Scott McLaughlin has paid tribute to the team at Garry Rogers Motorsport for helping him develop as a driver after earning his best ever finish after four seasons in the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship.
The 23-year old racer locked in third on the leaderboard, blocking a Triple Eight trifecta by holding off veteran Craig Lowndes across the two races at the Coates Hire Sydney 500.
Many have compared McLaughlin to a young Lowndes – an argument further cemented last night when the Kiwi was awarded his second Barry Sheene Medal. The award is voted by media and recognises the ‘best and fairest’ – Lowndes has won it five times.
Nine points separated the two for third heading into the final race, but the Volvo driver edged ahead finishing fifth to Lowndes’s ninth.
“I went and saw Craig and said, ‘awesome’ – it’s a bit of a dream I’m battling Lowndesy,” McLaughlin said after the race.
“I know we’re third in the championship and it’s not the win but to be battling him and just racing him is quite surreal – sometimes you’ve got to pinch yourself because you’re doing the best job in the world, so it’s pretty cool.”
His emotions about leaving GRM were mixed as his shift to DJR Team Penske for 2017 becomes more of a reality.
“That’s the last time driving the car – I got out the car, gave it a tap on the roof and said thanks, thanks for all the years.
“It’s just come to an end –the year’s gone so fast. But I’m stoked, really happy.”
McLaughlin’s debut came at the same circuit his GRM careers ends, after Garry Rogers had him replace a heat exhausted Alex Premat in 2012 just after McLaughlin had won the development series title.
He was pleased with this year despite some issues. His previous best in the title chase was fifth in 2014.
“A few little setbacks along the way … but that’s the same for everyone, everyone’s got a story.
“It’s been my most consistent year, especially racing wise – I know I can qualify well but racing is another thing.
“I’ve learnt a lot, I definitely think from the year I stepped in as Alex’s ‘co-driver’ to now, I’m a completely different driver and that’s all due to the people that are around me.”
McLaughlin was pleased to end on a high note before having to do battle with his GRM mates next season from the Clipsal 500 Adelaide.
“The best thing about the whole thing is we’ve ended with no accidents, we’re still very good mates – it’s like I’m not leaving, it’s pretty cool.
“Garry’s told me a number of times I’ll be the enemy from Jan 1 and that’s all I can expect.
“They’ll be the enemy as well – don’t get me wrong, we’ll be racing as hard as we can, so you know it’s business.”
A number of other awards were handed out last night including the Mike Kable Young Gun Award to Cameron Waters and Hall of Fame inductees Ross and Jim Stone recognised.