McLaughlin shines at COTA IndyCar test

| Photographer Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The NTT INDYCAR SERIES concluded its first open test of the season Wednesday with 27 drivers using 25 cars to complete 1,480 laps at Circuit of The Americas.

Two-time defending Virgin Australia Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin was among the NTT INDYCAR Series newcomers for the COTA test. McLaughlin drove Team Penske’s No. 2 Chevrolet, running 62 laps and recording the third-fastest time among the 27 drivers on the day.

“It’s an altogether new feeling,” McLaughlin said. “I’m a race driver. I like going fast, so this is a lot faster. I’m having fun. A lot of grip and it’s tough to drive.

“You turn that pit speed (limiter) off and there’s a lot of power and a lot of braking. I’m just really privileged to drive this car. Roger (Penske) and Team Penske have given me a go. I’m just trying to enjoy it as much as I can with a smile on my face.”

McLaughlin also is enjoying the benefit of working with the accomplished Team Penske trio of two-time and defending NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Josef Newgarden, 2019 Indy 500 champion and former series champion Simon Pagenaud, and former series champ and Indy 500 winner Will Power.

“I’m really lucky to have them and privileged,” McLaughlin said. “But I also have Roger and TC, Tim Cindric, and my engineer Jonathan Diuguid, who has been fantastic with me. I’m just trying to soak it all up like a sponge and at the same time, I’m living the dream. I’m having a great time.”

McLaughlin is scheduled to make his series debut with Team Penske on Saturday, May 9 in the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. He already is yearning for more after two days in Austin.

“I’d like to explore (the NTT INDYCAR SERIES) more,” he said. “And I’d like to explore more in America. I’d love to get to America one day. That’s my ultimate goal. Whether it’s here or whether it’s anywhere, I just want to try to be here one day. I love the country. I love the people. I love the sport that it is, and we’ll see what happens.”

The field included six former series champions and seven drivers who have yet to start an NTT INDYCAR SERIES race. And it was one of those former champs who posted the fastest lap around the 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course that will host the season’s fourth race, the AutoNation INDYCAR Challenge on Sunday, April 26.

Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet), the 2014 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champ, recorded a lap of 1 minute, 46.7603 seconds/114.987 miles per hour that was not far off his pole-winning speed of a year ago at COTA. He was inside 0.8 of a second from his pole effort of 1:46.0177/115.792 mph last March.

“It always feels great, you know,” Power said. “It’s good for all my guys to see we have the pace. We went through as many items as we could. Obviously, it was very rushed at the end there with red flags and everything, so didn’t get everything done, but kind of some of the big stuff that we needed to know, we understand.”

Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi (No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts Honda) posted the second-fastest lap at 1:46.9999/114.729 mph. Interestingly, he qualified second to Power here last season.

“It was obviously great to finally get back on track,” Rossi said. “It’s been a long offseason. The waiting around for weather was hard, but I think the team did a good job. We got through a lot of our run plan with no dramas, despite the delays.

“The Aeroscreen was tentatively less dramatic than everyone was expecting it to be, and didn’t have any real issues until some slight, reflection issues at the end which we should be able to rectify. So that was positive. We worked through a good test list and found a pretty decent place in adapting the car with the 2020 needs within a half day. Generally, pretty happy.”

Two-time defending Virgin Australia Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin (No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet) made an immediate impression, recording the third-fastest lap of the session (1:47.2630/114.448 mph).

McLaughlin was followed by Team Penske teammate and defending NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Josef Newgarden (No. 1 Team Penske Chevrolet), who was fourth at 1:47.2750/114.435 mph. Colton Herta (No. 88 Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport Honda), last year’s winner at COTA, rounded out the top five (1:47.3672/114.337 mph).

Inclement weather hampered Tuesday’s opening day of the test, with just 17 laps being run collectively by the field.

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