An enormous crowd of up to 300,000 fans is expected for Monday’s (AEST) Indianapolis 500, one of the world’s truly iconic motorsport events.
On the starting grid will be three-time Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin, the New Zealander who is enjoying a strong sophomore IndyCar season and sits third on the championship standings behind Australia’s Will Power and Spain’s Alex Palou.
McLaughlin, 28, will be chasing fellow Kiwi and childhood hero Scott Dixon at Indianapolis Motor Speedway after ‘The Iceman’s’ record breaking speeds in pole-setting qualifying.
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McLaughlin claims maiden IndyCar race win
WWOS: I hear Indianapolis has a street sign up in your honor. That’s pretty amazing for a Kiwi kid…
McLaughlin: Yeah I think mine’s McLaughlin Street or Court, I can’t remember exactly what it is but pretty crazy. And they let us keep our street sign which is pretty cool as well. It takes over the whole city, they just go crazy for this race.
The whole month is such a big thing and America, the restrictions are off for many sporting events including the 500 and what we’re going to see is going to be crazy, the amount of people that are going to be there.
We had 135,000 there last year and that was still a lot for that period, I think it was the biggest sporting event since the pandemic started. To now have probably the biggest homecoming in all of sports at the end of May, is going to be pretty special to be a part of that. To be one of the 33 drivers is very cool.
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WWOS: Are you aware of the magnitude of the crowd, can you feel it in the car even though your eyes are hopefully on the road?
McLaughlin: Oh you do. The first time you do your brake lap, they basically tell you to look around and your spotter’s like ‘hey man, enjoy this, look around, this is your lap sort of thing.’ Wave to the fans, it’s crazy.
The amount of people they cram into there, on both sides of the fence, is crazy. And there’s people that have been going to this race for – I think it’s the 106th race this year – and some families have been going there for 60-70 years, consistently, and just kept their seats throughout.
It’s just tradition, regardless of whether they’re still right into the series or not, they always go on Memorial Day weekend to the Indy 500.
It’s something that’s really special, you feel the vibe and it just makes you want to do well. It’s kind of like Bathurst but Bathurst on steroids in some ways.
WWOS: Did you watch the Indy 500 as a kid and what are your standout memories of the great race?
McLaughlin: I always knew what IndyCar was and what it was all about but I think it was when Scott Dixon won in 2008, I knew he had a chance to win so that was the first one I genuinely watched.
I was always into IndyCar but it was always on at early times and with school and stuff it didn’t really work. But Indy 500, that was the first time I remember avidly watching that race and seeing him win that for the first time, it gave me some inspiration, regardless of where I was.
For me, firstly, Supercars was my hopes and dreams initially. I’ve done a lot of things in Australia that a lot of people haven’t done or are aspiring to do.
I’m very lucky at 28 to be able to be here in America and compete in a race that I’ve always dreamed of racing in but never thought I’d get the chance, let alone in a Penske car. I feel very privileged about that and really excited about what’s ahead.
Just excited to have another opportunity to race the race, it’s just so special.
WWOS: COVID-19 has meant you haven’t seen your family in two and a half years. How special will it be to have them watch you race in the Indy 500?
McLaughlin: Yeah they’re actually only allowed in the country for 90 days so they’re going to be all the way through to Nashville, I think it’s 88 days they’re here in the country. So they’re going to spend as much time with us, probably do a big trip this year because it’s been a couple of years since we’ve seen each other and then next year it’ll probably be more like come over here for a weekend and then go back and work it out.
But they’re going to try and make the most of this first American trip, just to hang out and learn our life over here.
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