The fight for this year’s Rookie of the Year award in IndyCar racing gets a new edge this weekend when points’ leader Scott McLaughlin faces his first oval-track threat from Romain Grosjean.

The grand prix refugee has avoided ovals until now, including the Indianapolis 500 where McLaughlin got his first Rookie of the Year prize in IndyCar competition, but is taking his first steps towards a full-scale IndyCar program for 2022 on the short oval at Madison in Illinois.

The outcome is extremely unlikely to affect the overall Rookie standings, but it will give McLaughlin a much clearer picture of where he sits in the series.

He’s already proven he is more than a match for Jimmie Johnson, the highly-rated seven-time NASCAR champion who is jumping to IndyCar in much the same way as McLaughlin has graduated from Supercars.

Like Grosjean, though, Johnson has also avoided the potential danger of ovals. And McLaughlin has been a star on the banking, right from his first run at Texas at the beginning of 2021 when he finished a stunning eighth.

“Another oval, another chance to improve. Let’s get it,” says McLaughlin ahead of the night race at World Wide Technology Raceway.

For Grosjean, who has completed only one IndyCar oval test, the race is one of the toughest challenges he is facing in season 2021. It is the final oval test of the season as the final three races of this year’s championship will be run at Portland, Laguna Seca and Long Beach on road or street courses.

“I want to see how it’s going,” Grosjean says. “Everyone (in IndyCar) seems to be enjoying ovals. I still prefer road courses (because) I like braking late.

“But I’m looking forward to it and seeing what we can get out of it.”

Even so, after surviving the worst crash in recent F1 history when his Haas erupted in a fireball last year, he knows the risks.

“There is not much room for mistake, and that’s something you need to keep in mind rather than just trying to go (all out) straight away,” Grosjean says.

Ahead of the potential Rookie battle, the short-oval stoush promises to be intense as the IndyCar championship heads down to the wire. All 12 previous races at Madison have been won by Series champions or Indy 500 winners.

Alex Palou continues to top the points table, but six-time champion Scott Dixon is building his attack and Will Power, the Aussie who finally broke through for his first win of season 2021 on the Indianapolis road course last weekend, believes he finally has some momentum.

“Winning is absolutely what makes me happy,” Power says. “I’m very moody when I haven’t won for a while. Just ask my wife.”