At the season finale from Long Beach, Scott McLaughlin wrapped up the 2021 IndyCar Rookie of the Year award, narrowly beating fellow rookie Romain Grosjean by just one position in the standings.
McLaughlin’s achievement serves as the first time a Team Penske driver has won the award since the team was founded by Roger Penske in 1968.
This is partially due to the fact that the team tends to hire experienced drivers instead of young drivers just entering the sport.
McLaughlin bridges that gap, however, since the 28-year-old spent nine years driving Australian Supercars before coming stateside to run in America’s top open wheel series.
From the outset of the season, the New Zealand driver impressed, taking his first podium in just his third race at Texas Motor Speedway.
He also was rarely involved in incidents, and was the only driver to be running at the end of every one of the 16 races on the calendar.
McLaughlin’s smooth driving and ability to quickly learn his new discipline were key factors in his ability to finish 14th in the overall standings, 33 points clear of Grosjean.
“You get one shot to win this,” said McLaughlin after securing the honor. “It’s a proud moment to win it. My ultimate goal was potentially top 12, top 10 in the championship.
“This is my first ever open wheel championship. The only thing I’ve driven is two races in a Formula Ford. This is a different kettle of fish, probably the most competitive series in the world.
“I certainly feel like I’m a better racing driver even though I’m solidly finishing in the back edge of the top 12. But I feel better and I’m excited for what’s ahead.
“Overall, towards the end of the season, since probably St. Louis, potentially before that, I felt like I’ve had a good stranglehold on the car. I’ve come in leaps and bounds in terms of my confidence with the car. It really sets me up well for 2022.
“To win the Rookie of the Year, it will sit with me forever and no one can ever take it away from me.”
For his accomplishment, McLaughlin earned an extra $50,000 bonus from IndyCar, and will forever have bragging rights to carry with him.
The third rookie challenger of the 2021 season, Jimmie Johnson, finished well behind the other two drivers, but showed large-scale improvements in form throughout the season as he came to grips with an entirely new driving style.
For 2022, the only contracted rookie so far is Callum Ilott, who has been confirmed to be driving the #77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet.