Scott McLaughlin endured a shaky start to his career in IndyCars, brushing a wall and spinning twice in his debut drive.
The Supercars champion’s move to America was confirmed on Saturday, and he was driving an IndyCar as soon as Sunday.
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McLaughlin jumped to second on the speed chart in his first IndyCar practice session, but his mishaps meant he qualified 21st and didn’t advance to the second stage of qualifying.
“Unfortunately, I’m not making any excuses, but we just need a bit more time and we’ll be ok, but I’m disappointed with myself but it is what it is,” McLaughlin said afterwards.
“It’s very intimidating in regards to having a go in the IndyCar, learning the space around you as well.
“I’m used to hitting mirrors off on the walls in Australia, not necessarily a tyre – but we’re pushing out there trying to find the limits in a fast forward motion … it’s been an awesome initiation and we’ll just come back and have another go tomorrow.”
McLaughlin didn’t have a deal in place to leave Australian Supercars and expand into a fourth IndyCar entry for Team Penske when he flew from Sydney to the United States this week.
He had just won his third consecutive Supercars title and immediately jumped on a plane to begin preparations for his IndyCar debut.
It was among the worst kept secrets that McLaughlin would be full-time in IndyCar next season, but without a deal, the 27-year-old New Zealander approached Sunday's season finale at St. Petersburg as a tryout.
“I was confident that I'd be OK and have an opportunity next year,” he said.
Full on day today, trying to get to grips with @IndyCar and St Pete in 90mins then straight to Qual. I didn’t put it together on my fast tyres in qualifying, but really happy with my first day at a race in Indycar. We start 21st for the race tomorrow. #gpstpete pic.twitter.com/zUZqVfaBVz
— Scott McLaughlin (@smclaughlin93) October 24, 2020
Scott McLaughlin parachuted into IndyCar debut
Instead, he said he was pulled into a meeting with team owner Roger Penske and president Tim Cindric and told a deal was done - Team Penske was leaving Supercars and McLaughlin was in the No.3 IndyCar next year.
“They told me they were going to announce it and that suits me because it got a bit of a weight off my shoulders,” McLaughlin said.
“I was able to walk into the pits knowing that I'm going to be back here in March and be at the Indy 500 and it's an awesome opportunity.”
With 56 career Supercars victories, McLaughlin is second on the all-time list. He has three titles and set the single-season win record with 18 victories in 2019.
Although he was keen for a move to IndyCar - citing a desire for a fresh challenge, and the fact that his wife, Karly Paone, is an American from New York - McLaughlin said closing out his Supercars career left him restless the night before his first practice.
“It was a bit emotional. For it to end is a bit sad,” McLaughlin said.
“The fans in Australia have known me since I was 16 when I jumped on the scene.
“It's nice to be able to spread my wings, but it's a little nerve-racking feeling like the first day of school.
“I was a big fish in a little pond and now I'm jumping in as a little fish again.”
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