Promising NZ V8 racer hopes to contend
Scott McLaughlin used to queue for an autograph from Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup.
On Wednesday he sat alongside the V8 Supercars legends in Adelaide's Rundle Mall as fans produced memorabilia for signing.
And despite his relatively low profile, McLaughlin wasn't exactly the spare wheel:
"You get recognised, especially after winning the Dunlop series last year.
"I've got a little more recognition," the 19-year-old Christchurch-born racing driver explained to Fairfax Media.
Yet there is still a sense of disbelief at where he has parked up in the South Australian capital.
"It's like 'whoa' I was in that line maybe two years ago. It's pretty surreal."
New Zealand's most promising V8 racer hopes to be up close and personal with four-time champion Whincup this weekend too - on the grid when the Clipsal 500 opens the 2013 title race.
McLaughlin walked the track after the signing session and the rookie, although he was already aware on its twists, turns and accident black spots.
He first negotiated the Adelaide CBD in the second-tier Fujitsu series in 2011 and again last year when Dunlop held the naming rights.
"I'm feeling confident enough with the circuit.
"I'm pretty confident we've got the package to give it a good go," McLaughlin said ahead of today's practice sessions, qualifying and top-10 shootout.
The 15-stop schedule could hardly have provided a better launching pad for McLaughlin, street circuits are right up his alley.
Mt Panorama might always be the summit of endurance racing in Australia but for McLaughlin, Clipsal is in the Bathurst 1000's slipstream.
"I love riding against walls and taking the mirror off," he said.
"This is definitely one of my favourite tracks."
Another tight, barricaded layout at Sydney's Olympic Games precinct also has fond memories for the fast-moving teenager.
He secured the Dunlop championship there in December and was virtually dragged off the podium to contest the final 250km of the main race when Alex Premat succumbed to heat exhaustion after the opening leg of the Telstra 500.
McLaughlin's guest drive for Garry Rogers Racing ultimately produced a long-term contract and a permanent seat in the Fujitsu #33 Holden Commodore.
It also strengthened McLaughlin's belief that he could compete with the top echelon despite finishing 17th and a lap down.
"It confirmed to me that I could do it, but I was also wasn't in the heat of the battle," he cautioned.
"It'll be interesting this year when I am in the heat of the battle, passing and trying to defend, interesting to see how my fitness and concentration holds up."
McLaughlin, who will also defend New Zealand's inaugural V8 SuperTourers crown, embraced the challenge presented by his busiest season yet.
"It's something I've wanted to do since I was a little boy, there's no backing off now," said McLaughlin, who started racing karts as a six-year-old.
He was already familiar with the majority of tracks on the V8 Supercars schedule although Phillip Island, Symmons Plains and Darwin might require the GPS until he gets his bearings.
The Texas 400 from May 17-19 at the Circuit of the Americas near Austin will also be a new and understandably much anticipated experience as the series ventures to the United States.
"It's going to be awesome. I'm looking forward to buying myself a cowboy hat and a pair of boots," McLaughlin said, almost adding as an afterthought: "The track looks great."
McLaughlin would not predict where he would be travelling among the 29 drivers when championship climaxes in Sydney early December, though accepted last year's successes could not be repeated.
"I had a good year winning a couple of championships but this year I'm stepping up another level.
There's no bad (drivers) out there, it's all good guys.
The whole field is within a second of each other."
McLaughlin's father Wayne was also applying the brakes to any unrealistic expectations.
"I think he wants a top 10, I think top 15 is where it's got to be."