Larson already thinking through 2024 Indy debut with McLaren
For Kyle Larson, a day not spent racing is a day wasted. The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion habitually moonlights in dirt track races in between his day job as driver of Hendrick Motorsport’s No.5 Chevrolet Camaro. But driving an IndyCar around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he admits, will require an entirely different level of preparation.
“I would say everything that I race is much more simple than an IndyCar,” says Larson, who will race a fourth Arrow McLaren car co-entered by Hendrick at the 500 in 2024. “The only kind of thing I feel like that I have to judge off of that was new to me — not overwhelming but just stressful — was when I did the Rolex (24 At Daytona) for the few years that we did. Obviously different cars, but a lot more totally different kind of foreign-style racing to me. I feel like IndyCar would be a little bit that way, with just race procedure stuff… the cockpits are way more in-depth than what I’m used to in anything that I race.
“In a stock car, I’m worried about turning on brake fans. If I don’t, it’s really not a big deal. Sprint car, I have a wing valve. Late models, nothing. Midgets, nothing. In an IndyCar, you’ve got… I don’t even know. You have boost, weight jackers, bars, all sorts of stuff that I want to be ready for, and know when they tell me to do this or do that, I can be quick to it, not hesitate and give up something that might be crucial for the end of the race.
“As far as the driving part of it I think — hopefully — that all will come naturally. I don’t really know. I don’t have any experience yet to even have an opinion on what it could relate to or if it is totally just different than anything I’ve been in. I feel like our NASCAR racing has trended a little bit closer to IndyCar style of strategy, with fuel saving, stuff like that. I think I have more experience now than I would have had three years ago on that side of things.
“There’s going to be a lot to soak in over the next year, and I look forward to the challenge. I love racing new vehicles to challenge myself and learn something new. I feel like ultimately it makes me a better race car driver. No matter the result throughout this whole experience, I think I’m going to become a better race car driver from it. So I’m excited about all that.”
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A year out from Larson’s first Month of May, preparations are still in their infancy. He’s had an initial seat-fitting, but for the most part, the priority at the moment is basic familiarization. No date has been set for a first test yet, but he says that’s when he expects things to get serious.
“(The team) gave me a big packet of stuff to look at, notes and dash displays, emailed me some onboard footage. I watched all of that,” he said. “Kind of got a sense of just nice to see the onboard, see shifting, adjusting, all the cockpit-adjustable things that they have, seeing how the flow of the race goes, how they position themselves behind people in traffic, stuff like that. Restart procedures, pit stops, pulling into your pit sign, all of that.
“But I don’t know when I’m testing yet. I don’t want to pick people’s brains yet, other drivers’ brains too early on, then have to go to them in a few months and ask the same questions over again. I want to wait a little bit to pick their brains some. I definitely want to talk to guys who are familiar with stock cars and IndyCars — Jimmie (Johnson), Kurt (Busch), guys who have done this more recently. Again, I don’t want to do it too early yet and get on their nerves when I go to ask them again later on.”
Tony Kanaan will step aside for Larson at Indy next year, but the veteran’s experience will be among the assets the NASCAR champ turned McLaren rookie will be able to draw on. Motorsport Images
Arrow McLaren racing director Gavin Ward said that plans are still being hashed out to give Larson as much seat time as possible before next May, but the team has other tools at its disposal to help him get his bearings in the meantime, ranging from simulator time to guidance from 2013 Indy winner Tony Kanaan, who is driving the team’s fourth car at Indy this year.
“(The simulator) is more about some of the basic stuff, just getting familiarized with the steering wheel, the adjustments in the cockpit, all that sort of stuff,” Ward noted. “Gives you a heads-up on some seat fit work.
“Realistically you have to run these things, run them in traffic. That’s what everyone is doing out here. That’s the most important side of it. But I do think the program we’re running with Tony Kanaan this year, his involvement with the team, sets us up in a good way to help. Tony and Kyle have raced together before. That’s a good relationship. I think he’s a good reference here to try and help Kyle learn the ropes here.”
In the meantime, Larson — who made a media appearance at IMS on Thursday — said he’s keeping his radar tuned for any opportunity to learn something that might help next year.
“I feel like I prepare well for every event, but that’s leading up,” he said. “Usually I’ve got a couple days to prepare before it.
“Having this much time, knowing that I’m racing next year, I’m definitely going to pay more attention to all these (practice) days than I would have in the past, just to be more prepared for how the couple weeks of on-track time goes for next year, to not be surprised by anything.
“It’s been nice even being here the short amount of time we’ve been here today to see how they have things laid out — the hospitality, where the teams eat, engineering room, stuff like that. I didn’t know any of that before I got here today. This is the only day I’m going to be able to come this year. Even just getting to get eyes on all that will help, little things like that, for next year.
“Then, just paying closer attention to everything than I would have in the past. Me just being a fan in other years… you might just overlook things. You’re just looking at the quality of racing and stuff like that, where now I’ll be more in-depth in watching the race, watching what they do in practices. Being able to listen to communication today is awesome as well.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of stuff that comes up throughout the next year that’s going to help prepare me.”
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