Motorsport: Scott McLaughlin says IndyCar debut will be the 'toughest challenge' of his career

Three-time Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin says he'll be "doing cartwheels" with a top 10 finish in his IndyCar debut, a challenge he describes as the "toughest" of his career.

On Monday (NZ time), McLaughlin will make his IndyCar debut at St Petersburg, Florida, for Penske's US-based team, a week after wrapping up his third consecutive Supercars title.

Just 12 hours after completing Bathurst, he was on a plane to Los Angeles, before getting on another flight to Charlotte where he has been based since. He will travel down to Florida on Saturday. 

Due to the short turn around, McLaughlin has had little to no time to prepare for the race, but he's determined to make the most of this opportunity.

McLaughlin admits he's accomplished everything he's wanted too in Supercars and he's expected to make a permanent move to IndyCar next season, although team owner Roger Penske says a final decision on the Kiwis future will be made "over the next 30 days". 

If COVID-19 hadn't dramatically changed global sport, McLaughlin would have made his IndyCar debut on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course back in May and his future may have already been sorted. 

"I'm very excited," says McLaughlin. "I never thought I'd get a chance this year due to the nature of the beast with COVID.

"It's a different experience, and if I've got the opportunity to do it, I've got to grab it with both hands.

"I'm just going to go in like a sponge and soak everything up and see what comes out of it. 

"It's certainly been a transition that has happened pretty fast. I probably initially didn't think that Roger [Penske, team owner] and Tim [Cindric, team president] would think I'd be ready for an IndyCar, just because of my touring car roots, having a roof over my head. 

"There's still a lot of things I haven't come across that I need to learn and understand before I make a decision and before as a team."

Motorsport: Scott McLaughlin says IndyCar debut will be the 'toughest challenge' of his career

To help prepare for the race, McLaughlin says he's had to work on his physique and lose some weight, although he didn't specify how many kilos he's shed. 

"I've been training a lot, I lost some weight just to be a little bit lighter for the IndyCar," he says. 

"Weight is a big thing. All year my body clock is going crazy because I've been watching IndyCar in Australia in the early hours of the morning. 

"I was a bit fat for Supercars anyway. I needed to lose some weight regardless if it was an IndyCar deal or not. 

"I worked pretty hard. I started a little diet, intermittent fasting and I found a benefit out of that.

"For me, a lot of high-intensity training, weights, but high repetition. A lot of cardio."

On Thursday, defending champion Josef Newgarden predicted the Christchurch-born driver would struggle in his debut and said a top 10 finish would be a great achievement. 

"I think if I finish top 10, I'll be doing cartwheels, going crazy," says McLaughlin. 

"I'll be going crazy. I'm fully expecting a tough battle. 

"I might have a great experience running last. I've got a lot to learn and fully expecting that I could be last. At the end of the day as long as I get a good feel for the category and the cars, we'll be all right."

Scott McLaughlin.
Scott McLaughlin. Photo credit: IndyCar

McLaughlin added he's also excited to compete alongside fellow Kiwi Scott Dixon, who will capture his sixth IndyCar title if he finishes ninth or better in the season finale.

"The guy is unbelievable," McLaughlin says of Dixon. "He doesn't get enough credit in New Zealand. 

"New Zealand is full of rugby and motorsport takes a back seat and to be going for his sixth championship is exciting. 

"Scotty has always been an icon, from winning the Indy 500 and winning five championships. 

"To be racing him is pretty cool and personally a cool moment for me."  

Join on Monday for live updates of the IndyCar series finale from 7:30am.