Scott McLaughlin named Indy 500 Rookie of the Year; fourth Team Penske honoree in team history
INDIANAPOLIS – Though not with the finish he would have hoped for, Scott McLaughlin took home the 2021 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year honors Monday evening at IndyCar’s Victory Banquet held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
In doing so, he became the first Team Penske driver in 20 years to win the honor and just the fourth in the team’s 50-plus year history.
Rick Mears, who won four Indy 500s (1979, '84, '88, '91) with Team Penske, was crowned the ROY in 1978.
Helio Castroneves came away with the honor in 2001, the year he won his first 500. He also won the race in '02 and '09 for Penske, and on Sunday with Meyer Shank Racing. Mark Donohue also clinched the honor in Team Penske's maiden Indy 500 in 1969, three years before he won the team's first Borg-Warner trophy in 1972.
McLaughlin edged out Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing’s Pietro Fittipaldi, who finished 25th on Sunday, one lap down, after starting 13th.
The Team Penske driver started Sunday as Team Penske’s highest qualifier in 17th and was flirting with a top-five finish past the halfway point before, on Lap 116, he was given a drive-through penalty for speeding on pitlane, costing the New Zealander valuable time on-track that ultimately mired him just barely on the leap-lap by race’s end.
His consolation prize? Knowing that two of Team Penske’s previous Indy 500 Rookie of the Year winners (Mears and Castroneves) won in their second Indy 500, while the other (Donohue) won in his fourth.
“It’s just a little bittersweet,” he told IndyStar on Monday “I just made one mistake. It’s all very similar to the (V8 Supercars race) in Bathurst. You have to be perfect all day, and you can’t afford to make even little mistakes, no matter where you are in the field, because you just don’t know where it’s going to shake out.
More Indy 500 coverage of Helio's historic win:
- Foyt on Castroneves: 'I haven’t heard these fans scream like that in (a long time)'
- Helio Castroneves earns $1,828,305 for Indy 500 win from total purse of $8,854,565
- Insider: Without Penske, Castroneves lands 'greatest achievement' in 4th Indy 500
“I’ll be kicking myself for a while, but I’d always do that (if I didn’t win). But once I get back in the car, I can use it and learn from it, and hopefully next year I can build on it.”
Sunday’s race was McLaughlin’s second experience overall at the 500, his first coming five years ago as a fan at the race’s 100th running, the year before he joined DJR Team Penske in Australia’s Supercars series. In 2018, he became a dominant force down under and won three consecutive championships. Doing so helped him earn a full-time seat in IndyCar in 2021, essentially replacing the full-time seat vacated by Castroneves when he went into a partial-season program starting in 2018.
Sunday’s Indy 500 winner ultimately left Team Penske in both sportscars and IndyCar this past offseason, landing with Meyer Shank Racing in open-wheel.
Being on-hand for Castroneves’ win and knowing all the 46-year-old achieved in 21 years driving for Roger Penske gave McLaughlin a bit of positive perspective moving forward, he said.
“You look at the people that have won this before – sure, I would have loved to do it with a top-5, and I believe that was truly possible – but this race is all about prestige and the facts and figures and who’s been here,” he said. “To put my name on the board with Castroneves and (Robert) Wickens and Pato (O’Ward) and a few others, they’re not bad names to be part of.
“I think this is something we can build it. It’s a little underwhelming to finish 20th, but Pietro and I had a good battle, and props to him as well.”