McLaughlin’s winning mentality: “I knew I could do it”

GP St. Petersburg winner Scott McLaughlin said that bouncing back from his rookie struggles on street courses came down to “Perseverance…You just don’t give up”.

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The three-time Supercars champion won last year’s Rookie of the Year award but was tough on himself whenever he felt slower than his champion teammates at Team Penske, Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud (now at Meyer Shank Racing).

But this weekend at St. Petersburg –  the one IndyCar track he’s raced on twice before, having started the finale in 2020 – he topped second practice, took pole and led 49 of the 100 laps on his way to his first victory in the series.

“You back yourself,” said the tired but elated 28-year-old from New Zealand, “but in our pre-event we said top 7: If we can come out of here with a solid top 7. Obviously the goal was changed last night [after taking pole], but it was just phenomenal the way the car rolled out of the truck. I felt like I could really do what I wanted to do with the car from the get-go.

“What that does for confidence as a race driver is something that just feels very special. I knew halfway through that race that it was somewhat – a bad yellow or something was really going to affect us. We knew that we were going to fight there the whole way, and I just had to keep calm and control the race myself, and I felt like we did that until the backmarkers made it pretty exciting, which would have been great for everybody at home but not for me!

“But it was just a phenomenal weekend. Perseverance. You just don't give up. You don't doubt yourself. I knew I could do it. Last night I had a great sleep because I just said to myself, I've done this before – I did it with a roof over my head. Now it's just a matter of just feeling it and seeing what I had today.

“I had a great start, got into a rhythm and away we went. I'm very proud, great for [primary sponsor this weekend] Dex Imaging in their home race. Team Chevy gave us awesome fuel mileage and drivability, as we've said all weekend.”

McLaughlin later expanded on the mental strength it had taken to reboot in the off-season. He commented, “I put a lot of pressure on myself, like, ‘Why isn't this happening, why am I sucking in qualifying when I'm good?’… It's a mind game, man, and you've got to be on top of it. You've got to just believe in yourself…

“[Wife] Karly has been my absolute rock with that. She's put the belief in me. I would be nothing without her…She’s pulled my head in, Roger's pulled my head in, and we just got on with it…

“As a professional sportsman you go through highs and lows. You're getting paid good money and you're running 15th – it's not good. I drive for the biggest motorsport team in the world. For me it wasn't good.”

The last three seasons, the winner of IndyCar’s season-opener has gone on to win the championship, but McLaughlin smilingly dismissed such talk – although he is now far more confidence in Penske’s setups and in his own ability on temporary tracks.

“I think the way that I've worked with Ben Bretzman, my new engineer, I think we can really start working on what we need,” he said. “We know what we want from a street circuit car, which we just showed that it's going to be pretty good, so I'm excited for Long Beach. I'm heading back there for the second time.

“But I'm not kidding myself; I could quite easily be 20th next round. This is what IndyCar is all about. This is why everyone loves it, why it's becoming the world's most competitive motorsport series. Proud to be a part of it, but it's all about now – I'll celebrate this, I'll have a few beers, don't you worry about that, but I'll make sure that I get back on the horse – actually, back on the simulator – on Wednesday and get ready for Texas, and then get ready for what's ahead at Long Beach and a few things.”

He described the win as “a confidence booster for the team” but added, “We've got to keep working harder because all the teams are going to come back at us strong. You look at Ganassi: they were probably not amazing in qualifying but they were very fast in the race today and pushed me to the end and passed a few cars.”

Asked if he was championship favorite, McLaughlin said, “No. Well… I mean, in my head I am! You know, let's keep it low key. Let's be the underdog for a little bit longer…

“What won the championship last year was a 7.1 average race result. For me it's just I want to finish top 10 every race, top 8 every race, and if I can do that, I know I'm going to be there or thereabouts towards the end of the season… When we've got a fourth-place car, we take a fourth place; when we've got a 10th-place car, we take 10th; when we can win a race, we capitalize. That's the plan this year.”

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