Not content with dominating Down Under, Scott McLaughlin is set to be the top dog in America within three years.
That’s the time frame for success Team Penske has placed on their newest IndyCar recruit.
“Tim Cindric (Team Penske President) said a couple of top tens, top 15 next year, maybe push the top five bracket in ‘22 and then if we can challenge for wins and potentially a championship in my 3rd year that would be good progression,” McLaughlin told Fox Sports’ Loud Pedal Podcast.
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Despite crashing out on debut in St Petersburg, Florida last weekend, McLaughlin impressed with his pace and adaptability across the weekend.
The 27-year-old admits he has a lot to learn but isn’t shying away from the Penske predictions.
“I’ve certainly got a lot of time but at the same time … I’ve got everything I need here; I’ve got a big resource, a great team, I’ve got great engineers and a great car, there’s not really any excuses apart from being a rookie,” McLaughlin said.
It’s been a whirlwind two weeks for McLaughlin, whose American dream was finally confirmed just days after he concluded his Australian career at Bathurst where he was formally crowned Supercars Champion for the third consecutive season.
“I definitely knew that I was shifting to the US but I didn’t know whether I was going to be on a full-time program and if they had the budget to do it,” McLaughlin said.
“I’d done everything that I’d wanted to do in Supercars and had this opportunity with probably the world’s best motorsport team, especially in the US, to come across and be a part of something … to be able to start as a rookie again and learn a completely different discipline it’s really refreshing and I’m just really excited.”
The preparation has been a long one with the New Zealand native noticeably transforming his body over the last 12 months in readiness for the physical demands of top-level, open-wheel racing.
McLaughlin revealed he has lost 11 kilograms since his IndyCar test in January.
“I was fat, I was a big unit,” McLaughlin admitted.
“I’ve lost a huge amount which was cool … I certainly feel good.
“Cardio wise I’m no dramas, I think I just need to get a little more stronger in my shoulders … my neck seemed pretty good, but oh man they’re so physical, there’s nothing like it, you’ve got to do laps.”
The 2019 Bathurst Champion also this week completed rookie testing at the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which he subsequently passed, allowing him to enter qualifying for the time-honoured Indy500 in May.
The top speeds on the oval circuit are upwards of 360km/h surpassing those produced by the V8 Mustang he leaves behind which reaches almost 300km/h on Bathurst’s Conrod Straight.
“Definitely the fastest I’ve ever been and that’s average speed. I think we hit close to 225 mph (362 km/h) at one point today which is just crazy,” McLaughlin said.
“It’s race trim so it’s similar race pace to what they did this year and it’s just mind blowing the feeling you have.
“You head down into turn one and there’s like a 90 degree turn and all you can see is wall and you just have to trust to hold the thing flat, and turn it in which is crazy, it’s really cool.”
McLaughlin’s move to the States coincides with Team Penske’s withdrawal from Supercars and its partnership with Dick Johnson Racing (DJR).
“It’s sad but it’s a business decision, it’s something that they had to do. I think COVID has struck everyone hard including Roger (Penske) himself and the Penske organisation,” McLaughlin said.
“They’re exiting in a pretty nice way, it’s not like they’re just dropping the tools and leaving, there’s a lot of intel, a lot of Penske help that was at DJR that will continue to be used.”
McLaughlin has an open-ended arrangement to return to Bathurst as a co-driver for DJR who’ll have an all-new line-up next year with Anton de Pasquale and Will Davison replacing McLaughlin and Fabian Coulthard, but which one he partners with at Mount Panorama remains to be seen.
“I’d love to just drive in the 17 – whoever that’s going to be driving that car I don’t know – but I’d love to go back to my old car and my old crew,” McLaughlin said.
“It’s a pretty special number in my place in Australia along with DJ and I really take a lot of pride in driving that.”
Despite expectations of a successful career in the States, the record-breaker hasn’t ruled out a full-time return to Supercars.
“Depends how I go,” McLaughlin said.
“If I go like a busted arse over here I’m going to have to come somewhere.
“I’m planning on not (leaving), I plan on trying to forge a career here … Ideally I’d love to stay here until I retire, but if not I’ll come back to Australia.”
In his absence McLaughlin believes compatriot Shane van Gisbergen can keep the Supercars title in Kiwi hands.
“If it’s not a DJR car, I think Shane’s pretty strong,” McLaughlin said.
“He’s coming in with a lot of confidence, obviously winning Bathurst that’s a big thing for him to get off his back. He’s going to be strong, he’s going to be dangerous and I think he’ll be tough to beat,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin won’t return to Australia this summer. Instead, he’ll remain in the States setting up his new home in Charlotte, North Carolina – a 25-minute drive from the Team Penske headquarters.
He’ll return to the track on Monday for further testing at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama.