Scott McLaughlin will not be intimidated by the star-studded line-up of drivers he will face in his first full season on the US IndyCar circuit.
The three-time defending Supercars champion dipped his toe into the open-wheel championship at the 2020 season-ending event at St Petersburg, Florida, in October, crashing out less than halfway through, as countryman Scott Dixon clinched his sixth title.
The flying Kiwi hasn't raced single-seaters fulltime since his go-kart days, nearly 20 years ago, but gets to start all over again this weekend, when he lines up at Barber Motorsport Park, Alabama, for the 2021 season opener.
The grid features several former Formula One stars, including Marcus Ericsson, Takuma Sato and Romain Grosjean, as well as Nascar great Jimmie Johnson, and series veterans Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Dixon.
Speaking on US motorsport television show Trackside, McLaughlin says he isn't over-awed by the talent around him.
"It’s a respect thing, not an intimidation,” McLaughlin said. "I have at least three of the top five guys in the championship as teammates.
"I can look at it as an intimidating thing or I can look at it as an opportunity to learn off the best.
"If I’m somewhere near them or thereabouts, I’m going to be up there, so I’m not intimidated by any of those guys, but I respect them.
"I respect what they have done for themselves and the sport. It would be the same if they came down to Australia.
"I'm just excited to go wheel to wheel with them."
Dixon looms as one of McLaughlin's fiercest rivals. The Kiwis were in contact through 2020, as McLaughlin weighed up his future plans, and he witnessed Dixon's title win last October.
Rubbing wheels with a long-time idol feels surreal to McLaughlin.
"I've studied this category the last three years, vividly," he says. "I've watched it since I was a kid, when Scott Dixon won in 2003, in 2008 when he won the [Indy] 500."
McLaughlin has just wrapped up a great testing fortnight at Indianapolis, as teams prepare for the Indy 500 next month.
The 27-year-old was as high as fifth during the several sessions, although McLaughlin admits returning to the Brickyard in May presents a different level altogether.
"I was happy, because I completed so many laps, we were proud of that.
"I leaned on and learned from Rick Mears, the four-time champ. I know there’s a lot to learn.
"It's going to be a wild season. It’s the most competitive series in the world - but I’m prepared for it."