After a year of sensational highs in 2014, McLaughlin has endured a litany of disastrous failures from engine fires to a water pump pulley dropping out of his car mid-race a fortnight ago in Townsville.
The 22-year-old Wilson Security racer would have every reason to be bitter with the world but has extreme confidence that the lows make the highs even sweeter.
McLaughlin again showed early form at the Coates Hire Ipswich 300 today with a strong opening practice finishing third behind the quickest one-lap driver this year in Chaz Mostert and Supercheap Auto Racing’s Tim Slade who found form on soft tyres but struggled with the hard compound.
The young Kiwi still has the car pace but not the luck to be up the front. He needs a dose of good fortune to put the smile back on his face.
He says the calm mentoring of colourful team boss Garry Rogers has aided him and his team weather the tough times to start the year; and helped him evolve as a team leader.
“I’ve learned that – apart from Gary – I’m the team leader in some ways for my guys, and you’ve got to keep your head up in these tough times, push on and not dwell on the past,’ McLaughlin said.
“I can’t change it, we had plenty of good days last year and the bad days will come … unfortunately they have. We just have to deal with it for now. I haven’t forgotten how to drive, and the boys haven’t forgotten how to set me up a good car."
Confidence was the hardest part to hold onto when luck is not on your side. McLaughlin was still unsure whether they had overcome the reliability dramas.
“It’s been tough, and I don’t really know. At the end of the day, if it happens it happens. That’s how I see it now. It’s been a tough season, I’ve still got my head and up we’ll just keep pushing with what we have," said McLaughlin.
“I tell you though, I’m hearing every sound in the car, every noise, every smell, expecting it to do something. Just to get a bit of confidence, hopefully we can finish all three races (at Ipswich) and push hard towards Eastern Creek and the enduros (Pirtek Enduro Cup)."
McLaughlin’s fellow peer Chaz Mostert is in the opposite frame of mind as the quickest one-lap car in the field. He repeated that dose today, now needing to find the same form off the line to make the most of his six ARMOR ALL Pole Positions this year.
“If I can get off the line it will be a good start. There no denying that my downfall the last couple of rounds has been my starts," Mostert said.
“I’ve been working really hard and looking at the data to see what’s going on there, we’ve just got to get it off the line. If you get off the line after a good qualifying position half the job is done there.
“If you fall back a couple of positions you’ve got to fight your way back through to the front. Those first two 60km races, everyone’s tyres degrade together.
“You can get some moves done on the softs, but on the hard tyre it’s pretty tricky. If we qualify well this weekend, my focus is on the start. Get good starts, get championship points and we’ll be alright."
Championship leader Mark Winterbottom finished down the order in position 17 while Red Bull Racing pair Craig Lowndes (10) and Jamie Whincup (12) continue to chip away at their car speed.
There will be a final practice session tomorrow at the Coates Hire Ipswich SuperSprint before back-to-back qualifying and two 60km races. The second qualifying session and race will be contested on soft tyres, the first on hards.