Having stepped up to the V8 Supercars Championship from the feeder Dunlop Series category as its reigning Champion, Scott McLaughlin made his debut at the tender age of 18, the youngest driver in the series’ history.
He made an impact immediately, qualifying in the ARMOR ALL Top 10 Shootout for his first official full-time race at the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide, the 2013 season-opener.
The young Kiwi went onto to take two Championship races wins and finished the season tenth in the Championship, earning him the the Mike Kable Young Gun Award, recognising the series’ Rookie of the Year.
The quietly spoken Kiwi-born racer made his debut in the Development Series as a 16-year-old back in 2010.
Having started his career in karts, the youngster was part of the Britek Motorsport Scholarship program and impressed Stone Brothers Racing bosses Ross and Jim Stone enough to warrant them moving him straight into the Dunlop Series.
An apprentice fabricator with experience working behind the scenes at SBR, Pace Innovations and GRM, McLaughlin completed his apprenticeship in 2013 and will still continued to work in the team’s workshop in between his on-track commitments.
In 2014 McLaughlin had the opportunity to develop and race a new car, with Valvoline Racing GRM making the switch from Holden to Volvo and debuting the Volvo Polestar S60 at the first round in Adelaide. He stunned all comers with a thrilling run to the podium in the car’s very first race.
It proved to be a very successful year for Volvo/Polestar Racing and Scott, winning five races, finishing on the podium 10 times and claiming 10 pole positions to end the year fifth in the Championship Standings.
Scott sat down with our own Josh Kruse to discuss his remarkable career to-date in this exclusive interview on RF1…
|1999-2009||Karting; 3 Australian state championships, 1 New Zealand national championship|
|2008||Rotax World Championship, 19th overall out of 72 drivers|
|2010||Dunlop Series, Stone Brothers Racing Ford Falcon, 16 races, 12th overall|
|NZV8 Championship, Racing Projects Holden Commodore, 1 win, 8th overall|
|2011||Dunlop Series, Stone Brothers Racing Ford Falcon, 1 win, 3 podiums, 4th overall|
|2012||Dunlop Series, Stone Brothers Racing Ford Falcon, 4 wins, 12 podiums, 1st overall|
|NZ V8 SuperTourers, Scott McLaughlin Racing Holden, 19 races, 6 wins, 10 podiums, 1st overall|
|V8 Supercars, TEKNO / GRM Holden Commodore, 3 races, 33rd overall|
|2013||V8 Supercars, GRM Holden Commodore, 2 wins, 3 podiums, 10th overall|
|NZ V8 SuperTourers, Scott McLaughlin Racing Holden, 21 races, 1 win, 7 podiums, 5th overall|
|2014||V8 Supercars, Volvo Polestar Racing, 4 wins, 10 podiums, 10 poles, 5th overall|
|Porsche Carrera Cup, 2 races, 2 podiums|
|2015||V8 Supercars, Volvo Polestar Racing|
What got you started in motorsport and who were your idols?
Well Mum and Dad were go-karting before I was born so I guess it was someway in my blood. When I was six years’ old there was a motor show in Helms with Go Karts there.
The next day was a ‘have a go day’, so basically my Dad said ‘Do you wanna have a crack?’ and from that day I’ve loved it ever since.
Growing up I’d say Greg Murphy was my idol – obviously being from New Zealand – he was killing it in the V8s, and it was pretty cool growing up watching your idol go well in the sport.
I managed to have quite a personal family relationship with Greg growing up, so that was always pretty cool.
It’s interesting that your Dad said ‘jump in and have a go’ knowing full well what it could lead to…
Yeah exactly, but we didn’t know exactly what it could lead to. If I was any good it would lead to something good, but obviously those early years I never really thought I’d get to this point. But I loved it that much that we took it seriously and put enough money into it knowing that’s where I wanted to go, for me it was exactly what I wanted to do.
Money is obviously a big factor in starting up a racing career, what other hurdles did you face in the early days?
In 2003 we moved to Australia because Mum and Dad felt that it would be the best opportunity for me to get into the V8 Supercars. They sold their business that was going pretty strong back in New Zealand and started a new one over here, but it was one of those things that didn’t go well, so they took a lot of risks to get me where I am.
For the first year or two, my racing career was put on hold because we were trying to get the business up and running and to get enough money to go racing. Eventually my parents built a strong and successful business and that really helped me a lot in the long term, but definitely for a while there I thought it wasn’t actually going to go to plan.
I met a few groups like Fujitsu Air Conditioning – who are still with me today after nine years – and other people like that helped me get to where I am today, but those early days were pretty nerve-racking.
So you had a period of time when you weren’t racing during your family’s setup of the business, were you still on the lookout for potential drives?
Yeah I was pretty young, I was like 10 or 11 years old, but at that stage of your career you want to race as much as you can and learn as much as you can, so I probably missed about a year or two learning that sort of stuff. It all sort of changed: in about four years I was in a V8 Supercar and it was all sort of happening, but you didn’t really have a direction because Mum and Dad were working so hard for our futures, so at that stage it didn’t feel right.
So you pretty much put all of your eggs in one basket by coming over to Australia, especially with your parents starting a new business which would help support you.
That’s pretty much it. Like you said, we put all of our eggs in one basket to try and get that start up, I knew it’d be quite tough for me to do racing because Mum and Dad were busy, plus there wasn’t much cash to put into racing, but eventually it all turned around.
You had an interesting karting career, you represented New Zealand in the Rotax Max Challenge in Italy, talk us through that experience.
Yeah that was pretty cool, at that stage I was still racing in Australia but I went back to New Zealand to qualify for the Rotax Max Challenge world finals which was in Italy. I had to finish in the top two of that championship in New Zealand to qualify.
I didn’t want to race for Australia, as much as I love Australia, I wanted to race for New Zealand. I ended up qualifying for that and it was so cool.
I went over to Italy and we had a really good weekend, I didn’t qualify the best but we were up the front for the final where I started fifth. In the pre-final I led a couple of laps and I learned a lot because there’s a lot of good drivers in the field like Rio Haryanto, who’s in GP2 at the moment.
All these guys who aren’t in F1 yet out of who I’ve raced against, but it’s pretty cool when you see them in GP2 and remember ‘Oh yeah, I’ve raced against that guy’ so it was really good.
How old were you when you competed in the challenge?
I rolled over there when I was 15, but it was so cool, it was a world class circuit and I learned a lot over there race-craft wise.
When you returned, was that when you got your work experience with Stone Brothers Racing?
Yeah, basically when I went to Italy that week I applied for work experience with Stone Brothers Racing. So I was doing bits and pieces here and there but I really wanted to be a fabricator.
They got me to do a few things around the workshop like cut some metal and sweep the floor, like a gofer does. I really enjoyed that, I went to Bathurst with SBR and I was a part of the pit stops and that was really cool. Then they found out that I raced in the world finals, so as a reward when I came home they offered me a test drive.
So competing in Italy was a big stepping stone because it seemed to pay off.
Yeah that was why we did it, it was an opportunity to be on the world stage and prove at that stage I was one of the best karters, and I was trying to push into the top ten. My teammate was Nick Cassidy, who’s racing in Japanese F3 this year, so you had really stiff competition which taught me a lot and helped me prove myself.
Did the work experience and test you did with SBR lead to the Fujitsu Series?
Pretty much, I did the test day with Stone Brothers and they said if I got to this certain time that they would offer me a drive. I eventually did, I learned a lot that day getting to that time and my dream came true. We still had to drum up some sponsorship and stuff to do it, but SBR were prepared to pay a little bit too and we ended up in the category in 2010 which was awesome.
You had a bit of trouble with your racing license in the first race, didn’t you?
Yeah, because I was so young (16) I had to race a couple of Formula Ford races to get my national class licence, because I hadn’t held a CAMS licence before. So that took a little bit to get up and running, I didn’t race in Adelaide and my first round was in Queensland. I ended up winning the title in 2012.
After the title win, you got another chance in a V8 Supercar at Sandown and Bathurst?
Yeah so we raced the endurance races, basically on the same day I won that title, I was asked to fill in for Alexandre Prémat. But towards the end of that year I had already done the deal with Garry [Rogers] so I knew I was going to drive a V8 Supercar in 2013, so even before I won the championship I sort of knew what was going on, but yeah it was pretty cool being called up to race.
You had quite a successful debut getting tenth at Sandown and sixth at Bathurst, could you run us through those weekends?
Sandown was a pretty basic race, we ran about eighth or tenth the whole day. We had a pretty strong car with Jonathan Webb and I was just trying to do my job and get out of the way.
Bathurst was very different; I was racing my Dunlop Series car the same weekend so that really helped me to learn the track massively. The race went pretty smoothly, at one stage we were in third or fourth place and looking pretty strong, it was one of those days at Bathurst that you don’t get. It’s funny because I’ve gone back there the past two years and I still haven’t finished better than sixth, so my rookie year was my best year so far.
You had four wins last year finishing in fifth place, talk us through that breakout season with the new Volvo S60.
Getting the opportunity to race as a factory Volvo driver was pretty cool, and I think nowadays in V8 Supercars you need to be with a manufacturer and I was lucky enough to have that opportunity early in my career.
We had an awesome race at Clipsal last year and that battle with Jamie [Whincup] really solidified what Volvo wanted to do and prove that they were serious about V8 Supercars. Through the year we had some really good pace and next time out in Melbourne we were on the ball pretty much the whole time and ended up winning the event, and that kept the ball rolling.
The biggest problem we had was reliability issues, and I think that if we had have sorted that out we would have been a bit further up in the championship. But for our first year to be fifth in the Drivers’ Championship with four wins, ten poles and ten podiums was pretty cool.
And the highlight of last year?
The highlight of last year would probably have to be the Eastern Creek race. We qualified on pole twice, but on the Saturday we blew an engine and then there was a bit of a human error where a wheel fell off after not being tightened properly, so we had two DNFs.
We came out the next day and put it on pole again, then basically had to win to get all of our points back, which we did. It was probably one of those massive team building efforts, everyone got behind each other and just pressed on.
You’re becoming known for buying your crew slabs of beer after you get pole position, what other team building exercises do you pass on?
Not many, really. The beer thing is the least I can do because those boys put so much effort into the car to make sure we’re fast and the car runs right all the time.
When you win a little bit of cash [for pole position] it feels a bit weird that it goes to me because you feel like it should go to the team, but that’s why I do those kinds of things.
When I won the $10,000 last year [for the most pole positions in the season] I bought everyone a slab which was crazy, there was like $3,000 worth of alcohol. But it’s the least you can do and everyone gets pretty pumped; I feel like you need to prove you’re not a dick and just show some gratitude towards your team.
And that’s a good way to use social media as well isn’t it? For all we know other drivers may thank the team in different ways but we might not get to see it because they’re not utilizing social media.
Yeah, I enjoy using social media because it’s a bit of who I am and it shows what I do behind the scenes. I mean, it’s not that hard, nowadays smartphones make it so easy, so I’ve built a good fan base from it and it’s helped me in the long term because it raises your profile.
Some drivers don’t use it and that’s fine, but I think in this day and age you need to believe in it because it’s what makes the world go around. I just like using it to prove that I’m a normal guy and I’m not a Prima Donna.
That could have been a challenge for you because you entered the series quite young, it would have been an easy for people to think you were lucky to get a V8 Supercar drive.
Yeah it was definitely portrayed that I was this rich kid entering the series and not many people knew the back story. Mum and Dad in the end did pretty well but they took a lot of risks to get to where they were, and to help me get to where I am. I had to prove that I didn’t get to where I was just because I had sponsorship dollars, I got there because of my talent. It’s why Garry [Rogers] picked me, so I really had to believe in myself to get to where I am now.
Do you see yourself racing in any other series in your career?
I’d like to race the Bathurst 12 Hours, I’d also like to race in the Daytona 24 hour or Le Mans. I’d like to race in GT series overseas or even NASCAR. I’m a racer. I love jumping in and having a go in any car, driving fast and learning new things. I think it helps you drive fast in your own car if you try and drive a different one faster.
Images via Christian Hartung and Scott McLaughlin