Scott McLaughlin balancing his Supercar championship objectives
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Kiwi Supercars driver Scott McLaughlin is in new territory as he tries to find the balance between winning races and consolidating his championship advantage.
The 24-year-old DJR Team Penske driver tops the championship standings as the season moves into the endurance events. He holds a narrow 12-point lead over Red Bull Holden Racing's Jamie Whincup.
The three endurance rounds see the fulltime drivers share a car with a part-time racer at the Sandown 500, Bathurst 1000 and Surfers Paradise events, where 300 points are on offer each weekend. A DNF in these events could have huge championship ramifications so McLaughlin is torn between trying to go all-out for race wins while also being careful not to take any unnecessary risks.
"It is so tight you really need to be winning races to be going good in the championship," McLaughlin told The Herald.
"I don't think you can [consolidate] - I think you have to take each race as it comes.
"We know that the Triple Eight guys are going to be right at the front all the time, we know that Chaz [Mostert] is going to be there and Fabs [teammate Fabian Coulthard] is going to be there as well so we need to make sure that the #17 car is always up there."
The impact of a bad result is magnified during the endurance rounds, where at both the Sandown 500 and Bathurst 1000 all 300 points are up for grabs in the one race rather than spread out across multiple races like at the sprint rounds. A small error could become extremely costly.
If McLaughlin can safely maintain his current advantage during the endurance rounds he will have gone a long way to securing a maiden Supercars title.
"It is good to be in this position but you have to think about the situation," McLaughlin said. "The enduros can definitely shake things up."
McLaughlin feels if he tries to drive too cautiously then trouble will find him.
"The minute you start thinking about that you are in trouble," he insisted. "I think you do cause more trouble for yourself when you try to consolidate points and there is no need for that.
"I don't think you need to be consolidating at this point in the championship - I think it is important to just get on with things and drive as fast as you can and I'm sure that is what Jamie [Whincup] and Shane [van Gisbergen] will be doing."
The only time McLaughlin will think about the championship situation is if he finds himself behind late in a race.
"At the end of the day top three is always a good haul of points and you have to think about that but at the same time your competitive edge means you want to be winning races."
McLaughlin will be joined by former Volvo teammate Alex Premat for the Pirtek Endurance Cup. The Frenchman captured the trophy last year alongside New Zealander van Gisbergen while driving for Red Bull Racing.