At 26 years of age, Scott McLaughlin hit the peak of his powers in 2019.
The New Zealander seemed destined for Supercars stardom, from making his debut in the Dunlop Super2 Series as a baby-faced 16-year-old in 2010 to winning races in his first full-time season in the Supercars main game in 2013 to finishing in the top 10 of the championship in each of his seven full-time seasons, having won races across two teams, four different cars and three manufacturers.
The move to DJR Team Penske in 2017 and the partnership with engineer Ludo Lacroix elevated him to the next level, leading to the record-breaking run of 2019 that saw him win a second consecutive championship and the Bathurst 1000 for the first time.
This is the story of his season, the key players, the factors in his success and what the future holds for the two-time champion.
McLaughlin’s second title marked the first consecutive championship defeat for Triple Eight Race Engineering since the start of its dominant run in 2008.
The rise of DJR Team Penske is incredible when put in the context of the near demise of Dick Johnson Racing in the 2012-2013 off-season. While many point to the arrival of Team Penske as majority owners in 2014 as the salvation for Dick Johnson’s team, it was, in fact, the work of Ryan Story which saved the team and had it in a position where it was a worthwhile investment for the likes of Team Penske.
DJR Team Penske has been on the rise ever since, despite scaling back to one car for its first season in 2015 and the initial setback of Marcos Ambrose stepping down after just two rounds.
What followed was a concerted rebuild to inject new life into what had become of Dick Johnson Racing, with steady gains through the second half of 2015 and in 2016, following the expansion back up to two cars.
But the game-changing recruitment of engineering and design guru Lacroix from Triple Eight Race Engineering and McLaughlin from Garry Rogers Motorsport into 2017 were the final ingredients needed to become an elite team.
The return of Shell as title sponsor, to a team it had enjoyed so much success with over the decades, added not only commercial stability but helped allay fears the Team Penske takeover would diminish the Dick Johnson Racing legacy.
The Lacroix-McLaughlin combination nearly won a title in its first attempt, losing the championship following a last-lap tangle in the final race of the season in Newcastle in 2017. But the heartbreak galvanized the team, just as it had done for Dick Johnson when he recovered from crashing out of the lead at Bathurst in 1980 with the championship-Bathurst double in 1981.
The 2018 championship win marked not only confirmation of DJR Team Penske’s rise to the top but also a fitting farewell for the Falcon. It was the 17th and final championship win for the Falcon courtesy of the iconic #17 entry.
Team Penske’s connections in North America paved the way for Ford to return to Supercars with the Mustang in 2019. And with DJR Team Penske made the homologation team for the Mustang, it could tap into Lacroix’s design genius and the relationship with Ford Performance to build a rocket-ship.
From near-collapse seven years ago to the powerhouse team in Supercars, DJR Team Penske is now reaping the rewards of its rebuild. It’s been quite a journey for the man who started it all, Dick Johnson.
“We’ve had times when it’s been difficult both mentally and financially, but you’ve just got to work through these things and the right people seem to turn up at the right time,” he says.
“It’s great to be in a position where we’re winning races. After all these ups and downs we’ve had over the years and now to be running at the front is a real bonus. Unless you’ve had the lows, you don’t know what the highs are, do you?”
McLaughlin’s dream season began with an event sweep in Adelaide, the perfect debut for the Mustang.
With six wins from six race starts, after not starting Race 5 (see ‘The Lows’), the record of most wins in a season appeared in sight.
Winning six in a row across Barbagallo, Winton, Hidden Valley, and Townsville not only cemented his championship lead but also put him on the brink of the record previously held by Craig Lowndes with 16 wins in 1996.
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