Over the previous dozen years, engineer Ben Bretzman turned synonymous with Simon Pagenaud. They first labored collectively in 2010 on the Highcroft Racing sportscar group, reunited in IndyCar for a three-year spell at what was then Sam Schmidt Motorsports after which moved to Group Penske collectively for 2015. They received the collection title in 2016 and the Indianapolis 500 in 2019. Bretzman race engineered all 15 of Pagenaud’s IndyCar victories.
But when Group Penske elected to shrink its IndyCar arm from 4 automobiles to 3 for 2022, and Pagenaud elected to remain in open-wheel by transferring to Meyer Shank Racing, Bretzman didn’t face a profession dilemma, as a result of he loves working at Penske. However he admits it was “exhausting to not get emotional as a result of it was the top of an period for each Simon and I”.
Within the meantime, he had turn out to be very impressed with Scott McLaughlin, who over a four-year-spell within the DJR Group Penske squad in Supercars had earned three championships and 48 wins – together with the Bathurst 1000. In 2019, in what would show to be his penultimate season Down Below, McLaughlin came to visit to North Carolina to check out Group Penske’s simulator, drove a digital IndyCar on the digital Indianapolis GP highway course – and was a tad faster than Will Energy and Josef Newgarden.
Remembers Bretzman: “I had first met Scotty when him and Fabian [Coulthard, then team-mate at DJR Team Penske] came to visit as visitors to the Indy 500, however I didn’t actually suppose a lot of it, as a result of we’re simply so targeted on making ready for that race. However we had been consistently getting emails of how typically the group was successful Supercars races with Scott, so I knew he was actually good.
“Then he came to visit to go to the raceshop in 2019, and since I function the DIL [driver-in-loop sim] programme it was all the way down to me to get him up to the mark within the sim, and his expertise degree was very apparent. I’m fairly certain it’s true that he was quickest. Will specifically thought that was very cool, as a result of he’s acquired some Supercars expertise and is aware of how completely different the automobiles are.”
Though Penske’s enthusiasm to run McLaughlin in IndyCar had not but matched McLaughlin’s enthusiasm to make the switch, Penske had promised to present his newest multi-title champ a check out in an IndyCar if he received the Bathurst 1000 for DJR Group Penske. That job executed, a take a look at date was introduced mid-December 2019, and 4 weeks later, there was the tin-top ace at Sebring, pounding out 140 laps, burning up his unprepared neck muscle groups, however impressing his team-mates in addition to Penske legend and advisor Rick Mears.
McLaughlin acquired his IndyCar take a look at shot after he received the Bathurst 1000 in 2019
Photograph by: Motorsport Images
A few days later, president Tim Cindric admitted the group was contemplating working McLaughlin as an additional entry in an IndyCar race that wouldn’t conflict together with his Supercars commitments and that he hoped additionally to place him in a automotive for pre-season Spring Coaching at Circuit of The Americas.
Over the subsequent 30 days, it was confirmed that McLaughlin would make his race debut in Could 2020’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis and that sure, he’d participate within the COTA take a look at. Jonathan Diuguid, Penske’s sportscar mastermind who additionally has a powerful open-wheel background, could be his race engineer. Besides, McLaughlin surprised everybody by going third quickest, simply half a second slower than pacesetting team-mate Energy round a 20-turn three.Four-mile course.
“I used to be very bowled over,” chuckles Bretzman – for whom Pagenaud was sixth quickest that day. “The driving fashion is so completely different from a Supercars to an IndyCar, and Scott tailored to it so shortly. COTA’s a extremely demanding observe as a result of it’s acquired high-speed, high-commitment sections that Scott wouldn’t be used to as a result of Supercars merely don’t have that cornering capability, however he additionally had the method just about proper for the slow-speed technical sections too.”
McLaughlin then went off with Diuguid to Texas Motor Speedway, totally loved himself, handed his oval rookie take a look at, and that triggered discuss of perhaps including to his GP Indy dedication with an oval race, maybe at Gateway. Along with his confidence climbing and enthusiasm already stratospheric, McLaughlin headed house. After which, nothing.
“Sure corners on sure tracks he’d be our quickest man, although generally it was the primary time he’d seen the racetrack. He was determining what it takes to make lap time, to search out pace” Ben Bretzman
COVID-19 rocked, shocked and locked the world, delays pockmarked the schedules of each Supercars and IndyCar, and even when the 2 collection falteringly returned to motion, nationwide and worldwide quarantine guidelines had been by necessity so fluid that McLaughlin couldn’t danger lacking a spherical or two of his ‘day-job’ by returning to the US.
Lastly, after clinching his third Supercars title, there was sufficient flexibility in journey restrictions for him to return to America and participate within the much-delayed IndyCar season finale at St. Petersburg. His possibilities could be compromised by having just one observe session earlier than qualifying, however he ended that observe mere hundredths of a second behind Newgarden and Energy.
A mistake on his flying lap in qualifying left McLaughlin close to the again of the grid, and he’d retire from the race simply earlier than half-distance after a minor misjudgement led to break attributable to contact with a few rivals. However his was probably the most forgivable of the various driving errors made that day as a result of the remaining had been made by collection veterans.
He did not get a consequence, however McLaughlin impressed together with his utility on his IndyCar debut at St. Petersburg in 2020
Photograph by: Motorsport Images
Earlier that weekend, Group Penske had confirmed it could be increasing to 4 full-time IndyCar entries to accommodate McLaughlin for 2021, and from the proof we’d seen, that made sense. Given the shortage of take a look at days accessible, he’d face a serious studying curve and, given the prominence of the group and the standard of his team-mates, he’d be underneath a harsh highlight – however there was greater than sufficient proof for all concerned to really feel optimistic in regards to the prospect.
McLaughlin by no means appeared out of his depth by way of his rookie season, and at instances he appeared startlingly good – ending second in his first-ever oval race at Texas Motor Speedway, ending fourth in his first-ever brief oval race at Gateway. However after getting by way of to the Quick Six in Could’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis, he grew more and more annoyed that he couldn’t replicate that type on different highway and road programs, on account of unfamiliarity with Firestone’s softer alternate-compound red-sidewalled tyres.
Late within the season, he defined to Autosport: “I’ve by no means actually needed to run a distinct tyre in the identical qualifying session like we do right here. And the classes are so brief and sharp. The most important drawback is that if I don’t make it by way of to Q2, I don’t get one other shot on the crimson tyres till the race. And the expertise you get there on reds isn’t actually usable on the subsequent occasion, as a result of by then your automotive is heavy with gas, heavy with aero downforce, and so it has a very completely different really feel.
“Nothing you do in a race whilst you’re on reds is beneficial expertise for working reds in quali subsequent time. So if I don’t get by way of to Q2, I’ve misplaced the prospect to get extra expertise of low-fuel/light-downforce on the crimson tyre.
“Once I really feel snug with the automotive, we do one thing like I did at GP Indy, and we get by way of to the Quick Six. Now, I don’t know why that didn’t work within the second race on the Indy highway course [in August], however that’s how qualifying is in IndyCar. In case you don’t get every little thing proper, you don’t get in.”
Bretzman was watching McLaughlin’s struggles considerably from afar. Sure, all 4 Penske driver/engineer combos had been debriefing in the identical trailer, however his precedence needed to be Pagenaud.
“You may see Scott’s potential, 100%,” he says. “Sure corners on sure tracks he’d be our quickest man, although generally it was the primary time he’d seen the racetrack. He was determining what it takes to make lap time, to search out pace. He simply wanted extra expertise, studying the tracks, understanding the tyres, as a result of it’s all in regards to the particulars at this level in IndyCar as a result of it’s so tight.”
Bretzman recognized McLaughlin’s potential whereas working with Pagenaud
Photograph by: Scott R LePage / Motorsport Images
With Diuguid switching again to helm Penske’s World Endurance Championship assault and the IndyCar group decreasing to 3 automobiles, Bretzman hoped he’d be working with McLaughlin in 2022.
“We had began collectively originally of final 12 months and had developed rapport,” he says. “And work-wise, I knew what sort of expertise degree Scott had and will see we simply wanted to focus him in a few areas. It simply appeared to make sense for me to race engineer him.
“It was an attention-grabbing state of affairs although, with just one take a look at day at Sebring accessible to us pre-season and a change on the street course tyre.”
“We didn’t change the automotive a lot from first observe to the race as a result of once more, we needed to present him stability and construct him up, and let him go be who he’s, which is an incredible racecar driver” Ben Bretzman
For 2022, Firestone has elevated the hole between its main and alternate compounds for the non permanent tracks by making the alternates softer, extra grippy. As typical, no groups are allowed to strive these ‘reds’ in a take a look at, so a cloud of uneasiness hung over the heads of all opponents final weekend in St. Pete. However for an engineer whose second-year driver already felt his primary drawback as a rookie had been extracting probably the most out of the reds on a flying lap, the apprehension was significantly acute.
“We spent a whole lot of time on the simulator,” stated Bretzman. “However sure, there’s the priority of getting executed all this work, are we going to point out up at St. Pete and the crimson tyre is massively completely different from what we had been working?
“However Group Penske as a gaggle has modified lots to the essential package deal this 12 months. I’d say we’ve broadened the window of the place it really works finest, and so it seems like we are able to soak up the variations made by Firestone’s new alternate tyre. And in reality, it simply provided extra grip with out actually altering the steadiness of our automotive. There have been cockpit changes that Scott needed to make, however we weren’t adjusting wings after we switched from blacks to reds in qualifying.
“A part of that’s all the way down to our set-up. We’ve tried to present him a really broad scope, a really constant automotive, so he can construct confidence in himself, actually push and present the tempo we all know he has. We didn’t change the automotive a lot from first observe to the race as a result of once more, we needed to present him stability and construct him up, and let him go be who he’s, which is an incredible racecar driver.”
McLaughlin was in imperious type in St. Petersburg as he took pole and victory
Photograph by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images
Bretzman, like McLaughlin, Energy and different distinguished figures on Chevrolet-powered groups, credit score the engine producer’s engineers with serving to make sure that improved tempo from McLaughlin and Penske on road programs translated into race-winning type.
“Chevy has executed a large quantity of labor during the last six or seven months on serving to to make the automotive’s simpler to drive out of slower turns,” says Bretzman. “That’s had a large impact on how we are able to set-up the automobiles. We set-up the automobiles mechanically and aero-wise across the nature of the ability supply and Chevy’s made substantial positive aspects there – which is unbelievable to me contemplating we’re 11 years into this engine method!
“Scott and I spent a whole lot of time going over all of the observe classes from final 12 months, and the one phrase that stored arising when he was speaking about qualifying runs was ‘unhealthy traction’. Once we had been arising with a plan of the best way to run the automobiles in 2022, I instructed him I didn’t wish to hear that once more! However a big a part of the progress has been Chevy serving to us with driveability choices that must be actually good for road programs and highway programs. We’re super-thankful.”
It was solely after McLaughlin took pole, zero.1237 seconds quicker than team-mate and nine-time St. Pete pole-winner Energy, that Bretzman thought by way of fuel-save. That turned the #three group’s precedence in Sunday morning warm-up, however after trying out his new driver’s method, he ceased worrying. Then there was the consideration over the best way to deal with Firestone’s softer reds – nonetheless an unknown amount on heavy tanks on a rough course in 26.6 levels Celsius warmth.
However McLaughlin was capable of reply that problem, too. Out entrance, he pulled a five-second hole on Colton Herta whereas taking much less out of his tyres. It was solely as soon as the poor-starting and primary-tyred Energy re-passed Herta that McLaughlin’s lead began to come back down, and even then that was partly on account of him hitting site visitors.
“Scott simply did an outstanding job of managing each state of affairs by way of the race,” says Bretzman. “Whether or not it was pulling away from Herta, absorbing strain from Will, taking care of his reds – they had been nonetheless in fairly fine condition when he pitted – after which coping with the soiled air from working behind the three-stoppers, and absorbing the strain from [Alex] Palou within the remaining stint. When the site visitors backed him up and people two had been working collectively, Scott knew precisely the place he wanted to be fast with a view to not give Palou an opportunity to go, and likewise knew which components of the observe he might save gas.
“Scott is aware of the best way to run up entrance in a racecar; he had years of practising the best way to lead and handle a race from his time in Supercars. The essential factor final weekend was with the ability to show he had the pace to be on the entrance in an IndyCar – that was essential. All of us believed in him and noticed his potential, however getting the outcomes and really fulfilling that potential simply provides to his confidence in himself.”
Bretzman loved a number of magic moments with Pagenaud over the course of their 10 years collectively in IndyCar. Who would wager towards the same run of type together with his new charger?
Now McLaughlin has damaged his duck, what can he do subsequent?
Photograph by: Richard Dole / Motorsport Images