By 21, McLaughlin had announced himself as a proven winner with Garry Rogers Motorsport, notably battling with Jamie Whincup on the streets of Adelaide.
At Pukekohe in early 2013, though, McLaughlin’s star was shining for all to see in a thrilling race.
Having previously won a non-championship race at Albert Park, McLaughlin headed to his home event brimming with confidence.
Starting fifth, McLaughlin kept his cool in a race where major names fell by the wayside.
McLaughlin crosses the line for win No. 1
Notably, future teammate Fabian Coulthard lost his front row start after a track limits drama in the shootout, before Jamie Whincup and Mark Winterbottom suffered separate punctures.
That left McLaughlin leading GRM teammate and future Bathurst-winning co-driver Alex Premat; however, the Frenchman copped a penalty for a false start before retiring due to a sticking throttle.
McLaughlin was kept honest to the chequered flag, with the end margin to Brad Jones Racing veteran Jason Bright just 0.8s behind, with Craig Lowndes keeping a watching brief in third.
He had already been tipped to reach the very top, which he did for the Shell V-Power Racing Team in a remarkable run of form.
First of many for the popular Kiwi
However, his winning journey had to start somewhere, and there was no greater venue than home to bring up the milestone.
"My first win, it was incredible,” McLaughlin told Supercars.com in the years after the race.
"I remember grabbing the lead when Frosty blew his tyre and I managed to control the race until the end. That was nerve-wracking.
"I remember seeing all of the flags on the side of the hill, everyone was clapping and I literally got goosebumps through my whole body when I could hear the cheers through the car. It was out of control.
A baby-faced McLaughlin celebrates victory
"It’s something I’ll never forget, I wish I could turn back time and go back to that win.”
A heavy accident in a later race marred his weekend, but McLaughlin rebounded to complete a strong campaign which also saw a victory at Queensland Raceway.
He scored six wins in GRM Volvos between 2014 and 2016 before a career-defining move to the Dick Johnson Racing fold, under the DJR Team Penske moniker, saw McLaughlin carve out a stunning run of success.
Between 2017 and 2020, McLaughlin scored 48 race wins, 59 pole positions, three drivers’ titles and a Bathurst 1000 win in 2019.
A very popular podium
However, no driver forgets their first win, and achieving it while still in his teenage years perhaps numbed much of the excitement.
Regardless, hitting the marker at Pukekohe, where he would add wins in 2018 and 2019, meant a great deal.
"I was 19 when I won and I probably didn't understand it at that point,” he said.
"I was so excited, I remember going to the track one day and no-one knew who I was and I got to the track the next day and I literally needed security to get in.
"It was incredible, the reaction from the fans. I think I look back on it now and see how significant it was for me in my career.
McLaughlin celebrates another Pukekohe win in 2019
"At the time, I didn’t quite know that it would change my life, but it certainly did, that day.
“[Pukekohe] was the first Supercars race I attended… it was awesome. It’s something that changed my life, really.”
McLaughlin’s IndyCar journey will commence at Barber Motorsports Park on Monday AEST with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst.
The Repco Supercars Championship field will return to Symmons Plains for the Beaurepaires Tasmania SuperSprint across April 17-18. Tickets are on sale now.
The event will be broadcast live on Foxtel and will be streamed on Kayo.