020 with an eye toward debuting at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the GMR Grand Prix. The COVID-19 pandemic put the kibosh to those plans, but he ultimately debuted later that year. In 2021, he made the full-time move to the NTT IndyCar Series. In 34 starts, McLaughlin has three career wins and finished fourth in points last year.
The Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona also saw McLaughlin make his prototype racing debut in an ORECA 07-Gibson for Tower Motorsport alongside Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden. While there, McLaughlin sat down with Frontstretch‘s Phil Allaway.
Phil Allaway, Frontstretch: It is your first race weekend in an LMP2 car. How have you had to adjust your style to the ORECA 07?
Scott McLaughlin: It’s been a little bit different. It has some similarities with the Supercar that I used to race [in Australia], obviously one being that there’s a roof over my head.
At the same time, the car is a little bit heavier than an Indy car.
Note: The ORECA 07 currently weighs 950 kilograms, or 2094.39 pounds, in IMSA. The Dallara IR18 weighs 735 kilograms, or 1620 pounds.
As a result, you have to be a lot smoother with your driver inputs and less aggressive as compared to the Indy car.
It’s been a lot of fun learning. I first got to drive the car [last week during the ROAR Before the 24]. So far, I feel good in it.
Being part of an endurance race reminds me of being in Bathurst. I definitely have a lot of experience in those races.
McLaughlin is a past winner of the Bathurst 1000, winning in 2019 with co-driver Alexandre Premat. He also finished third in 2018 and has two fifth-place finishes as well.
Allaway: Space-wise, the ORECA 07 is a much tighter car inside than the Volvo S60s and Ford Mustangs that you raced in Supercars. What kind of changes to drive-change motions does that result in?
McLaughlin: I’m just slightly the tallest driver in the group, so they’ve had to build the seat around me, then everyone else has an insert that they put in when they get in the car. It’s a compromise for everyone. For me, I’m probably still not as comfortable as I’d want to be, but that’s just part of endurance racing since all the other drivers have to be comfortable as well. When I get in, I just pull whatever [insert] is there and I’m reasonably comfy.
We had to re-do the seat because initially, Josef’s [Newgarden] seat was the base and I was just trying to slip into his. I just needed [the seat] to be a little different for me.
Allaway: Newgarden previously raced with Penske in an Acura ARX-05, which is based on the ORECA 07. How has he been able to help you out?
McLaughlin: That, plus I’ve done a lot of testing here with [Tower Motorsports] as well, which is great.
Josef’s been great. He’s been an awesome teammate both here and in IndyCar. He’s really helped to get me up to speed. So has John [Farano] and Kyffin [Simpson]. They’ve got experience in these cars, and they’re great teammates.
We’re very lucky in that I’ve worked with Josef and with [Team Penske], our silver driver (Simpson) has a lot of experience at this level and John [Farano] is a really good bronze. I think we’ve really got a good match for everyone.
Allaway: Speaking of IndyCar, last year was your second year with Team Penske. You finished fourth in points with three victories. The progression has gone very well for you, but how would you describe your season?
McLaughlin: Last year was awesome. Three wins, three poles, just fantastic. I think it was an opportunity to build a really good relationship with my new engineer Ben Bretzman. I felt like we worked together really well and that I got on top of the car really well.
It bodes well for this season. I feel like we can be right there again, but you never know in IndyCar. Things can change all the time. You just gotta make sure that you’re fit and ready to go. Once you get going, you just have to be there to strike.
Allaway: At Team Penske, you have Newgarden and Will Power as your teammates. They’re both veterans. Power’s been around for 15 years and Newgarden eight. They’ve got a lot of knowledge. How much information sharing goes on at Team Penske?
McLaughlin: It’s fully open. Sure, there are things that you hold back because you want a little advantage, but ultimately, the team works together really well.
Having those guys, especially on the ovals, to look at their data at what they’re doing, certainly helps me come up to speed quicker. It’s helped my progression and had a lot to do with my improvement last year.
We’re a group of three guys that get along really well, and we have a good partnership going into a very competitive season. We’ve definitely forged a good team.
Allaway: Car count is up for this year as well. 27 full-time teams in IndyCar for 2023.
McLaughlin: It’s great. Shows that the sport is in a good spot. Of those 27 cars, most of them can win week in, week out.
That’s one thing about IndyCar that I love. It doesn’t matter where you qualify on Saturday. You know that you have a shot to win if you hit the strategy right as long as you have a little bit of speed in the car.
It’s great that IndyCar is healthy at the moment. Hopefully, it will continue to grow.
Allaway: I think a lot of people, especially those who don’t live in the United States, tend to sleep on IndyCar. There are few open-wheel series that are as close.
McLaughlin: Absolutely. We have such a great product. It helps having a spec chassis and a minimum of things that you can do to the car.
We have a great following because it’s so competitive. There’s so many good drivers, so many good teams. Pit stops are separated by tenths [of a second]. It’s awesome, and it’s American.
It’s definitely getting noticed around the world, the pedigree of it. The respect is getting higher and higher.
Allaway: Speaking of those oh-so-American racetracks, you’ve had a pretty good record on ovals. While you haven’t won any of them, you had podiums at Texas Motor Speedway and Iowa Speedway. What do you think about how the Dallara IR18 races on ovals?
McLaughlin: It’s taken a little bit to get used to. [The ovals in IndyCar] are the first ovals I’ve raced on in my life. But I’ve been working with Will [Power] and Josef [Newgarden] closely, and they’ve been a big help for me in just getting up to speed.
I had my first big crash at Indianapolis, which was a big one. You know that these things can bite for sure.
It was an 80-something G hit. Definitely the hardest hit of my life.
I really feel that I’ve gotten comfortable with the ovals, perhaps even quicker than I did with the road and street courses, which is crazy. Team Penske builds a great car that’s really comfortable.
Allaway: Team Penske has a reputation for being ultra-professional. What is the environment like there? Is it really stressed, or bit more laid back?
McLaughlin: It’s how you want it to be. There’s a reputation to uphold and a level of professionalism that we strive for because we’re supported by many brands such as Chevrolet.
Then, you have The Captain, who has “effort equals results” as our motto. He’s such a good leader, and everyone wants to do well for him. That’s all about “The Penske Way,” and it’s a thing. There’s a reputation to uphold, and we like doing that.
Allaway: You came to Team Penske from a Penske co-owned team known then as DJR Team Penske. Did they have that same mentality there, or was it more of a mix of that and what Dick Johnson brought to the table?
McLaughlin: It was a bit of both, for sure. [Penske and Johnson] had somewhat similar views as to how a team should be built. Johnson was always a massive team player. “There’s no I in team” was his motto.
Penske came with the same sort of thing but added the professionalism of presentation. Everyone has their shirts tucked in, and everyone has a shave, that sort of thing.
We moved forward together. It was a very good partnership, obviously a very successful one. To be a part of that was very special.
Allaway: Speaking of Repco Supercars, this is going to be the first year for the new Gen3 Supercars. They’ve spent the last couple of years testing and putting them out there for the public to see. Have you been able to try one out yet?
McLaughlin: No, I haven’t. I have been asked to, but I haven’t done it.
I think they’re going through a lot of the issues that NASCAR did last year [with the Next Gen car] as far as teething issues go. Once everyone gets it going, they’ll find out how to build things better.
It looks like it’s going to be a good thing for the category. Hard to say how it’s going to shape up performance-wise against the old car, but it was needed in the category to reduce costs, and I believe they’re hitting their targets for sure.
Allaway: My understanding is that there’s going to be less downforce there, something that everyone will be happy with.
McLaughlin: It was certainly needed. There was too much downforce to the point where you really couldn’t follow [other cars]. If you got too close, it really restricted the passing. I think that’s certainly going to help the racing for sure.
Allaway: You started your full-time career in Supercars with Garry Rogers Motorsport driving the Volvo S60s. You were effectively on your own there.
McLaughlin: We were. Volvo said, “You build the chassis, we’ll do the engine, and we’ll bring it together.”
The joining of those parties, that really put my name on the map. It really got me my opportunity with Roger [Penske]. I owe a lot to that program for how it helped me and built me as a racecar driver. Today, I still talk to Garry Rogers; we’re still close and have conversations from time to time.
Allaway: Penske has his toes in a lot of different places. One of those places is in NASCAR. Have you considered maybe trying to push to have a one-off appearance in a NASCAR race?
McLaughlin: No, I haven’t. I’d love to, don’t get me wrong, but at the same time, there’s commercial arrangements that make things rather difficult even though you are on the same team.
It’s a little of a tender subject. Roger knows what I want to do in the future, but we’ll do what’s right for the team moving forward.
Allaway: Getting back to ovals, how do you think oval racing could be better in IndyCar?
McLaughlin: This year, they’re going to do a few things with downforce to make it nicer to follow. That said, what we have now as a product is pretty good. Making it easier to follow would help.
Ultimately, Indy is always just Indy. It’s a draft race, and you’re saving fuel. It is what it is. You don’t want to mess around with that too much because it is tradition.
What we have is not too far away. If we could follow a little better, that would be great.
Allaway: Texas has been a bit of an issue in recent years because of the track’s experience with PJ1 TrackBite, which makes it harder for the groove to expand for IndyCar. Has it widened out much for IndyCar in your visits?
McLaughlin: One thing that they are doing in IndyCar is putting in an extra session where everyone runs in the second lane. That has definitely helped the racing there.
This year, we’re going to do that at Iowa, Gateway [World Wide Technology Raceway] and Texas. Putting down our rubber as opposed to NASCAR’s rubber is really going to help that issue.
About the author
Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.
Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.
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