When you’ve won 50 races across the last five seasons in one of the most competitive racing series in the world, it would be understandable to feel as though you’d already paid your rookie dues. After three consecutive dominant seasons in the Australian Supercars Championship that saw Scott McLaughlin capture three championships in a row and a 2019 win in the legendary Bathurst 1000 with Team Penske, the New Zealand native welcomed a new challenge.
Armed with accolades and accomplishments from Down Under, Roger Penske and Team Penske President Tim Cindric provided an opportunity for McLaughlin in America as the talented young driver joined the team’s accomplished NTT INDYCAR SERIES program for the 2021 season. The intense racing action and competition throughout the INDYCAR field provided that new challenge for McLaughlin and the No. 3 Chevrolet team and they were up for the task as McLaughlin battled seven-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson and Formula 1 veteran Romain Grosjean for 2021 Rookie of the Year honors.
After joining Team Penske for the 2020 season finale on the streets of St. Petersburg to get a head start on the 2021 season, McLaughlin and the No. 3 PPG Chevrolet team hit the ground running in the season-opening event at Barber Motorsports Park with a solid 12th-place finish. Road and street course races were firmly in the wheelhouse of McLaughlin after his years competing on those types of tracks in Supercars. His performance in his first INDYCAR oval race at Texas Motor Speedway (TMS) – the third race of the season – really opened some eyes as McLaughlin scored his first podium with a second-place finish behind childhood hero and fellow Kiwi, Scott Dixon.
Two more top-10 finishes – in the second race of the TMS doubleheader and the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course – helped prepare McLaughlin for his first Indianapolis 500 experience. Once again, McLaughlin navigated the pressure-packed month of May with aplomb and was in position for a top-five finish in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” before a late-race speeding penalty on pit road put him back in the pack for a 20th-place finish.
During the summer months, McLaughlin, race engineer Jonathan Diuguid and the team experienced some struggles with their qualifying results. Needing to work their way forward from back in the talented INDYCAR field affected the team’s results with seven-consecutive finishes of 12th or lower. With four races remaining in the season, McLaughlin and the No. 3 team once again found the speed they showed at the start of the year with a strong performance at World Wide Technology Raceway (WWTR).
A fourth place showing at WWTR – another tough oval – gave the team a boost of momentum entering the final three races of the season on a challenging West Coast swing. In the first of the three events, McLaughlin led his first career INDYCAR SERIES laps on the way to a ninth-place finish at Portland International Raceway. With Grosjean staying tight on his heels for the Rookie of the Year award, McLaughlin needed two solid finishes at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and on the streets of Long Beach to secure the title. McLaughlin produced a 12th-place finish at Laguna and an 11th-place effort at Long Beach, to become the first Team Penske driver to win Rookie of the Year honors since its inception in 1979.
“I’m really proud of everyone on the No. 3 Chevy this year,” said McLaughlin. “Once we figured out what I like in the car and began making improvements in qualifying, I think we started to show improvement. This was a foundational year to lay the groundwork for a long career at Team Penske. With another year of offseason testing, we expect to show better results starting at St. Petersburg (the 2022 season opener).”
McLaughlin also experienced success off the track as he found a creative way to connect with the INDYCAR fanbase through the social media content series “Scott Learns America,” which has received nearly 140,000 video views over the course of the ongoing series.