On Thursday, Kyle Larson took to the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the No. 17 Arrow-McLaren orange and blue HendrickCars.com machine. Larson was participating in the NTT IndyCar Series Indianapolis Motor Speedway Rookie Orientation Program.
— Toby Christie (@Toby_Christie) October 12, 2023
Larson would have to hit certain benchmarks throughout the session in order to have final approval to compete in the 2024 Indianapolis 500.
Just before 1:20 PM ET, Larson got the official word from IndyCar race control that he had completed the Rookie Orientation Program.
“Car 17 has successfully completed the Rookie Orientation Program,” were the words uttered over the team’s radio in a video shared to X by Nathan Brown of the Indy Star.
Kyle Larson has completed his Indy 500 rookie orientation program. pic.twitter.com/LAMBM7Xn8w
— Nathan Brown (@By_NathanBrown) October 12, 2023
In all, Larson completed 67 laps around the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and he had a best lap speed of 217.898 mph on the day. Following the session, Larson explained that for the most part, the car felt like he expected it would on track.
“It was fun, I guess mostly what I had anticipated in a way. The speed and the grip didn’t feel, thankfully, scarier than I thought it might. But there was — like just how much the car pulls left, and you have to fight it to the right down the straightaways,” Larson explained. “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 smooth.”
Prior to his decision to turn to stock cars, NASCAR Cup Series legend Jeff Gordon had aspirations of driving in the Indianapolis 500. Ultimately, Gordon never got that chance, but he’s now living his dream through Larson.
“Hard not to really get excited for this opportunity for Kyle, and somewhere deep inside, wished that I had gotten an opportunity,” Gordon said, “But I am absolutely having a blast watching Kyle going through this process, and seeing Rick here in Indianapolis and being part of an IndyCar going around and being an owner and sponsor in this event, it’ll be his first time witnessing this event at the same time.”
In order to clear phase one of orientation, Larson had to complete 10 laps between the 205-to-210 mph range. For phase two, he had to complete 15 laps between the 210-to-215 mph range. And for the final phase of orientation, Larson had to complete 15 laps at 215-plus mph.
Larson completed all three phases on Thursday afternoon, and he will now be permitted to attempt to run the 2024 Indianapolis 500. According to Tony Kanaan, who is Arrow McLaren’s Sporting Director, Larson performed well, and that Larson and the team accomplished everything they set out to do on Thursday.
“It makes my life easier when you have a superstar,” Kanaan stated. “It makes me look good. But yeah, I woke up this morning and I was a little nervous, and I don’t know why. There’s no reason for me to be. But awesome day. The thing is, Kyle and I were teammates back in the day, we won the 24 Hours of Daytona together, so we knew each other. We fit in each other’s seat. It was seamless. We did what we were supposed to do today.”
Larson will attempt the Indianapolis 500 / Coca-Cola 600 double next year, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since Kurt Busch pulled off the double back in 2014.
“It’s — I guess [before today] it was kind of a dream, and something we were going to do. Today, you just kind of officially pulled the trigger,” Hendrick Motorsports team owner Rick Hendrick said following the day’s session.
The driver from Elk Grove, California is seen as a generational talent, who is able to seamlessly transition between stock cars, dirt cars, and now he’ll try his hand in the NTT IndyCar Series in the 2024 Indianapolis 500.