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Former three-time Supercar champion Scott McLaughlin is preparing to face one of motorsport’s most iconic races: the Indianapolis 500.
And his team president believes the New Zealand racing ace could become the eleventh rookie to win the Indy 500 in its 110-year history, after an impressive start to life in single-seater IndyCar competition.
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McLaughlin qualified 17th for the race, the fastest of any Team Penske driver. The solid result – heading for what will be his seventh race in the class, and sixth this season – is the fifth fastest of all Chevrolet drivers.
Now its Penske team president Tim Cindric has offered an inspiring show of support.
“He’s obviously a quick learner,” Cindric told Autosport.
“Like Will [Power] said, I think you learn every year that you’re here, and every year that you’re here, you put yourself in different circumstances, different situations.
“Just qualifying for the race will be the first step where you start.
“I think it’s really hard to answer that question until you see a rookie of some sort go through the whole qualifying process because it’s unlike anything they’ve ever done before,” the average of four laps and the conditions we will have and the fall you have during these races, depending on your aggressiveness.
“I guess the only thing we really said to Scott was just to try and worry about the things you can control.”
But his impressive performance in qualifying – 17th out of 33 drivers on the grid – shows that he handled the difficulty of the qualifying format well.
And given his efforts in Texas – finishing second on his first oval track – Cindric is optimistic about the chances of his charge.
“He’s a race car driver. He’s a winner. He got a taste of the oval race in Texas, obviously, and he responded very well to that.
“This place is a long race, but yet it feels really short sometimes.
“Simon [Pagenaud] was talking about his [win in 2019] where if you’re sitting in my place you wonder why he’s leading so many laps, but he’s learned that there are times when it’s the right thing to do, depending on what car you have.
“He wasn’t going to have enough fuel to get there until there was a warning, and it all happened at the right time, and he took advantage of it.
“I think Scott has as many chances as any rookie here. But… you can’t really value the experience here. Yeah, he’s with our team for a reason. “
Ten drivers won the race as a rookie, although most came in the early years of the Indy 500’s existence.
The four who have done so in the past six decades are Graham Hill (1966), Juan Pablo Montoya (2000), Helio Castroneves (2001) and Alexander Rossi (2016). Only Castroneves had never raced in Formula 1 – a sure sign that crossover drivers have a strong chance of victory.
But that’s perhaps a more promising statistic for the other rookie in this year’s race: Pietro Fittipaldi, grandson of two-time F1 world champion Emerson Fittipaldi. Pietro made his F1 debut last year as a replacement driver for Haas after Romain Grosjean’s horrific fireball crash in Bahrain. He overqualified McLaughlin finishing 13th – and raised US $ 5,000 to do so.
The Indy 500 will take place at 11:00 p.m. AEST on Sunday, May 30. Watch live and on demand on Fox Sports and KAYO.