McLaren’s deal with a NASCAR superstar is likely huge

If you come from a purely European racing background, it can be hard to understand why people are excited about Kyle Larson making the Indianapolis 500 in 2024.

Especially if you realize that the history of drivers trying to win both the first IndyCar race and the 600-mile NASCAR race in Charlotte that traditionally runs on the same day isn’t very successful. Or even if you think about other recent attempts by non-IndyCar drivers – like Fernando Alonso – to top the 500.

But there is absolutely no doubt that 2021 NASCAR Cup Champion Larson is a very special talent.

“If Kyle Larson had been racing in the 1990s, he would have had the Jeff Gordon treatment,” said IndyCar Podcast co-host of The Race, JR Hildebrand, referring to the interest from F1 in Gordon at his NASCAR heyday and the feeling that IndyCar missed a trick. By not making sure Gordon would stay in one seat.

“Our ages are different, the way we look at these things.”

With over 400 career victories and regular appearances in multiple types of short oval races, sometimes on the same night, along with the NASCAR program, Larson is a great driver and seeing him race in an event with the Indy World Profile will only help him with this mode. There is no doubt about his intentions even on his first try as well.

In North America, it seems like the only thing stopping people from putting Larson out there with some of the most versatile drivers the country has ever produced – like AJ Foyts and Mario Andrettis – is that Larson is still competing and it usually takes a driver to retire for their success to be appreciated. correctly.

Gordon himself, who was crucial to getting this deal together in his role as Larson’s NASCAR team vice president, Hendrick, is a good example.

Perhaps he can live vicariously through Larson where Gordon never got to try the Indy 500, which he always dreamed of winning before finding a home in NASCAR.

Gordon Championship 1997

The fact that Larson is achieving all this versatile success in an age when most novice drivers don’t know how to race an H-pattern gearbox and spend their lives up the very isolated career ladders makes it all the more impressive.

This is not intended as a critique of others on narrower tracks. Entry-level jobs are linear for a reason, to give these drivers the best chance of success in the discipline they want to major in. And once they are successful, the focus is always on achieving and maintaining that success. Crossovers to other series are often seen as an unwanted distraction, even if they excite motorsports fans the world over.

Asked about his admission that he wanted to be remembered as one of the greatest racers of all time, and how winning an Indy 500 would affect that, Larson replied: “I came to run my first ever IndyCar race and an Indy 500, it would be a tall order to ask to win it.

Marcusericssonandpatoo Wardtakethewhiteflag 106thindianapolis500 by Waltkuhn Largeimagewithoutwatermark M59937

“But that is why we are trying to plan for the future so far to be ready for it and hopefully add my name to this list of winners and add to a great legacy that I hope to have, as I continue my career.

“If I can win the Indianapolis 500 at 31, I still have a lot of racing to do, and a lot of other big events that I would like to do. That would definitely take a big step towards that.”

Preparation is being finalized in the meantime, with McLaren CEO Zak Brown acknowledging that the team wants Larson to test IndyCar ahead of the 2024 Indy 500.

But most of his preparation may come on the best simulator he can use for the 500, which is located at Chevrolet near Hendrick Motorsports’ base in North Carolina.

He’s also backed by the McLaren team who came second, fourth and 11th in the 2022 edition of the event, and in 2023 he’ll have another pair of former 500 winners Alexander Rossi and Tony Kanaan to add to his wealth of in-depth knowledge of the sources.

IndyCar’s addition of a hybrid unit for 2024 leaves a big question mark as to whether Larson and McLaren will align with the right engine to win, but that’s a question we certainly don’t have an answer to that far away.

What we do know is that if Larsson can’t win in 2024, he wants to come back. This is no surprise to him.

“When I’m involved in something, I don’t want it to be just one thing and do it,” he adds.

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“I want to take it seriously, I want to continue to be competitive in it, and learn the craft because every different type of race car that I drive takes a different approach, a different driving vehicle, and I think the new car will be another one of those.

“We only had this deal for one year but we’ll see how it goes. But if we all had fun, if we had a good time, if we all thought it was a success and we want more of it, yeah, I’d like to do it again.”

“I’ve always said I don’t want to compete in the Indy 500 just to say I’ve been to the Indy 500. I want to compete to win.”

Larson admitted that Rick Hendrick, owner of the legendary NASCAR team with 14 championships to his name, didn’t take much convincing. The team has eased up on allowing its drivers to compete outside the Cup series in recent years, especially since Larsson came on board, and he’ll be involved with McLaren in that project.

After the announcement, Hendrick himself said he was “in awe” that he would be fielding a McLaren-branded team for the first time. It’s almost amazing to think that such a giant of North American motorsports had never tried a 500 before, but there’s no doubt Hendrick warmed to the idea.

“I think if you’re a racer, and it’s on your wish list, if you can be a part of or even enter the Indy 500, that’s a huge deal,” he said.

“Kyle told me he wanted to do that. But for me, if you’re going to race, you have to be competitive and have a partner or a team that you can relate to like McLaren and Zach, that’s what you have to have.

“Because I’m not interested in going if we’re not ready, we don’t have a chance to compete. And I know it’s hard to talk about trying to win it. But I look at McLaren, they know they’re winners, Kyle is a winner.”

NASCAR Champion Banquet

Hendrick and Brown have known each other for 25 years, and it’s no secret that Brown is a fan of many different leagues and “showrunners” who like to get out of their comfort zones and try out new series.

And don’t underestimate what Hendrik brings to the table. It is rumored to have between 500-600 personnel and many ex-F1 employees walking its halls as well as some of North America’s finest motor racing minds in its own right. It is a very advanced process.

With Michael Andretti recently admitting he wants to join NASCAR, and his regular collaborator Brown always willing to discuss McLaren expansion if it’s good for business, it all points to interesting partnership potential ahead.

Could we see a long-term deal between Larsson and Hendrick at Indy? Could we see a McLaren-backed NASCAR team? Could Hendrik and McLaren collaborate on future 24 Hours of Le Mans plans? This may be wishful thinking for the fans but there is certainly an acknowledgment from Brown that this could lead to bigger things.

“That’s one of the many things that is very exciting about our partnership. As Mr. H said, we’re all a bunch of racers, we race different formulas, we have a lot in common and you never know where partnerships can lead,” Brown said.

“like [Hendrick] They mentioned, they’re going to Le Mans, and they have a great sports car history. I remember very much the Corvette GTP, which was a great racing and car series.

“So that was one of the things that was very exciting for us – creating a partnership. When you get a group of racers together who have a passion for winning and racing cars, that can definitely lead to other opportunities in the future.”

Formula 1 World Championship, Miami Grand Prix practice day, Miami, USA

There may not be a chance as good as this with Larsson, Hendrick and McLaren all threats of victory in their chosen fields. There’s little doubt that Larson will move to Indy quickly, especially when racing as a short dirt oval that — as he thrives — has been home to young drivers eager to win the 500.

The other good thing about Larson’s chances is that he’s young enough and fit enough to really take advantage of the opportunity.

There have been times when Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon – two dual duty drivers – weren’t as fit as they could be or needed to handle things in the best way when trying to do the IndyCAr/NASCAR double, and that’s before you consider the improvements in fitness, diet, training and recovery that support Almost every racing championship now.

Coca Cola 600 Series NASCAR Cups

The 600-mile Charlotte NASCAR race is one race that Larson has already won, in 2021, so he has proven he has the fitness and mentality to run this race.

We all have the ingredients in place to see something amazing. It could be the first step for a NASCAR driver to win an Indy 500 again, the first possible successful double attempt, a future McLaren/Hendrick tie, and why not – maybe even Larson’s way to get a McLaren F1 test!

After all, Brown certainly isn’t afraid to introduce F1 racing to potential IndyCar drivers, and Larson is one of those drivers now.

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