INDY DEBUT TO PUT MCLAUGHLIN INTO ELITE CLUB

Scott McLaughlin will become just the fourth driver to have won the Bathurst 1000 and started an IndyCar race. Pic: Supplied / IndyCar

SCOTT McLaughlin’s long-awaited IndyCar Series debut will put him into a very small club of drivers.

Just three Bathurst 1000 winners have also taken part in IndyCar Series races, encompassing the broad spectrum of championships that comprise the history of America’s premier open wheel racing category.

McLaughlin will become the fourth when he drives the fourth Team Penske entry in the 2020 season finale, the Grand Prix of St Petersburg on October 25, one week after the rescheduled Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000.

The 2019 ‘Great Race’ victory was originally scheduled to make his IndyCar Series debut in May at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway prior to the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

The rescheduling of Bathurst plus its new designation as the final round of the 2020 Supercars Championship opened up an opportunity for McLaughlin to make his IndyCar debut, with the St Petersburg round also having been moved from the start of the IndyCar season to its conclusion due to the pandemic.

“This is something I haven’t stopped thinking about, but I wanted to ensure my focus was on winning our third-straight Supercars championship for DJR Team Penske and all our partners in Australia,” said McLaughlin.

“We are still laser-focused on that and have three more rounds to get it done, but I’m equally as excited to finally get the chance and make my IndyCar debut.

“I’ve been doing everything I can to keep up with the series this year, from watching as many races as I can on TV to even talking to the drivers and some of the engineers back at the Team Penske shop.

“I never knew if I would be able to get behind the wheel of one of these cars this year due to all the COVID-19 restrictions, but I wanted to be ready if it became an opportunity.”

The story of Australian and New Zealand drivers trying to tackle IndyCar racing’s crown jewel, the Indianapolis 500, is set to be told by motorsport media veteran John Smailes in his latest book, Speed Kings: Australia and New Zealand’s quest to Win The Indy 500, the world’s greatest motor race.

Scheduled for release in November 2020, the book can be pre-ordered in the V8 Sleuth Bookshop.

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McLaughlin will join a handful of illustrious names in being a Bathurst-winning IndyCar racer.

Kevin Bartlett. Pic: an1images.com.

Australian motorsport legend Kevin Bartlett was the first.

Prior to winning the 1974 Hardie-Ferodo 1000 with John Goss, ‘KB’ made three starts in 1970 in the USAC Championship Car season, then the national championship that was the forerunner to the modern IndyCar Series.

Catering to both ovals and road courses, the 1970 USAC Championship Car season was the last to also feature rounds on dirt ovals before the disciplines were split into their own separate series a year later.

Bartlett qualified an impressive seventh fastest in a strong 26-car field for his USAC debut at Sonoma in 1970 – heading future Indy 500 winners Gordon Johncock and Johnny Rutherford – but retired with a broken driveshaft before half distance.

He also retired early from the Castle Rock road race and the California 500, the inaugural race held at the opulent Ontario Motor Speedway oval.

Bartlett also came within 0.15 of a second of quailfying for the Indianapolis 500 that same year, and was the last car bumped out of the field during the fourth and final day of qualifying.

Brabham took the best Indy 500 result of his career with fourth place in 1983 driving for Team VDS, the same squad he’d won the 1981 Can-Am Series title with. Pic: Supplied / IndyCar

Geoff Brabham became the next member of the club in winning the 1997 AMP Bathurst 1000 with brother David.

The eldest of Sir Jack Brabham’s racing sons was a fixture in Indy car racing throughout the 1980s, taking pole position driving for Dan Gurney at the Riverside circuit in California in 1981 in one of his first CART starts, and finished fifth on debut in that year’s Indy 500.

While Brabham never quite broke through for a race win, he scored nine podium finishes across six full-time seasons racing for the Bignotti-Cotter, Kraco and Galles teams followed by several one-off drives around his Nissan IMSA sportscar program, including a one-off start for Team Penske in 1989 deputising for an injured Danny Sullivan at the Portland round – he’d been on standby at that year’s ‘500 after Sullivan broke an arm in a practice crash.

Jason Bright faced a tough baptism of water in practice at the 2000 Honda Indy 300. Photo: an1images.com/Dirk Klynsmith

The most recent driver to join the elite club is 1998 FAI 1000 Classic winner Jason Bright who, like McLaughlin, claimed his ‘Great Race’ victory prior to his Indy car debut.

Bright made a one-off start in the FedEx Champcar World Series at Surfers Paradise in 2000, the Queensland Government among the backers of his drive in the Della Penna Motorsport’s #10 Reynard.

Will Dale began his media career as a breakfast radio newsreader before joining SPEED TV Australia and FOX SPORTS Australia in 2012 as its Digital Editorial Lead - Motorsport for the next six years, covering all forms of motorsport both in Australia and internationally. He became part of the V8 Sleuth team in 2018.