Kyle Larson Breaks Down Latest IndyCar Test Ahead Of Indy 500 Debut

Kyle Larson Breaks Down Latest IndyCar Test Ahead Of Indy 500 Debut

Kyle Larson took another step toward his 2024 Indianapolis 500 debut with Monday's test session at Phoenix Raceway.

Feb 6, 2024 by Kyle McFadden
Kyle Larson Breaks Down Latest IndyCar Test Ahead Of Indy 500 Debut

Kyle Larson took another integral step preparing for the 108th running of the Indianapolis 500 on Monday in a test session at the mile-long Phoenix Raceway in Avondale, Ariz.

The 2021 NASCAR Cup champion has teamed with Arrow McLaren’s No. 17 Chevrolet-powered Dallara entry ahead of The Greatest Spectacle in Racing on May 26 at the Racing Capital of the World.

Hendrick Motorsports, Larson's NASCAR team, is backing the endeavor as part of the Elk Grove, Calif., superstar's "Hendrick 1100" double with the 600-mile Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway later that day.

Here’s a breakdown of the 31-year-old’s test session from Tuesday’s conference call available to the media.

More Reps

Monday marked Larson’s first laps in an IndyCar since Oct. 12’s Indianapolis 500 Rookie Orientation Program at the famed 2.5-mile oval. He completed 72 laps across a three-hour span that day.

At the D-shaped oval on Monday, the Elk Grove, Calif., superstar logged roughly 150 laps spanning another threeish hours of seat time. Monday’s test had originally been scheduled for Tuesday, but forecasting rain showers pushed the session ahead a day.

“It was great to be able to test,” Larson said. “Again, kind of like the Clash this last weekend for NASCAR, I was not expecting to race (Saturday), and I wasn’t expecting when I woke up yesterday that I was going to be running an IndyCar. Had to kind of get my mind right to prepare myself for that.

“Overall was pleased to get the test in. Great, great conditions with weather yesterday. Looks like it’s going to rain here shortly. Glad we were able to do that. Yeah, I thought it went smooth.”

Experienced Cornerman

The news that came out of Tuesday’s conference call is that Brian Campe, technical director of Hendrick Motorsports, would be Larson’s car communicator for the Indianapolis 500.

Campe won the 2015 Indy 500 with Juan Pablo Montoya and 2017 IndyCar championship with Josef Newgarder as an engineer for Team Penske. As a car communicator, Campe’s essentially coaching Larson from pit road.

Larson didn’t know Campe’s influence until only recently.

“When we walked in there, all these race fans and mechanics were coming up to him. I was like, ‘Man, this guy is like a celebrity around here,’” Larson said. “That was really eye-opening to me.

“From then, I kind of asked him some questions on the flight home of, like, I didn’t know this about you. He went through his career path. I thought it was very unique. Coming from Penske on the NASCAR side of things to IndyCar, have so much success really quickly, then end up in the role that he’s at now at Hendrick… before I knew all this, I was like, ‘Man, this Brian Campe guy, he’s super smart.’

“Just throughout our competition meetings, stuff like that. Once we got to Indy, it all made sense why he is who he is. Yeah, I hope we can utilize him a lot. He’s obviously well respected, got a great résumé, a really smart mechanic-engineer person. You want all the best people in your corner, and he’s definitely a really, really smart guy.”

'The Little Details'

Race craft isn’t only what Larson’s pressed on strengthening when acclimating himself to the Indycar. Getting on and off pit road is equally as important.

“It’s all the little details that you think you have to master if you really want to have a good shot at winning or running up front,” Larson said. “Those details are pulling in your pit box, pulling out of your pit box. The steering wheel is so small, the cockpit is so tight, the steering so slow, turning in I have to turn way further than normal, be quick back the other way. Just getting all that timing pulling in is difficult.”

Pitting sequences aboard a stock car and IndyCar are also an apples to oranges comparison.

“Pit stops (in the IndyCar) are a lot quicker than what I’m used to,” Larson said. “In a stock car, all you’re really worried about is popping it into neutral, coasting in, holding the brake pedal, they drop the car, put it in first gear and you take off. It’s similar to that.

“Now I’m listening to tones in my headphones when they unplug. I can’t go into first gear until it’s unplugged. The timing and the window for that are much smaller. Yesterday, doing it, it feels like it’s all happening so fast.”

“With the more reps I think I get, that will slow down for me. I’ll get to where I can nail things a little bit better more consistently. So, yeah, just getting more reps is going to be important.”

Why Phoenix?

The mile-long Phoenix Raceway doesn’t compare in stature to the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but the tighter corners and condensed configuration of the track served the purpose of getting him outside his comfort zone well.

“I think it was good for me to go to Phoenix,” Larson said. “It’s a totally different racetrack and all that. The banking through three and four is not too different than Indy. Like, I mentioned earlier, I had a few moments where I was uncomfortable.

“I thought that was good to feel at 190 or whatever we’re going, 180 maybe in the corner, compared to going 220 at Indy, having the moment, being surprised by something. I think that was a benefit.”

Larson at IMS had a built-in downforce package on his Dallara-Chevy, which more or less served as training wheels. At Phoenix, Larson made laps without the downforce package and found himself “having to lift off the throttle a little bit.”

“At Indy, like I said, I’m out there by myself. They have downforce packed into it,” Larson said. “I’m comfortable. Didn’t really feel much about the car changing there, so… It was good to feel the car not be quite perfect at times yesterday.

Testy Moment

Larson had his first testy moment aboard an Indycar in Monday’s final session when his car steadily grew tighter (in stock-car racing parlance).

In IndyCar, the term is understeer. Larson turned a little too excessively and the car’s backend tried snapping out from underneath him.

“Yeah, just got caught off guard a little bit,” Larson said. “I had some warnings a few laps before. I went into IndyCar turmoil. Got a little bit loose into the corner, got to the apex. As I was leaving the bottom, it just started to get sideways. Was able to catch it.”

Those pucker factors are valuable, though, because Larson’s finding the line of pacing himself versus pushing himself.

“We had been doing kind of shorter runs, running through changes, tires were cycling,” Larson said. “I was getting much tighter each run, more understeer I guess you guys call it.

“We went to do a long run, had different air pressures and stuff to start. The car felt a lot different early in the run. I kind of had my mind made up that it was going to build tighter. It was like starting to get loose pretty quickly. I was a bit confused, wasn’t quite expecting that. I was trying to make adjustments on the weight jacker and things like that.”

What Larson found through trial and error in the IndyCar had been enlightening.

“Honestly, though, nothing about yesterday felt way different than what a Cup car, Next Gen car, feels like. That was good for me,” Larson said. “I think the characteristics of the IndyCar versus the Cup car, at least at Phoenix, felt very similar. You’re just going a lot faster in an IndyCar.

“The moments happen a lot quicker. The edge of good versus not good feels a lot sharper. Yeah, it didn’t feel way, way different than what I was, I guess, used to. Even with those moments of getting sideways, it didn’t feel way different.”