ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Scott McLaughlin had no deal in place to leave Australian Supercars and expand into a fourth IndyCar entry for Team Penske when he flew from Sydney to the United States this week.
McLaughlin had just won his third consecutive Supercars title and immediately jumped on a plane to begin preparations for his IndyCar debut. It was among the worst kept secrets that McLaughlin would be full-time IndyCar next season, but without a deal, the 27-year-old New Zealander approached Sunday's season finale at St. Petersburg as a tryout he'd ace.
“I was confident that I'd be OK and have an opportunity next year," McLaughlin said Saturday.
Instead, he said he was pulled into a meeting with team owner Roger Penske and President Tim Cindric and said a deal was done; Team Penske was leaving Supercars and McLaughlin was in the No. 3 IndyCar next year.
“They told me they were going to announce it (Friday night) and that suits me because it got a bit of a weight off my shoulders,” McLaughlin said. “I was able to walk into the pits knowing that I'm going to be back here in March and be at the Indy 500 and it's an awesome opportunity.”
McLaughlin jumped to second on the speed chart in his first IndyCar practice but also twice spun. He qualified 21st.
McLaughlin with 56 career Supercars victories is second on the all-time list. He has three titles and set the single-season win record with 18 victories in 2019.
Although he wanted to be moved to IndyCar — McLaughlin wanted a fresh challenge, and his wife, Karly Paone, is an American from New York — he said closing out his Supercars career left him restless the night before his first practice.
“It was a bit emotional. For it to end is a bit sad,” McLaughlin said. "The fans in Australia have known me since I was 16 when I jumped on the scene. It's nice to be able to spread wings, but it's a little nerve-racking feeling like the first day of school.
“I was a big fish in a little pond and now I'm jumping in as a little fish again.”