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Feature: From Bathurst to Indy, racing links

Scott McLaughlin’s ascent from Supercars champion to IndyCar contender has helped raise the profile of the Australian category in North America. But he’s not the first Australian touring-car driver to try his hand at IndyCar racing, or vice versa, as we explore in SupercarXtra Magazine issue #122.

07 August 2021

CLICK HERE for more information on issue #122. 

The Australian Touring Car Championship/Supercars and the Bathurst 1000 are very different racing disciplines to the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, yet there’s been a number of drivers who have crossed over between the tin-top and open-wheeler categories over the decades.

In what now seems like the bygone era of drivers racing in a variety of disciplines and categories across continents, three-time Australian Formula 1 world champion Jack Brabham introduced the first rear-engined car in the Indianapolis 500 in 1961.Brabham and fellow Australian Formula 1 driver Vern Schuppan made a number of starts in the Indianapolis 500 and Bathurst 1000 with mixed success across the 1960s and into the 1980s.

Schuppan was awarded the Indy ‘Rookie of the Year’ in 1976, the same year he teamed with Allan Moffat in the Bathurst 1000. He finished in third place at Indianapolis in 1981, followed by his final Bathurst start alongside John Harvey later in the year.

Australian touring-car regular and Bathurst 1000 winner Kevin Bartlett made three starts in the 1970 IndyCars championship, though failed to qualify for that year’s Indianapolis 500. In the other direction, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford and Janet Guthrie, the first woman to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, combined to drive a Ron Hodgson Motors Holden Torana at Bathurst in 1977.

Second-generation racer Geoff Brabham had already made three starts in the Bathurst 1000 (including alongside father Jack Brabham in 1977) by the time he became a regular in IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500, finishing in the top 10 in the championship standings three times in addition to 10 starts at Indianapolis with a best result of fourth in 1983. Brabham returned to Australia to win the Super Touring Bathurst 1000 in 1997 in addition to several starts in V8 Supercars.

IndyCars headed to Australia to race on the streets of Surfers Paradise for the first time in 1991, with the Gold Coast hosting an IndyCars Series category at the peak of its popularity. This opened the door for more Australians to become involved in IndyCars, with the North American category also exposed to Australian touring cars as the latter became one of the main support acts on the Gold Coast.

Fast forward to 2021 and three-time Supercars champion McLaughlin is now in IndyCars with leading outfit Team Penske.

McLaughlin is the most successful and high-profile Supercars regular to move into IndyCars; a pioneer in the same way that fellow championship winner Marcos Ambrose was with his move to North America into the NASCAR system in 2006.

“Marcos, he gave us some belief when he went to NASCAR and, for sure, he gave me as a young kid some inspiration to do it,” said McLaughlin.

“I just hope that it’s the same for myself with some young kids and knowing that you can make it happen if you work hard enough.

“Even if you are a Supercar racer right now and have thought about going somewhere, don’t be jealous that I’m here; be excited because if I go well I’m opening the doors for a lot of Supercar drivers in the future.

“I really take on that role of being a Supercar ambassador as much as I can.

“I’m the current champion and I really want to be a great role model for that, the sport, myself, my country and my family.”

With the might of Team Penske behind him and still only 28 years of age, McLaughlin is well positioned to make his mark in IndyCar and potentially pave the way for more Supercars drivers to follow in his footsteps.

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