IndyCar notes: Wilson’s week of mileage; Plowman’s return

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It’s been a busy week for racing in Florida. NASCAR is cranking up its 2014 campaign at the Daytona International Speedway, while IMSA’s TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge are testing this week at Sebring International Raceway.

Of course earlier in the week, it was IndyCar at Sebring, for two days with a handful of teams. Some notes from those two days of running and elsewhere in the IndyCar paddock:

  • The busiest driver outside of the NASCAR world this week? That would be Justin Wilson, who got two days worth of IndyCar running in for Dale Coyne Racing on Monday and Wednesday, then has shifted into Michael Shank Racing’s Ford EcoBoost Riley Daytona Prototype yesterday and into today. He’ll race it at the 12-hour next month. On day one in the Honda-powered IndyCar, Wilson tweeted, “It was a good first day of testing. The car went well and we are just trying to test a few bigger items.” On day two: “Yesterday’s @IndyCar test was good. Learned a few things. @josefnewgarden was the man though. I think that’s the quickest a DW12 has gone.”
  • Wilson’s aforementioned fellow Honda runner, Josef Newgarden, was also back in the saddle this week for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. Of note, the SFHR team tested in a black primer car, not in the same livery as adorned the No. 67 car in 2013. The test was Newgarden’s first in the new calendar year.
  • A.J. Foyt’s new month of May recruit, Martin Plowman, had his first day of running in the Dallara DW12 on Wednesday, as he took over Takuma Sato’s usual No. 14 ABC Supply Honda. Plowman contested three IndyCar races in the previous chassis in 2011, but had yet to sample the new one after two years in sports cars. Tweeted Plowman after the day, “Fitness wise I held up well…but….G-forces under braking, boy… I feel like my neck is 3 inches longer! Need to change my bio to 5ft 9.”
  • Team Penske got in another day’s worth of testing Thursday at Barber Motorsports Park for all three of its drivers, Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves and Will Power. With IndyCar’s official preseason test set for Barber next month, the Penske team has an extra day’s worth of data to sift through in advance of that day. “The reason we can come to Barber and win it is because the cars are really quick here and seem to work pretty well,” said Montoya, via Al.com.
  • Simon Pagenaud’s new firesuit at IndyCar media day included both Charter and Valspar listed underneath the series and Honda manufacturer logos. Both companies have past histories in IndyCar with the Panther and Dreyer & Reinbold teams.
  • Bryan Herta Autosport posted a generic “great test last few days” and “happy to be back at the track again” tweet after its two days with Jack Hawksworth. But noteworthy there was the fact the car did not run in full livery, with the same dark and light blue color combination with Barracuda not flanking the sidepods or wings. Make of that what you will.
  • Panther Racing, which didn’t attend either the Sonoma test on Feb. 12 or the Sebring test this week, has announced its second public relations representative change in the last three months. Panther has not confirmed its 2014 plans as yet.

Scott McLaughlin will make IndyCar debut for Team Penske at St. Pete

Scott McLaughlin IndyCar debut
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Two-time defending Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin will make his NTT IndyCar Series debut with Team Penske in the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida.

McLaughlin, 27, drove for Penske in preseason IndyCar testing at Circuit of the Americas, Sebring International Raceway (in a rookie evaluation) and Texas Motor Speedway, and he was announced Feb. 5 as making his debut with the team at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course before the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic delayed the start of the season.

Travel restrictions also made it difficult for the New Zealand native to leave Australia, where he leads the points for DJR Team Penske in the Virgin Australia Supercars series with three races remaining. He set a Supercars record last season with 18 victories.

The Supercars season will conclude Oct. 18 with the prestigious 24 Hours of Bathurst. McLaughlin then will head directly to the States to drive the No. 3 Dallara-Chevrolet at St. Pete as a teammate of Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud.

“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,” McLaughlin, who also has won at Barber and Indianapolis while unofficially finishing first in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge, said in a release. “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.”

McLaughlin, whose wife, Karly, is from New York, said he has discussed racing in America with car owner Roger Penske since he was hired by the team for the 2017 season.

“I’ve always said I’d love to have a crack at something else,” McLaughlin told reporters in February during the preseason test at Austin, Texas. “My goal was always to win the championship in Bathurst and Australia. I ticked those boxes, and then opportunities arise over time. The conversation between me and Roger was pretty short. ‘Would you be interested in IndyCar?’ I’d literally drive a wheelbarrow with a Team Penske sticker on it. I’d race anything that comes with the opportunity.

“I’ve always intended I’d love to get America one day potentially if I’ve done my goals in Australia. I’ve always said whether it’s now or 30 years down the track, I’d love to finish up (in America). I’ve promised Karly that we would come back here eventually. She’s not pushing me by any means, but I’ve always had a passion for American motorsport and certainly would love the opportunity.”

McLaughlin also has indicated a desire to try racing in NASCAR for Team Penske. He discussed his comfort with stock cars during a 2017 episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast (click on the link below to hear it).

Here’s the release from Team Penske:

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (September 17, 2020) – Team Penske announced today that Scott McLaughlin, the current Virgin Australia Supercars Championship points leader, is scheduled to make his long-awaited NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut in the series’ 2020 season finale on the Streets of St. Petersburg on Sunday, October 25.

The two-time and defending Supercars Champion for DJR Team Penske (DJRTP) was set to compete in his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES race earlier this year on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course before the COVID-19 global pandemic forced several delays and postponements on racing schedules, along with international travel restrictions. Before the pandemic shutdown, McLaughlin participated in the INDYCAR SERIES preseason open test at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, where he ran consistently well and posted the third-fastest time of the test session. The 27-year-old native of New Zealand also competed in separate tests at the Sebring International Raceway road course and the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway oval.

“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.”

McLaughlin currently leads the Supercars point standings with just three rounds of competition remaining on the 2020 schedule. McLaughlin has produced a series-best 10 wins and 10 poles and holds a 143-point lead over Jamie Whincup entering this weekend’s race at The Bend. Over the course of his Supercars career, McLaughlin has won an impressive 53 races and 71 poles, while helping DJRTP claim team championships in 2017 and 2019 and winning the driver’s title in each of the last two seasons. He also earned his first win in the legendary Bathurst 1000 race in 2019 with co-driver Alex Premat. Though he is in just his fourth season competing for Team Penske, McLaughlin already ranks third on the organization’s all-time wins list, trailing only Brad Keselowski and Mark Donohue.

Earlier this year, McLaughlin made his “virtual” INDYCAR debut, competing in the series’ iRacing Challenge and winning two races among the full field of current NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers that were competing against each other while traditional racing was put on hold.

“Our plan has always been for Scott to run a race in the INDYCAR SERIES this season, but we never wanted to take the focus away from the main goal, which is winning another Supercars Championship,” said Team Penske President Tim Cindric. “COVID-19 certainly altered those plans early on, but with the way the schedules have lined up at the end of this season, St. Pete became an available option and we remain committed to getting him some INDYCAR seat time. We know Scott is ready for this challenge and this should add even more excitement to the 2020 season finale in St. Petersburg.”

McLaughlin will pilot the No. 3 Shell V-Power Nitro+ Dallara/Chevrolet at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which was postponed from its original date in March and will now take place on Sunday, October 25. The race on the 1.8-mile street circuit will be seen live at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, with radio coverage on the Pennzoil INDYCAR Radio Network and SIRIUS XM.