The excitement 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson has for competing in next year’s Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge will be supported by Arrow McLaren Racing’s commitment to the program.
That point was driven home Thursday by Zak Brown, McLaren Racing CEO, who said the plan is to have Larson everywhere his busy schedule allows. Brown said the NTT INDYCAR SERIES team will work closely with Hendrick Motorsports, which employs Larson in NASCAR.
“We’re going to go maximum preparation, whether that’s in (driving) simulation, whether that’s in driving the race car itself, whether that’s attending some INDYCAR (SERIES) races and sitting in on debriefs,” Brown said. “We want to immerse Kyle and work together with the Hendrick organization to maximize performance both on and off the track.”
How much track time Larson will get in preparation for next year’s “500” is still to be determined. Before last year’s race, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES helped rookies Jimmie Johnson and Romain Grosjean get a jump on preparation by staging a fall test that led to the drivers completing most of their Rookie Orientation Program.
Brown said he expects Larson to be a frequent visitor to General Motors’ new Charlotte Technical Center in Concord, North Carolina.
“I think the fact Chevrolet’s new tech center is around the corner from Hendrick Motorsports is certainly going to be a benefit,” Brown said. “One of the reasons for an early announcement – or early commitment – is for maximum preparation.”
Gavin Ward, Arrow McLaren’s INDYCAR SERIES racing director, said Larson’s experience driving so many different types of cars over the years should help Larson adapt quickly, but there will be challenges, to be sure.
“When learning any new race car, there’s going to be a little bit of learning the language of how to set up the car, what the options are (to adjust chassis setup), what the options are, what we can tweak on an Indy car,” Ward said. “That will be a technical learning exercise.
“I suspect this is the fastest thing that Kyle has driven, but I’ve got no doubt that he will adapt to that. Car control will not be an issue, and I’m very confident that we’ve got a lot of people with a lot of experience in bringing drivers up to speed at the Indy 500. I’m sure this will not be the most taxing task they’ve had.”
Larson can’t wait to get started, and he seems driven to become a regular in Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s premier open-wheel event.
“If you look at all the types of stuff that I’ve done and the dirt late model years, when I get involved in something, I don’t want it to be a one-and-done thing,” Larson said. “I take it seriously. I want to continue to compete in it and learn the craft. Every different type of race car I drive takes a different driving style and different driving craft. The Indy car will be another one of those, obviously.
“We only have this one-year deal done and we’ll see how it goes, but if we all enjoy it and all have a good time, if we all believe it was successful and we all want more of it, I would love to do it again. I’ve always said that I do not want to compete in the Indy 500 just to say I’ve competed in the Indy 500. I want to compete to win. I want to win some day down the road.
“I’m still young – I’m 30 right now – and I feel like I’m in the prime of my career, and I feel that when you’re in your prime you need to take advantage of it and go race as much and compete in a lot of the big events you can have a shot at winning.
“Obviously, if you win at the first shot, that can change things if all parties enjoy it. I would love to compete in it more than just next year.”
Surprisingly, Larson said it wasn’t that difficult to convince his NASCAR boss, Rick Hendrick, to venture into this endeavor. He said it was about a year ago, around Christmas, that the conversation about competing in the “500” came up on a call initiated by Hendrick. Larson didn’t know if Indy was a topic he should bring up with his boss, so he wasn’t sure what to expect.
“(I said), ‘You know I’d really like to do the Indy 500 someday,’ and he said, ‘Well, let’s do it then,’” Larson said. “That was simpler than I thought it might be, and I thought, ‘Man, I don’t want to lose any momentum with this, so I’d bring it up here and there and I’d bring it up with Jeff (Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman) because Jeff and Rick work side by side on a lot of this stuff. I made sure I mentioned it to Jeff a lot to just keep a bug in Rick’s ear because I didn’t want Rick to forget about it.
“But thankfully he didn’t, and they’ve been working really hard for a while now to find me the best opportunity.”
Hendrick, whose stock car team has won 10 races at IMS, said he is happy to support Larson’s dream of competing in the “500.”
“The Indy 500 is such a prestigious event, and I never thought I’d be there,” he said. “It’s going to be special to be able to walk out on the grid next year to be a part of it.”