Kyle Larson took the next step of his NTT INDYCAR SERIES progression during Wednesday’s Open Test session in preparation for the 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.

The driver extraordinaire who completed his Indianapolis 500 Rookie Orientation Program on Oct. 12 was allowed to immediately jump into his No. 17 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet at the drop of the green flag to join the initial two-hour session.

Larson completed 47 laps on the day with a top speed of 226.384 mph. That was second fastest among the 34 drivers to turn laps during the test.

By comparison, 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion Larson turned 72 laps with a top speed of 217.898 mph during his ROP last October.

Larson last tested this car in February at Phoenix Raceway. The challenge of the Phoenix test was measuring himself against no one.

“I felt like when the car was gripped up, I was close to optimizing it, but it’s so hard to say when it’s just me out there,” Larson said after that test. “I wish there could have been like one other guy there that I could have judged myself off of and look at data and compare to.”

Wednesday’s Open Test Session allowed Larson to join other cars on track.

“I think I’ve definitely learned stuff,” Larson said.

The plan was for Larson to get comfortable by himself early then jump in a pack to get the feel of turbulent air in following another car around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

With Wednesday being the first time Larson experienced INDYCAR SERIES machinery in the wake of another car, he didn’t know if what he was feeling was right.

“When the packs are that small like you don’t know what you’re learning is a reality or not,” he said.

It’s why this day was beneficial to him. He said being in front of cars and then behind was a much-needed experience for his progression of making a run at victory May 26 during the first step of the “Hendrick 1100,” which also will include Larson racing in NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 that evening at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“Being in front of people and kind of getting familiar with air and communication and kind of tying that all together and seeing runs develop behind me or like in knowing when I need to lift and tuck back in line, all that all that sort of stuff,” Larson said. “I feel like I did learn quite a bit there, and it’s good to just get my feel around here.

“It’s valuable because you’re not going to spend the whole race out front leading, so you’re going to probably be in a pack at some point. I’ll probably spend 99 percent of my race in traffic.

“Just trying to get familiar with that and trying to learn the balance.”

That balance and how the car reacts are what surprised him the most. The next step in his development is to decipher the data and learn if his instincts were real or not and to adjust to that reality moving forward.

Newgarden: Larson ‘Within the Box’

Reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Josef Newgarden found himself approaching Larson during the first hour of Wednesday’s practice, and Newgarden perked up as it’s not often to see a NASCAR Cup Series champion ahead on the track.

“I was watching him … and he looked fine,” Newgarden said. “He looked a little different than other guys with the way he approached his line, which is to be expected. He doesn’t have a history of INDYCAR racing, so he’s going to approach this differently. Some of that stood out.

“It’s subtle, but he looked well within the box.”

Newgarden was impressed that Larson found traffic – or traffic found him – so quickly in the session, but Larson has so much experience in a race car that it was somewhat expected. Newgarden said Larson’s next step will come in May, when the swarm of cars is an everyday occurrence.

“It’s a different ballgame,” two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Newgarden said.

Newgarden Again Has Good Feeling

Newgarden needed 12 starts to finally earn his first “500” victory last May, but he said early last year he felt his No. 2 Shell Powering Progress Team Penske Chevrolet was poised for a special run.

After qualifying 17th, Newgarden gradually worked his way forward, leading for the first time on Lap 157. Then, on the last lap, he snatched the lead from Marcus Ericsson coming off Turn 2.

Newgarden said not a lot has changed in the last 12 months.

“I feel pretty similar to last year,” he said. “We were pretty confident going into the Month of May (in 2023) – cautiously optimistic is probably a better way of putting it. I felt the same today. I thought our race car felt comfy right out of the gate.”

Next month, Newgarden will have the opportunity to become the event’s first repeat winner since former Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves, who won in 2001 and 2002.

“Qualifying is an area where we have to improve,” Newgarden said. “We’ve been working on that four years in a row, and we still weren’t speedy enough (last year). That’s the biggest thing we have to rectify, and if we can do that, it’s really going to help us on Race Day.”

Power Wants First Indy 500 Pole

Will Power is the NTT INDYCAR SERIES qualifying king. His 70 poles rank most all-time. However, none of them have come in the Indianapolis 500.

That irritates him. Is next month the opportunity to get that precious first Indy 500 pole?

“It’d be nice,” Power said. “Yeah, big time. I haven’t really had the car to do it for quite a few years now. So, I think this year, I might have a chance. I’m excited. That’d be nice to actually fight for pole again.”

At one point, Power made the Fast Nine Shootout in 11 straight years, including four front row starting spots (2010, 2014, 2015, 2018). The last four years, he’s qualified 22nd, 32nd, 11th and 12th, respectively.

Veteran Drivers Still Learning

Castroneves and Scott Dixon have come to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for over two decades. Castroneves has competed in 23 Indianapolis 500’s, winning a record-tying four times, while Dixon is attempting to make his 22nd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge this May, with a victory in 2008.

With that much experience, how much could test days like Wednesday benefit these veterans? More than you might think.

“Every time,” Meyer Shank Racing driver Castroneves said. “I have my own things or pet peeves. I also need to adapt for the conditions, equipment and things like the lingo that you need to have with the new personnel.

“But in the end of the day, you still have to have the combination in harmony with everyone, and so far, we’re going in the right direction.”

Chip Ganassi Racing legend Dixon said he’s always learning, no matter what track. He added everything is different at IMS each day.

“The tire might be slightly different or facing different weather conditions,” Dixon said. “Days like today, the cars are so easy to drive just because the current track conditions are so nice. So, you have to go for bigger changes to really feel them.

“It’s always a privilege to be here.”

Sato Back Home at RLL

Takuma Sato is back at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for his 15th attempt at making the Indianapolis 500. Five of his 14 career “500” starts occurred with RLL, including his winning drive in 2020.

“Feels like coming home, partly,” Sato said.

The last time Sato competed for RLL was 2021. Since he left, there have been changes in the team, which explains why he doesn’t feel completely at home yet. RLL has expanded to a state-of-the-art headquarters in Zionsville, Indiana. There also are some new faces within the organization.

“I went to the headquarters, which is quite impressive,” Sato said. “I knew they were building it, but it’s really impressive at the same time. Obviously, the new building is a lot more technology. A better working place for the employees. I think engineering level now, it’s another level. Just combining a good integration with the BMW program and INDYCAR SERIES program you can see them together. That’s very impressive from that point of view.”

During Sato’s first year with the team, 2012, he crashed while battling for the lead with Dario Franchitti on the final lap. When he returned to RLL in 2018 after four years with AJ Foyt Racing (2013-16) and one with Andretti Global (2017), he did so as the reigning Indianapolis 500 winner. Sato became the first Japanese driver to win the Indianapolis 500 when he bested Helio Castroneves in 2017.

Sato’s second win came in August 2020 during the global pandemic, the first time the “500” took place outside of May and with no fans in the stands. He not only wants to win a third Indianapolis 500 to join a rare club of 10 drivers with that distinction, but he also wants to win again in front of the largest one-day sporting crowd in the world.

“The whole purpose of doing it is to win again, with number three for me, but also for the team,” Sato said. “So, it’s a huge challenge. But I think nothing is impossible. I’d like to obviously achieve another win, particularly in front of the crowd.”

Malukas Staying Involved

Arrow McLaren this week announced Callum Ilott will continue to substitute for the injured David Malukas for Arrow McLaren at the Indianapolis 500 Open Test today and Thursday.

Ilott drove the No. 6 NTT DATA Arrow McLaren Chevrolet as Malukas continues to recover from left wrist surgery to repair injuries suffered in February in a mountain biking accident.

Ilott said Wednesday there’s no awkwardness in testing a car that he’s not going to drive here next month. The testing plan remains the same, whether this was his full-time car or not.

That’s why Malukas is present this week at the track, gaining beneficial feedback.

He admitted it’s difficult being on the sidelines but is embracing the different perspective from the pit box.

“Just coming in and sitting on the stand,” he said. “Rehab or course took a little bit more time than we originally expected, but we’ve been making good gains and working really hard to try and get back in the car.

“It’s still very important. From my side, all offseason going into now, I’ve just been building chemistry with the team, building those relationships, something that I find very important coming from a driver’s standpoint. I’ve been able to learn some cool things, sitting on the side It’s kind of a different perspective but still not as good as being in the car.”

A team statement on Tuesday indicated Malukas will not be in the cockpit for the next NTT INDYCAR SERIES event, the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday, April 21. Ilott has a clashing commitment that date with his full-time drive in the FIA World Endurance Championship, so Arrow McLaren is evaluating other options and will announce Malukas’ replacement “in due course.”

2023 FIA Formula 2 champion Theo Pourchaire of France was in the Arrow McLaren pit Wednesday at IMS, observing the action. Pourchaire also participated in simulator sessions last week for the team.

ROP, Refresher Tests Complete

All three rookie drivers who hadn’t completed their Rookie Orientation Program – Christian Rasmussen, Nolan Siegel and Kyffin Simpson – ran through all three phases Wednesday. Fellow rookie competitors Larson, Tom Blomqvist, Linus Lundqvist and Marcus Armstrong completed their three rookie orientation phases last October.

Rookies are required to complete 10 laps between 205-210 mph for the initial phase, 15 laps at 210-215 mph for Phase 2 and the final phase of 15 laps at 215 mph or higher.

During the two-hour session, three veteran drivers needing a refresher of completing the final two phases of Rookie Orientation ran through those laps, too. Marco Andretti, Katherine Legge and Pietro Fittipaldi join 31 other drivers as eligible to participate in the Indianapolis 500 next month.

Odds and Ends

  • Castroneves was presented with the following information Wednesday: There will be at least four drivers in this year’s “500” field who weren’t born when he won for the first time in 2001 (Christian Lundgaard, Sting Ray Robb, Simpson and Siegel). The latter two were born in the fall of 2004. Castroneves, who had two “500” wins by that point, just shrugged at the news.
  • Michael and Mario Andretti were in England on Wednesday to unveil Andretti Global’s new 48,000-square-foot facility at Silverstone Park to support its Formula One pursuit.
  • 1999 Indianapolis 500 winner Kenny Brack was back at IMS on Wednesday, working as driver coach for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Brack raced four seasons with RLL, including his last Indianapolis 500 start in 2005.


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