Scott McLaughlin has been the undisputed king of Supercars qualifying for the last 18 months, surging to third on the all-time pole positions list with record-breaking runs of poles. Here's how he does it.
When it comes to qualifying, numbers do generally tell the story. And the story they tell for McLaughlin over the last season-and-a-half is that he's the king of one-lap pace.
Since joining DJR Team Penske for the 2017 season, McLaughlin has been on pole 26 times. The first 16 came last season, a full three poles clear of Jamie Whincup's single season record.
He's already added another 10 from the nine rounds so far this year, which has left him third on the all-time pole positions list with a total of 43, just Peter Brock and Whincup ahead of him. Not bad for a 25-year-old.
Earlier this year, even before his remarkable run of 2018 poles, Motorsport.com sat down with McLaughlin to discuss how and why he's very quickly become one of the greatest Supercars drivers ever over a single lap.
MOTORSPORT.COM: What’s your secret?
SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: I think my secret is just trusting in my team, to trust in the car. I felt like there was a point there in the  season where I just clicked with it all and it sort of came to me and I felt like I had that confidence before the qualifying session that we would be okay, so I had the confidence to go into a corner and just be as deep as I wanted and try different things. If the car stuck it was pretty fast. I wouldn’t say it’s a secret, but I definitely do focus on data and footage and stuff, but I have to put it down to a great team that I’ve got behind me.
It feels like every time you're able to find something when you need to. It doesn’t matter what anybody else does, you know if you piece it together it’s going to work.
I think that’s where I felt like there were times during [last season] where I knew that we had the best package at that point and the track. I know if Shane [van Gisbergen] say did an 8.5 at whatever track it was, I could go and know that if I put it all together, I could topple that because I felt that I had the best car and you have the confidence in yourself to do the lap.
I’ve focused a lot on that stuff and confidence in the squad, the car, and it’s all worked out really good.
Photo by: Daniel Kalisz / LAT Images
Ludo Lacroix is the one per cent kind of engineer and that’s the difference on a tricky tyre like in Supercars. What role does he play in getting the car just right?
He was huge. I think at the start of 2017, I started being a bit too technical with the car and not worrying [enough] about my driving, so he basically said to me ‘you focus on the driving part, I’ll focus on the car, you just tell me what the car is doing and we’ll work on it.’
And that’s all I did. I focused on the driving, all he wanted to do was just have a five minute chat with me after the practice session when it was fresh in my head and then made me work very hard, and that wasn’t just at the race track, it was prior to going on the race track – what they did the year before, what was different, what I plan on doing and debriefing from the tracks so when we go back this year, we know what to do.
He’s absolutely more than one per cent for me, he completely changed me and my mindset as a driver and I have to put a lot of the success I’ve had a driver down to him.
When you look at how close it is in Supercars, qualifying has become important. If you’re not in the top five you will struggle to win races, so has there been a shift in focus through practice to just nail qualifying and let the rest take care of itself?
Yeah and I think we simplified it a lot [in 2017]. Throughout practice we worked on a racecar and a qualifying car, but a lot of people, I think, revolutionise their setups in some ways. I think we just went straight and narrow with what we knew and didn’t over-focus on either side, and I felt like we had a great racecar as well as obviously a good quali car, but we didn’t have to shift our focus too much.
I think that was one thing that Ludo brought. He is very thorough and in his plan, every session we go out and no matter what it is, he tells the boys what is happening, what tyres are on the car, what brakes, how much fuel and it gives everyone an idea, they know and we just stick to a plan.
If there’s a red flag here and there, you just adjust on the run, but 95 per cent of the time [last season] we stuck to a structure and it worked.
The now-famous Shootout lap at Bathurst last year, was it a culmination of the confidence you were building through the middle phase of the season?
Yeah 100 per cent.
I was a lap that I knew I could do, hence the reason why we put a 4.1 on the dash. The 4.1 was going to be a three, but I made a mistake, so I had a plan in my head that if I could just – and I don’t normally watch that completely – but I knew if I hit my marks, hit everywhere, I watched a few laps on the data before I went out, if I could do that and get to the Chase and be within two tenths or on it, I knew it would be a pretty special lap.
I was actually up on that lap, so I probably could have gone a little bit harder into the Chase, but got through there and obviously all the pandemonium happened.
But that was absolutely a culmination of trust in the car, trust in my engineer, the structure leading up to it knowing that we had a great racecar and a quali car, but the quali car was the most important for that lap.
That was an amazing lap, but even in Perth last year you were three tenths clear of the field, which is like doing a two-minute lap at Bathurst given the length of the track. That was a crazy margin. When you’re nailing those laps, is it as satisfying as it gets to look down at the dash and go ‘holy shit’?
A lot of the poles that we’ve got [in 2017], I looked at the dash and was like ‘f***ing hell’.
Darwin 2017 was probably the one for me; it was the Top 10 shootout there. I focused on what I needed to do and I felt like when I went into the car, I knew exactly where to brake, I knew exactly where to throttle on, what point to turn, what kerb to hit and that I had the car that was fast enough to do it.
It’s a culmination of a lot of things, but it definitely comes down to me just focusing on my driving instead of worrying about the car.
I just focus on the driving, tell Ludo exactly what the car is doing, what I need to go fast, and he gives it to me.
Parts of this interview first appeared in Autosport Performance
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|Author||Andrew van Leeuwen|