Following on from a sensational debut at the season-opening Clipsal 500 with their brand new Volvo S60s, the Valvoline Racing GRM team approaches this weekend’s non-championship races at the Australian Grand Prix brimful of confidence that they can take the fight to the works Holden outfits which took victory in Adelaide a fortnight ago.
RichardsF1.com editor Richard Bailey and journalist Josh Kruse sat down to speak exclusively with drivers Scott McLaughlin and Robert Dahlgren…
McLaughlin is widely considered to be one of the championship’s hottest young prospects. He made his top-flight debut at the age of 19 in late 2012 after winning the V8 Supercars feeder championship, and his first full-time season with the squad the following year netted him two wins: one at the Australian Grand Prix, and then his first championship-level win on home soil at Pukekohe.
“[That win at] Pukekohe was on another level,” he said in the team’s motorhome.
McLaughlin went on to finish the season tenth overall, and the off-season saw the team move away from Holden and partner with Polestar, Volvo’s high performance arm. It looked like a risky career move, but the early results – which included a front row qualifying effort and a second-placed finish over the Adelaide opener two weeks ago – have vindicated his decision.
It was the drive to second place in Saturday’s Race 2 which saw the young Kiwi endear himself to the series’ fans, probably for life. Not only was the new car quick out of the box, but McLaughlin took the fight to reigning champion Jamie Whincup, holding out the veteran in a thrilling final-lap battle and drag race to the finish line to claim second place.
“It was crazy, the crowd went mental,” he recalled. “I don’t think you’ve ever seen someone get out of the car and fist pump the air for finishing second.
“I was happy and I was also overwhelmed. It was more of a a relief that I’ve signed [with Volvo] and did the right thing for my career. It was a proud moment for me because I stepped away from people who were guiding me and sort of said ‘No, this is where I want to be, this is where I want to stay’.”
If his performance on the track didn’t endear him to the huge crowds in the grandstands and the fans watching on TV, then his post-race interview certainly did.
Describing his drag race with Whincup, McLaughlin came up with the classic line: “I plucked her into first, gave her some jandal, and f**k yeah!”
The slip earned him cheers from the crowd and a swift rebuke from the championship officials, but it simply underlined the enormity of the achievement.
“It’s crazy, it’s ridiculous, unbelievable,” he said of his new cult status, which has already seen Volvo add a ‘jandal’ decal on the roof of his car.
“I think Volvo are making some T-shirts and I think a lot of other people have already started making their own shirts too, but we’ll be getting our official ones going soon, and hopefully they’ll sell at hotcakes so that should be good.
“There was a little bit of a rap on the knuckles, but it was nothing it was more of a warning,” he added. “I thought it was stupid to be honest because it was so good for the sport. I didn’t just say ‘Hey, that guy’s a dickhead’, or something like that. I known I shouldn’t have said it, and I’m meant to be a role model, but at the end of the day you gotta cut some slack sometimes.”
On the other side of the GRM garage is Swedish veteran Robert Dahlgren, who is making his V8 Supercars debut after fronting Polestar’s overseas racing ambitions in the Scandinavian and World Touring Car Championships.
While blessed with an abundance of experience to draw upon, it’s a case of ‘back to square one’ for the 34-year-old, who will be trying to show that overseas drivers can cut the mustard in Australia’s tin-top championship.
His early showing in Adelaide was to be expected given his limited mileage in the new machinery: he qualified and ran towards the back, but at Albert Park, he’s been much more on the pace, qualifying eleventh-quickest on Thursday evening.
There’s still, as he freely admits, a lot to learn.
“It’s a strange feeling, all of it,” he told us. “I’ve been racing for so long and I swapped between cars – front-wheel-drive, rear-wheel-drive cars. Everything was fine [then], I was running up the front. Then I come here and it’s like they pull a rag out from underneath your feet!”
“You start to think ‘Have I done the right thing?’ over the first couple of times. But it feels better and better all the time. [I] felt a lot better than in Adelaide, but I’m still trying to figure out how to drive these cars fast. It feels like I’m getting closer and closer, but there’s still a fair bit to go.
“[It’s still] four wheels, steering wheel, throttle and brake,” he said, when asked to compare his past outings with his new gig in Australia. “But you need to fight these cars on brakes, on corner entry, mid-corner and on exit, it’s quite a big difference.”
Both McLaughlin and Dahlgren were quick to praise the brand new package, which has proven to be super quick, beautifully presented and blessed with – in our opinion – the best exhaust note in the paddock.
“I reckon it sounds better inside the car than outside the car, it sounds a bit throatier,” McLaughlin said of the S60’s sound.
“A lot of people have been saying stuff, but it’s awesome that they are because Volvo have done everything. They’ve done an awesome job to go from Sweden, to Australia and deliver such an awesome package.”
Another topic both are lock-step in agreeing upon is the recent rules change regarding in-race restarts, which triggered a carnage two weeks ago with a five-car pile-up in Adelaide.
“I hate them,” McLaughlin said. “It’s just so confusing.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Dahlgren added, having seen the accident unfold in front of him.
“Over the years I’ve done everything – different qualifying formats and things like that – but this restart format, it just doesn’t work.”
Article images via V8 Supercars Media and Valvoline Racing GRM