The question posed to Scott McLaughlin earlier this week illustrated the challenges he has faced – and continues to face – in his early days as an NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver after eight full-time seasons racing in V8 Supercars in Australia.
This weekend’s doubleheader at Texas Motor Speedway is the culmination of four races in 15 days for the series, with one on a permanent road course, another on a temporary street circuit and now two this weekend on one of the fastest, most thrilling oval tracks on the schedule.
So, is this the ultimate INDYCAR cram course?
“Yeah, it’s perfect for a rookie,” McLaughlin said with a hearty laugh. “Exactly what I want.”
Sure, that was a tongue-in-cheek response, but the fact is McLaughlin has embraced and is enjoying the early indoctrination to the sport he long adored from afar. And while the 1.5-mile Texas track invites trouble at each corner, McLaughlin is genuinely excited for Saturday’s Genesys 300 and Sunday’s XPEL 375.
By the time Sunday’s race ends, McLaughlin hopes to have completed all 460 laps – 212 in the first, 248 in the second. Doing so would be the definition of a learning experience gone well in the first oval races of his career.
“It’s nice to do a completely different discipline,” he said. “I think I’m more excited for the ovals than I (was) the road courses because it’s so different to what I’ve done before. It’s so fast. (There’s) just nothing that’s quite as exhilarating as going 220 miles per hour with people wheel to wheel.”
INDYCAR has four oval-track races planned for this season, and they offer the diversity reflected in the overall schedule. Texas is the most high-banked of the ovals, Indy is the largest track and World Wide Technology Raceway is a short oval.
“That’s what’s so cool with INDYCAR racing, what’s so pure about it, what makes it so different to really any sport in the world,” McLaughlin said. “We have a vast difference in tracks -- road courses, street courses, ovals, big fast ovals, short ovals, and (all) require a different type of (driving), which is what I’m really excited about for this weekend.”
McLaughlin certainly figures to benefit from having three championship-winning teammates, and Will Power has won two races at this track and Josef Newgarden one. Simon Pagenaud has finished second twice there and third another. He said he literally has thousands of hours of Team Penske in-car video at his disposal, and he has taken advantage of plenty of them in recent months.
Aside from finishing all the laps at Texas, McLaughlin hopes to use this experience as a primer for next month’s Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. He needs to understand how to use his in-cockpit tools during ever-changing race conditions to make the car better, and management of traffic turbulence will be an element to handle for the first time. Yes, he experienced some of those things during recent official tests at Texas and Indy, but nothing replicates the intensity of a race like a race, and he knows that.
“It’s (learning) the timing on an oval, understanding how hard do I dive into the corner, working out my (corner) exits so I get runs down into Turn 3 or Turn 1, when do I make a passing move, how do I save fuel on an oval,” he said. “Race strategy is a big thing.”
McLaughlin has purposefully put his No. 3 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet in challenging situations during the two oval tests, and he has battled on the road course race at Barber Motorsports Park and the street race in St. Petersburg with some of INDYCAR’s fiercest competitors, citing Takuma Sato and Sebastien Bourdais as examples.
Another thing that will be new for McLaughlin will be leaning heavily on a spotter, something he never did in Australia. He and Adam Fournier practiced their dialogue during virtual races in the offseason to simulate conditions they will face for real this weekend.
“He (says), ‘Inside, outside, clear, outside is working, inside line is working,’ all the normal chat we would have,” McLaughlin said. “Just getting familiar with all that sort of stuff is a big thing for me.”
Whether McLaughlin is ready or not, he gets to experience INDYCAR at its ultimate speed beginning this weekend, and he hopes it is the thrill he has been waiting for and prepares him for a good Month of May at IMS.
“Biggest concern? Probably I guess coming out of (Texas) with not many points (because) it’s a big points weekend,” he said of the two races. “I don’t have too many concerns about where I’m placed (in NTT P1 Award qualifying) or how I feel in the race car.
“I feel very comfortable, ready for the challenge.”
Saturday’s practice at 12:45 p.m. (ET) can be viewed live on Peacock Premium, available at www.peacocktv.com for $4.99 per month. NTT P1 Award qualifying will be shown both on Peacock and NBCSN at 4 p.m. (ET) with the Genesys 300 at 7 p.m. (ET) on NBCSN. Sunday’s only action is the XPEL 375 at 5 p.m. (ET) live on NBCSN. The INDYCAR Radio Network also will have all the weekend’s action.