Kyle Larson Passes Indianapolis 500 Rookie Orientation Program

Kyle Larson crosses the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Yard of Bricks - Penske Entertainment photo
Kyle Larson crosses the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Yard of Bricks – Penske Entertainment photo

Kyle Larson made his mark in open wheel competition. He grew up in the sport, racing cars that had no roofs. That this driver is capable in any type of motor racing car is one of the more endearing elements of his craft. He’s shown he can win in USAC competition; he’s shown he can be a champion in NASCAR Cup Series competition.

Next May, Larson will attempt to do “The Double” by racing 500 miles in the 108th Indianapolis 500 on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.5-mile oval and 600 miles in the Coke 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a 1.5-mile oval. He’ll attempt to win both races on the same day, the Sunday before Memorial Day. He’s calling it the “Hendrick 1100”; this herculean attempt takes place on Sunday, May 26, 2024.

The most recent driver to perform The Double, albeit unsuccessful in an attempt to win both of these exceptionally difficult contests was recently retired Kurt Busch, who earned Rookie of the Year at Indy but didn’t win the 2014 race; the first to try it was the late John Andretti in 1994; three-time Cup Series champion and current team owner in both NASCAR and NHRA Tony Stewart has tried, as has Robby Gordon, who has been successful both on tarmac and dirt. None of these drivers has won both races on the same day.

Larson took his first step towards racing the Indy 500 during the NTT INDYCAR SERIES’ Rookie Orientation Program (ROP) on the Brickyard oval on October 12th. Fellow Indy 500 rookies Linus Lundqvist, Tom Blomqvist (yes, they’re both Swedes), Kiwi Marcus Armstrong, who all passed their rookie tests the day before Larson conquered his.

To be permitted to race the Indy 500, a rookie must turn 10 laps between 205-210 mph, following that with another 15 laps at 210-215 and then 15 laps quicker than 215 mph. This quartet, now that they’ve completed their ROP are allowed to drive in the Indianapolis 500 Open Test in April, and will be able to practice with the balance of the field of 33 drivers and cars.

Larson had plenty of celebrated company gathered to watch him perform on Thursday. His NASCAR team owner, Rick Hendrick was on-site and Jeff Gordon, who now serves as Hendrick Motorsports’ vice chairman came to watch the proceedings as well. Gordon grew up in nearby Pitsboro, IN but never did race in the 500, although he did win five NASCAR Brickyard 400 races, including the first one in 1994. “I think, for me, my dreams came true in the inaugural Brickyard 400, racing here in a stock car. Of course,” Gordon admitted, “I wanted to race here in an Indy car early on, but the opportunity just was really never there.”

Tony Kanaan and Kyle Larson discuss racing at Indy – Penske Entertainment photo

Tony Kanaan, now the sporting director with Arrow McLaren, who are campaigning the car Larson drove for his ROP and will drive next year at the Indy 500, was also on-hand to share his knowledge as the 2013 Indy 500 winner. “Kyle and I were teammates back in the day,” Kanaan remarked. “We won the 24 Hours of Daytona together, so we knew each other. We fit in each other’s seat… it was seamless.”

Larson began his on-track excursion at 11am and completed the third and final phase before 1:30 in the afternoon, with a top lap in the papaya and blue Chevrolet-powered Indy car of 217.898 mph; he turned 72 laps with his best coming on lap No. 65.

While the experience was pretty much what he anticipated with regard to speed and grip, “Just how much the car wants to pull left and you have to kind of fight it back to the right on the straightaways and all that, was something I didn’t expect,” the driver said. “The weight of the wheel was a lot lighter than on the simulator, but it was still a little heavier than what I expected. Other than that, I think it went really smooth.” Indy cars lack power steering and that might have factored into Larson’s feel of the steering.

Larson is looking forward to next spring in Indianapolis and Charlotte – Penske Entertainment photo

“It’s going to be really exciting next year when April and May come around,” Larson mused, “because it’s going to be real then, race time, getting ready to race. This is such a huge race for myself and my family, so I’m just glad I get to do it.” Of course, he’ll have to qualify in order to race, a feat two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso accomplished in his first of two attempts to win the Indy 500; he failed to qualify on his second attempt to win the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

While Kyle Larson’s ROP was the calling card for Thursday’s activities at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, there is also a two-day test of the 2024 hybrid system that debuts in the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg next March. The 2.2-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 Chevrolet and Honda engines with hybrid technology were tested by reigning champion Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing, Team Penske’s Will Power, Colton Herta with Andretti Global and Arrow McLaren’s Alexander Rossi. The hybrid testing continues on Friday with David Malukas, newly of Arrow McLaren and Andretti Global’s Marcus Ericsson joining Palou and Power on the track.

About Anne Proffit 1264 Articles
Anne Proffit traces her love of racing - in particular drag racing - to her childhood days in Philadelphia, where Atco Dragway, Englishtown and Maple Grove Raceway were destinations just made for her. As a diversion, she was the first editor of IMSA’s Arrow newsletter, and now writes about and photographs sports cars, Indy cars, Formula 1, MotoGP, NASCAR, Formula Drift, Red Bull Global Rallycross - in addition to her first love of NHRA drag racing. A specialty is a particular admiration for the people that build and tune drag racing engines.

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