A now American-based Scott McLaughlin is keeping his expectations in check for his high-profile IndyCar debut this weekend.
The three-time Supercars champion departed Australia on Monday, less than 24 hours after starting in the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000.
His maiden race appearance in the open-wheel series comes in its season finale on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.
With just a single 90-minute practice session to get up to speed against the likes of countryman and points leader Scott Dixon, McLaughlin is realistic about what sort of results he can drag out of the #3 Team Penske Chevrolet.
“It’s a hard one. Like, I just want to do every lap I can, do every pit stop I can,” McLaughlin said in a media call in the US.
“It’s a massive learning thing. I’ll go there, I’ll drive the car as fast as I can within my comfort level, which my comfort level will be a lot lower than some.
“I’m fully expecting this will be the toughest challenge of my career, but I’m looking forward to it.”
With title-contending Penske teammate Josef Newgarden saying a top 10 result would represent “a great weekend” for the Kiwi, McLaughlin responded with a laugh: “I think if I finish top 10, I’ll be doing cartwheels, going crazy!
“I think, look, it depends on what goes on. I’m fully expecting a tough battle.
“I might have a great, great experience running last. I don’t know. It’s not going to change how I feel or whatever. I’ve got a lot to learn. I’m fully expecting I could be last.
“At the end of the day, as long as I get a good feel for the category, a good feel for the cars, we’ll be all right.”
Getting a feel for the category comes with importance for the 27-year-old, who is widely tipped to join the IndyCar grid full-time next year as part of an expanded Penske line-up.
“I think there’s still a lot of things that I haven’t come across that I need to learn and need to understand before I actually make a decision, as a team,” he added.
“This is an opportunity. It’s something that I’m just going to go in like a sponge, soak everything up, see what comes out of it.
“I’m pretty confident that I’m going to like the series, I’m going to like the cars, I’m going to like everything. There wouldn’t be a reason why I wouldn’t be here.”
Upon arriving in Charlotte earlier in the week via Los Angeles, McLaughlin spent time on the Team Penske simulator as part of his final preparations.
“I think I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling some pressure, but it’s probably from myself more than anything,” he said.
“I’m pretty hard on myself in regards to where I’m at, even on the simulator.
“I was a little bit slower than the guys. Most people would be pretty happy still where I was, but I wasn’t.
“I wanted to be closer than I was, which wasn’t far… but I trust my ability.
“I trust what I can do in a race car. I trust the process that Team Penske have put me on. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think I was ready and they wanted me to do it.
“That gives me already a lot of confidence in the process.”
Other aspects of McLaughlin’s St. Petersburg preparation have included listening into the #3 crew’s communications at the Indianapolis 500 in August, when Brazilian veteran Helio Castroneves was at the wheel.
“They are all of my pit crew, my engineers. They’re all very similar,” said McLaughlin.
“It was nice to have an idea and an introduction to how everyone talks, gets through the race weekend.”
Practice for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will get underway at 1:55am Sunday (AEDT) before qualifying takes place from 6:05-7:20am Sunday (AEDT).