Scott McLaughlin says the unique challenges of 2020 have made the Supercars Championship tougher than ever.
After victory in the opening race at the OTR SuperSprint on Saturday, McLaughlin is on the brink of a third consecutive Supercars title.
He holds a 263-point lead over Jamie Whincup and will wrap up the title today if he can extend that margin to 300, ahead of the Bathurst finale on October 18.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made the 2020 championship like no other, with Supercars among many Australians sports forced to squeeze its season around various restrictions.
After the season was dramatically halted on the second day of the second event at Albert Park, a three-month hiatus followed.
Two events each have since been held at Sydney Motorsport Park, Hidden Valley, Townsville and now The Bend – with the four northern events taking place on consecutive weekends.
That meant a long stretch on the road for all teams, including McLaughlin’s Brisbane-based Shell V-Power Racing, while the Melbourne crews have been travelling since early July.
Bathurst will mark the year’s 10th and final event – four short of the original schedule, with border and economic hurdles cancelling several races, including the now traditional Newcastle decider.
Asked if the unique nature of 2020 would make winning the championship more or less of an achievement than in other years, McLaughlin said he’s enjoyed the added challenges.
“Whoever loses is not going to call it a championship or whatever, and then whoever wins is going to say it meant the most,” he said.
“For me, I raced every race – and I think everyone else does – like the proper deal.
“It’s been a mixed-up calendar, there’s been double-headers and stuff we haven’t seen before.
“If anything for me it’s made the championship more difficult.
“It’s been a lot more about the camaraderie within the team and continuing the momentum that you have and learning on the run.
“Especially at a place like Townsville where we struggled, we really needed to hit back there otherwise we were going to lose a heap of points and we did.
“That’s what I’ve really enjoyed about 2020, the ups and downs and peaks and troughs, it’s been good.”
McLaughlin is aiming to become the first driver to win his first three Supercars titles back-to-back, having re-written a host of records since joining DJR Team Penske in 2017.
Saturday’s win moved him to equal fourth with Garth Tander on the all-time race win tally with 55, trailing only Whincup , Craig Lowndes  and Mark Skaife .
Whether he will climb higher remains to be seen, with the 27-year-old Kiwi widely tipped for a move to IndyCar with Team Penske next year.
He’ll race in the American series for the first time the week after the Bathurst 1000, having had a series of scheduled races in the US this year scrapped due to the pandemic.
McLaughlin makes no secret of wanting to have the title wrapped up before going to Bathurst, but is relaxed about the equation ahead of today’s two 100-point races.
“I’m working my butt off to get to that point, but at the same time we don’t need the 300 points, we can still do a solid job,” he said.
“If we’re no less than when we entered the weekend, that was our goal, but if we come out of [today] with that same margin... even if we do lose a little bit it’s not a bad result.
“But ideally we’d like to have it wrapped up.”
McLaughlin dramatically lost the 2017 title to Whincup in a thrilling decider in Newcastle, before achieving redemption by defeating Shane van Gisbergen at the same venue a year later.
A dominant if controversial 2019 campaign meant he put the title mathematically beyond doubt at the penultimate round at Sandown, but delayed celebrations until after Newcastle.