Motorsport: Complacency affected Scott McLaughlin's Rookie of the Year winning IndyCar season, Kiwi driver honestly admits

Despite winning the 2021 IndyCar Rookie of the Year award, Kiwi driver Scott McLaughlin says complacency affected his maiden US racing campaign.

Finishing 14th in the IndyCar championship, McLaughlin, 28, impressed in his transition from Supercars, driving for Team Penske.

In the fourth race of the season, at Texas Motor Speedway, McLaughlin took second as part of a Kiwi one-two with Scott Dixon, appearing to settle into IndyCar in the same way he'd left a successful Supercars season in 2020.

But standing on the podium so early in his IndyCar career proved to be a hindrance for the Kiwi, who admits he might have got ahead of himself.

"It's up and down," McLaughlin says. "When you get into your first oval and get a podium, it feels really good.

"After that, I probably got a bit complacent in some ways. I probably expected it to happen sooner and I was putting a lot of pressure on myself.

"Once I got through six months through the season, I started just relaxing, taking it all in and realising I was actually a rookie.

"That's when I started enjoying it a lot more and I felt like my results got better. I felt like the last 6-7 races, we had a fourth at Gateway [Illinois] and a couple of races where we were on for a really good result.

"Strategies didn't work out, because we were taking punts, but I felt like - as a team, as a driver - we were really punching and going really good.

"The momentum was there, which I felt really good about to finish off the season, especially for next year. As a whole, I think it was about a B+ for me - once I sorted out my attitude and a few things, we were a lot better."

While McLaughlin may not consider his first full season as an overwhelming success, the results prove otherwise.

His Rookie of the Year honour resulted from several solid showings in the Team Penske car, as the Kiwi finished higher than ex-Formula 1 driver Romain Grosjean and NASCAR icon Jimmie Johnson.

With the lessons of 2021 on board, McLaughlin knows where he needs to be to build on his rookie success next season.

Most notably, McLaughlin will enter 2022 with a full season under his belt and can bank on his experience of racing in the US.

"I'm very hard on myself and put a lot of pressure on myself. I had to back a little bit of that back and ended up going better.

"I feel more comfortable and more calm, I guess, for next season, just because I know the tracks.

"You've got to make the most of your time on track in IndyCar. If I can take away one less thing I need to learn, it makes me feel a lot better."

One drawback of his successful IndyCar debut campaign comes in the form of McLaughlin missing out on Australia's greatest race - the Bathurst 1000.

A contender to return for his former Dick Johnson Racing team, McLaughlin's plans were dashed by the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That doesn't mean the door is shut for the future, with McLaughlin more than willing to return in search of a second Mount Panorama victory, after his maiden win in 2019.

"I was there, if I could, but with the quarantine and a few things going on, it's just proven a little bit difficult. It's hard to commit to the level I want to commit. I'm not prepared to come back to Australia and do it half-arsed. 

"Unfortunately, with how it is currently with quarantining, potential lockdowns and whatever, I just couldn't commit that amount of time away from the team, without knowing if I could get back either.

"It was a little bit of a curveball, but I've said to Ryan [Story, team owner] that I'm ready to go for next year, if he wants me, so make it happen."

While a return to Bathurst could still be on the cards, McLaughlin adds that a Supercars comeback has taken a backseat to his IndyCar career, wanting to establish himself as one of the best.

"It's probably too hard to call. Ideally, I'd love to solidify myself here - I'm not in any rush to get home right now.

"I want to continue to try to build a bit of a legacy here and push on with all that, and worry about the rest later on.

"I love the category and if there was ever an option later on in my life, for sure, but I'd love to be here for a long time."