Bulldogs win helps drive Supercars star Scott McLaughlin
THE Bulldogs conquered their mountain. Now Scott McLaughlin has his sights set on his own.
Gunning for a maiden Bathurst 1000 win on the famous Mount Panorama, the 23-year-old rising star of Supercars will be inspired by the Bulldogs' fairytale AFL premiership victory.
McLaughlin is a proud Kiwi, but even prouder Bulldogs fan this week.
"It's a bit weird ... it is a bit weird," he told Australian Regional Media of his love for the club from Whitten Oval.
McLaughlin explained that when he first moved across the Tasman to Melbourne in 2003, "obviously the first thing you're going to do is join a footy club if you want to play sport and meet friends.
"So, I joined a club and they happened to wear the Bulldogs guernseys. Basically from that point on I've supported the Doggies," he said.
"I love AFL. I probably like it more than rugby. It doesn't go down too well (back home in New Zealand)."
McLaughlin described his house as "pandemonium" when the Dogs broke their 62-year flag drought.
"Unfortunately I couldn't get tickets. That would've been cool," he added.
McLaughlin's attention now turns to Bathurst, where he arrives today hoping to complete a memorable personal double this Sunday.
Currently fourth in the drivers' championship, behind the wheel of the Garry Rogers Motorsport team Volvo S60, McLaughlin is looking to build on past results.
Few were better than his debut in the great race in 2012 when finishing sixth after 161 gruelling laps.
"I was doing double duties ... driving the (second-tier) Dunlop series as well, so it was a pretty busy week for me... but it was amazing.
"Until last year (when fifth) that result was my best."
A bona fide champion in the making, McLaughlin says "every time I go to Bathurst I learn more and more about how to race there.
"I feel like we've got the best chance we've ever had going to Bathurst since I've been at GRM," added McLaughlin, who will have David Wall as co-driver.
"I'm really excited. I think we've got a really good shot.
"It's just a matter of trying to get it right and making the most of it.
"I just love Bathurst ... it doesn't matter which car you're in you're a chance because anything can happen up there."
While McLaughlin dabbled in Aussie rules, racing was always his first love growing up. He drove go-karts at the age of eight in New Zealand, with a view to one day racing in meets like Bathurst.
"I was a massive fan of Supercars and Greg Murphy especially coming from New Zealand," he explained. "For me it was the inspiration.
"I never really looked at Formula 1."
McLaughlin was still on his 'L' plates when he became the youngest to ever drive in the V8 Dunlop Series in 2010 - then known as the Fujitsu Series - at age 16.
He would win the title two years later while also getting the odd drive in the main event, the Supercars, firstly at the Sandown 500 and then Bathurst before signing as a full-time driver for Garry Rogers in 2013.
He has since claimed eight wins and 20 podium finishes, and now been hand-picked by the legendary Dick Johnson to race a Ford at DJR Team Penske from 2017.
"It's cool," he said of talk about his potential. "But I just try and do the best job I can.
"I've been very lucky over the last few years that I've had a really good car that's been able to put me up there and show what I can do. I've got to thank my bosses for that
"A lot of it has to do with passion. I felt like from a very age it was all I wanted to do ... and it all just happened. It's like a golf swing, you've either got it or you don't.
"When we were racing go-karts I felt like I had the potential, I just had to iron a few things out. I'm still doing that."
McLaughlin admits coming into the category as a 19-year-old "was quite intimidating", rubbing shoulders with the likes of Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup.
"I was too scared to even talk to them," he recalled.
"But, I've been in the category now for four years and you sort of feel like you belong here. Now you know you can mix it with them."
McLaughlin's fourth place in the standings (behind fellow Kiwi Shane van Gisbergen, Whincup and Lowndes) has been highlighted by a complete domination of Phillip Island, where he won both races.
"This year has been a really good year for me," he said. "Probably more consistent than I've ever been
"There has been occasions where we just haven't quite had the pace (but) moving forward, we've developed the car to a point where it's just got better and better."
While, to borrow an old footy expression, he's taking one week - or one race - at a time, McLaughlin does covet that Supercars title.
"It's huge," he said of his desire. "I put the championship above a Bathurst win. I feel like you've got to put the whole year together. I'd love to do it. Hopefully one day I can."