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Kyle Larson Takes First IndyCar Test Run, as Boss Jeff Gordon Admits His "Palms Were Sweating"
The test run inches Yung Money closer to achieving his 2024 Indianapolis 500 bid as part of his Memorial Day “Double” goal.
Kyle Larson's out to prove there's nothing he can’t drive.
The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion is arguably one of the most talented wheelmen of his era. But there’s always been one form of racing bucket list of career goals he’s yet to explore: IndyCar.
Now, that’s all about to change.
Behind the wheel of a No. 6 Arrow McLaren/Hendrick Motorsports car, Yung Money completed his first official IndyCar laps on Thursday to successfully pass his Rookie Orientation Program (ROP) test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the inaugural requirement for the HMS superstar to earn a bid to the 2024 Indy 500, according to NASCAR.
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Running the legendary open-wheel race is part of Larson’s dream to complete what’s referred to as the “Double” — racing the Indy 500 in the morning on Memorial Day, followed by the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Cup Series race in Charlotte that same evening.
As one can imagine, it’s an exhaustive whirlwind of a feat that only four other drivers have attempted — John Andretti, Robby Gordon, Kurt Busch, and Tony Stewart — with the latter being the only one to successfully finish all 1,100 miles in the same day, totaling a time of seven hours, 43 minutes and 42 seconds in 2001.
Broken down into three phases, the track test in Indianapolis pushed Larson’s threshold for speed to the brink as he successfully piloted his car at 205-210 mph for 10 laps, then 210-215 mph for 15 laps and, finally, faster than a blistering 215 mph for 15 laps. The 31-year-old clocked a top speed at a stomach-churning 221.187 mph, coming out of the course’s straightaways.
As a born-to-race driver who, like a sponge, soaks up every drop from any on-track experience he’s ever been fortunate to come by, the magnitude of the moment and what it means for him achieving his dream was squarely in focus for Larson.
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“Building up to that speed and pace and confidence was nice to do in ROP, but yeah, just getting to feel what an Indy car feels like, being low to the ground, feel the acceleration through the gears was pretty crazy,” Larson said. “All of that was eye-opening and an experience that I know for sure I’ll never forget, and now I look forward to kind of getting around cars and feel how the dirty air affects things.”
While the cool-as-a-cucumber Larson seemed right at home, one person who felt some trepidation watching him was none other than the four-time Cup Series champion and HMS vice chairman, Jeff Gordon.
“Heck, my palms were sweating before he got out on track myself, but then immediately you just see it click when he made those first few laps, and he just went into Kyle Larson mode of, 'Alright, now how do I get up to speed and go fast,’?” Gordon said. “He doesn’t want to just come here and compete. He wants to come here and compete competitively.”
Reflecting on the day, Larson noted a couple things he previously anticipated that helped him as well as a couple things he didn’t expect.
“The speed and the grip didn't feel, thankfully, scarier than I thought it might,” revealed Larson. “But there was, like, just how much the car pulls left, and you have to fight it to the right down the straightaways. All of that was something I didn't expect. The weight of the wheel was a lot lighter than the simulator, but still maybe a little heavier than I expected. Other than that, I think it went smoothly."
In pointing out the differences to Cup racing, Larson targeted a couple of areas where he hopes to elevate his skillset and strategy.
“More of the pit road side of things is where I’ll have to work more on,” he said. “Just the steering is so slow, you have turn so far to get in and out. ... Getting used to the steering at the slower speeds will be something to get used to. Then, maximizing the apron and breaking for pit road, stuff like that, I think is stuff I’ll have to really focus on and work on.”
While Larson may already be thinking about his next IndyCar test in April, make no mistake, the dauntless racer is undoubtedly laser-focused on his quest for a second Cup Series championship as he prepares for Sunday’s South Point 400 at Las Vegas Speedway to kick off NASCAR’s Round of 8.