McLaughlin driven by need for respect

It’s nearing lunchtime and Scott McLaughlin is in a grubby grey coat instead of his fire retardant, sponsor-emblazoned racing suit.

For protection he wears safety goggles rather than a hi-tech helmet as he moulds a rear lower control arm.

Elsewhere in the fabrication department at Garry Rogers Motorsport’s headquarters in Dandenong South there is a nagging tap-tap-tap – evidence another length of steel is being manipulated to exacting specifications.

McLaughlin studied woodwork at school, but he has always been more accomplished with a lathe and other tools of the trade for a steel fabricator as he nears the end of a four-year apprenticeship.

His construction work also dovetails with promotional duties.

Last week he was in Adelaide to promote the V8 Supercars’ season-opening enduro in February and tomorrow he heads home to Christchurch and other South Island destinations to help pump up the tyres of the second ITM 400 in Pukekohe from April 24-27.

McLaughlin may be the youngest winner of an Australian Touring Car Championship/V8 Supercars Series race – he was 19 when taking the chequered flag at Pukekohe in April – but he appreciates the nuts and bolts of his pursuit.

Meeting the requirements of his apprenticeship also enables the 20-year-old to feel invested in his $A350,000 Holden Commodore, which he steered around Phillip Island this weekend.

“It’s more rewarding,” he explained when detailing his contribution to building the car and, when necessary, repairing it.

“The big thing is if I ever have a crash I can always look under the car and see what’s bent before the car gets back to the truck.

“Whatever I see that’s bent or broken, they have it out on the table ready to go.

“I think I get a little bit more respect from the boys for putting in the hard yards as well.”

Respect – the desperation to win, and then maintain it – is clearly vital for McLaughlin, the reigning New Zealand V8 Supertourers and Dunlop Series champion, as he nears the end of his rookie season in the “main game”.

His victory south of Auckland two months shy of his 20th birthday eclipsed Todd Kelly’s win on the Canberra street circuit in 2000; it also indicated he felt comfortable parking up among his peers.

“It took a while to feel that,” said McLaughlin, who started this penultimate round in 10th place, 796 points behind series leader Craig Lowndes.

“When I won at Puke I was ‘yep’. I got a lot more respect out of a lot of people.

“It was cool when people like Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes shake your hand.

“It’s like ‘Yeah, sweet’ people do respect you. Obviously you struggle for a little bit.

“Some people have called me a rich kid who’s only got there because of money or sponsorship so it’s just good to silence them.”

McLaughlin is not unique as a young driver experiencing “road rage” from the cynics and the envious.

“I think every rookie does. Basically the first thing people say is ‘he’s paid to get in there’.

“I’m not saying Mum and Dad never helped to get me where I am and I’m not saying I got there without sponsorship.”

But, as he points out, that Holden doesn’t drive itself at 280kph down Conrod Straight at Mt Panorama.

Bathurst naturally resonates with McLaughlin – he watched the great race for the first time as a five-year-old – and started in go-karts in Hamilton soon after.

In 2012 he was Jonathon Webb’s co-driver and this year he was on the grid for the first time, a memorable though stressful experience.

“In the first hundred metres I was on the grass, three-wide into turn one . . . . it was out of control,” he smiled. McLaughlin eventually placed eighth.

Yet his fondest memory from 2013 is destined to be his win at Ipswich’s Queensland Raceway, because that is where he can genuinely gauge his progression.

“I was 16, the youngest ever starter in a race, and I stalled it on the start line and got hit. It’s still on YouTube.”

Fast-forward to July 28 and McLaughlin qualified second behind Whincup, the four-time Supercars champion.

“I got him off the line, led the whole race and won.

“Honestly, out of both those wins I’ll take the Queensland one over Puke, even though Puke was home.

“Queensland was so much more satisfying for me and the team. For one, it’s Jamie’s test track – so we’ve come up from Melbourne and beat them at their own place.”

McLaughlin driven by need for respect

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