CONCORD, N.C. – Kyle Larson got behind the wheel of an IndyCar and made his first on-track laps around Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Thursday. In the process, he completed the Rookie Orientation Program (ROP), achieving a big milestone on the road to accomplishing the #Hendrick1100.
Larson needed just over two hours to complete the three-part speed test around "The Brickyard." As part of the ROP, a driver must start with 10 laps between 205-210 mph, followed by 15 laps at 210-215 mph and then finish with 15 laps faster than 215 mph. In total, he tallied 72 laps during his session with a fast lap of 217.898 mph.
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"It was fun," Larson said during a media availability following the test. "I guess mostly what I anticipated in a way. The speed and the grip didn't feel scarier than what I thought it might.
"How much the car wants to pull left. You have to fight it back to the right on the straightaways. All that was something I didn't expect. The way the wheel was lighter, a lot lighter than the simulator, but still a little heavier than what I expected. Other than that, I thought it went really smooth."
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Hendrick Motorsports team owner Rick Hendrick, team vice chairman Jeff Gordon and team president and general manager Jeff Andrews were among those on hand to see Larson’s first laps in an IndyCar. As decorated as Hendrick is in the world of NASCAR, this initial IndyCar experience was something else for him.
"It didn't really hit me until I saw him," Hendrick said. "We had the car here when we had the unveiling (in August). But when you hear it and see it come by and he's in it, it was goosebumps. It was pride. Happy for him because it's on the bucket list for him and probably for Jeff (Gordon) and me, too. But just to hear it, see it and watch the speed when it came by, that brought it all to life."
For Gordon, the four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, he said he was enjoying seeing this experience through Larson’s eyes.
"Kyle, watching him in his craft and his element. I could tell he was a little bit nervous," Gordon said. "My palms were sweating before he got out on track as well. Immediately, you just see it click when he made those first few laps and went into Kyle Larson mode of 'how do I get up to speed and go fast?'
"He doesn't want to just come here and compete. He wants to come here and compete competitively."
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Dubbed the #Hendrick1100, Larson is attempting to complete both the 2024 Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. As announced in January, the prestigious Arrow McLaren team is preparing the effort for Larson’s Indy 500 run. HendrickCars.com is sponsoring both efforts and Hendrick is the car owner for both. This marks the NASCAR Hall of Fame team owner’s first foray into IndyCar ownership.
"This is a big deal for us and the company, everyone involved," Hendrick said. "We want to do it right. We don't want to come up here and stub our toe. We know how hard it is. Thank goodness we are teamed with someone like Arrow McLaren, watching the professionalism out there, just the tools and techniques they use.
"This is very, very important to us, no different than Garage 56. When we said we were going to do it, we spent a year, whatever it took, to do it. Although we don't have as much to do in this situation as we did in that one, we still want to look the part, be the part and put our best efforts into it."
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Larson will be the fifth driver to run "The Double." John Andretti, Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon and Kurt Busch are the others. Busch is the most recent to do in 2014, while Stewart (in 2001) is the only driver to complete all 1,100 miles of "The Double." No driver to attempt it has won either leg.
Earlier this week, Larson was at the Arrow McLaren shop for a seat fitting and for additional preparations with Tony Kanaan, who is the sporting director for Arrow McLaren. Larson and Kanaan were victorious teammates in the 2015 Rolex 24 At Daytona with Chip Ganassi Racing. Kanann, who won the 2013 Indy 500, was impressed with what he saw from Larson.
"I don't think Kyle Larson needs an evaluation as an INDYCAR driver," Kanaan said. "He's a complete driver. Out of his generation, it's the best I've seen. I've tasted a little bit of what these guys do, like he does, trying different cars. I know how much I struggle, and he wins and everything. He's just one of the best race car drivers in the world right now. I'm very fortunate to get the chance to work with him."
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This test was just the latest step ahead of the May 26th race. Last May, Larson spent a day at the track getting acclimated and immersed in the atmosphere during Arrow McLaren’s 2023 race prep. In August, the livery for his #Hendrick1100 effort was revealed at Indianapolis before the Cup Series race. As for what is next, Kanaan said Arrow McLaren is hoping to get Larson back on track before the open test at Indianapolis in April.
The 31-year-old Larson is taking nothing for granted with this opportunity and he is incredibly grateful to everyone at Hendrick Motorsports and Arrow McLaren for turning a longtime dream into a reality.
"I'm just very lucky that I get to be driving these cars," Larson said. "It takes a lot of hard work on my part to get to that point. But still, I'm very fortunate to be in the position that I am in all different types of racing."