McLaughlin entering the unknown: Former champ issues USA warning

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Words: Zane Shackleton
20 Nov 2020

​Marcos Ambrose says Scott McLaughlin must prepare for the cutthroat nature of racing in the United States but applauds the Kiwi for taking the risk in pursuit of a new level of success.

Ambrose was the last Supercars champion to give a full-time career in the US a crack. Fresh off another successful campaign with Stone Brothers Racing in 2005, the Tasmanian tried his luck in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series for a single season. He would then spend two seasons in the NASCAR Nationwide Series before a relatively up and down six years in the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

There, Ambrose only finished the season in the top-20 on two occasions with a best championship result of 18th. However, he did manage to seal two Sprint Cup wins and five Nationwide Series wins, all of which were on the Watkins Glen road course bar one in Montreal.

McLaughlin will begin his full-time US career next year with Team Penske in the IndyCar Series, but Ambrose warned the transition could be a turbulent one if the Kiwi is not fully prepared.

“He certainly deserves a shot. He has done great [in Supercars] the last few years,” Ambrose told The Herald Sun.

“So he has got as good a chance as anybody to make it stick in the States.

“For me, it was a really tough environment. The American environment is cutthroat.

“It’s all about speed and winning and ability, and there are a lot of fantastic American drivers out there that have grown up with oval-racing and heavy, high-powered, under-gripped race cars.

“I found it tough to just stay on the track, but to make it work at the level that was required, but I got there.

“He is going to be racing against guys there that are as good as anyone in the world. IndyCar racing has a high pedigree of open-wheel drivers from Europe and also North America, so they won’t put up with mediocre for long.”

But Ambrose said he feels McLaughlin does have a realistic shot at putting all doubts to rest.

“He has got a great chance. He is with a great team, he is the right age and he has got a great skill set and if he can group all that together, that is the magic source that you need, you need it to all come together at the right time.”

Before being announced as the fourth Penske entry to tackle the later-cancelled GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, McLaughlin revealed he believed NASCAR would be the next step in his career.

However, Ambrose says opting for a path in IndyCar over NASCAR offers the Kiwi the best chance to obtain success,

“He’s taken the path that gives him the best chance of success,” Ambrose said.

“He is driving for the best team in North American motorsport in Team Penske … and they have had a decades-long history of success.

“It’s a category that is dominated by road racing, and that should help him make a nice smooth transition.

“First of all, he just needs to prove he belongs and then he can work on winning races and championships after that.”

“But he will take it in his stride, I would think. He is used to it here, he has been winning races and championships and is on top of the pile.

“He’s doing it right. He has made every good step. He has put himself in a great position in his own life, he’s quite stable, a very grounded guy, and quite humble.

“He has delivered on the track, and he has shown he has got the speed and ability to win races and championships and he has aligned himself with the best in the business with Penske.

“He’s ticked all the boxes so it’s just down to timing and himself to apply himself and hopefully he puts it all together.”

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