Race Weekend Central

Kyle Larson Begins 2024 Indy 500 Prep, Jeff Gordon Calls the Race ‘A Dream’

While the Month of May for 2023 is in full swing, it’s not too early to look ahead to 2024.

Back in January the 2021 NASCAR Cup champion, Kyle Larson, announced his commitment to run the Indianapolis 500 in 2024 with NTT IndyCar Series team Arrow McLaren. On Thursday, the Hendrick Motorsports driver was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to watch practice and get a little more familiar with how things are done on the IndyCar side of the fence.

Larson has shown that he can go fast on anything that has wheels, and he’s looking forward to the challenge of running the Indy 500.

“It’s obviously very exciting, and it’s been something that I’ve wanted to do for a very long time,” Larson said during a media availability Thursday. “I wanted to be patient and kind of wait for the timing to feel right. It feels right. Having Hendrick Motorsports be extremely supportive of it, supporting the efforts with Arrow McLaren, it’s something that I’m extremely excited about.

“In my opinion, this is the biggest race in the world, so you want to be a part of the big ones.”

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So far Larson’s time with Arrow McLaren has been limited, but his IndyCar education has already begun. McLaren has provided him with a lot of data and videos, and he will soon be hopping in the simulator to get acclimated with the steering wheel and in-car adjustments.

An actual test behind the wheel isn’t planned yet, and may not happen until next April’s open test. Still, there is plenty to do between now and then, and he plans on talking extensively to Kurt Busch, who was the last NASCAR Cup driver to attempt the 500 in 2014.

With his hectic race schedule, Larson is used to being busy, but Memorial Day weekend 2024 will present his biggest challenge. When he finishes the 500, he will hop onto a plane and fly to Charlotte to run in the NASCAR Cup Series’ Coca-Cola 600 in an attempt to become the fifth driver to complete both races in the same day – a feat known in the racing world as “The Double.”

The late John Andretti, Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon and Busch are the only other drivers to do The Double, and Stewart is the only one to complete all 1,100 miles of racing, a feat he accomplished in 2001 when he finished sixth at Indy and third later that night in Charlotte.

Knowing he has a year to go, Larson is taking his time. He wants to absorb all he can and get in the car before he starts picking the brains of the drivers and engineers. He admits that an IndyCar is a little more complicated than anything he’s ever driven before.

“The cockpits are way more in-depth than what I’m used to in anything that I race,” Larson said. “In a stock car, I’m worried about turning on brake fans. If I don’t, it’s really not a big deal. In a sprint car I have a wing valve, and in late models and midgets I have nothing. In an IndyCar 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 so 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, 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.”

On the Arrow McLaren side, they are using Tony Kanaan’s program as a baseline for Larson. This is the first year McLaren has run four cars at Indy, with Kanaan joining regular drivers Pato O’Ward, 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi and Felix Rosenqvist.

“I think we’re kind of proving the model here with Tony,” Arrow McLaren Racing Director Gavin Ward said. “Having this extra time to get ahead of it is a real advantage I think. We have to be realistic about what Kyle can really achieve, but I feel pretty good about it.”

Among those eying Larson’s prep for The Double with intense interest was Jeff Gordon, who won the Brickyard 400 five times and even tested a Williams Formula 1 car on the IMS road course in 2003. Living and racing in Indiana during his high school years and calling four-time 500 winner Rick Mears one of his racing heroes, the now-part-owner-and-vice president at Hendrick Motorsports always thought open wheel racing was his future until NASCAR came calling.

“I did say to Kyle that he’s going to be able to live out a dream of mine,” Gordon said. “Every race car driver’s dream, if you race around Indianapolis, is to get here, to compete at this facility. Once [moving to NASCAR] happened, I kind of shifted my focus to that. So, to me, this is equally as exciting because, one, I sure as heck right now don’t want to drive into turn one at 238 miles an hour, or whatever they’re running, but Kyle does. Kyle is capable of it.”

While most of the drivers at the Speedway will see the green fly in just 10 days’ time, for Larson and Arrow McLaren, it’s 374 days to Indy.

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