Kyle Larson encouraged by getting “more uncomfortable” at Phoenix test

On Monday, the 31-year-old Californian stepped into an Indy car for the first time in 2024 and pounded 172 laps around Phoenix Raceway.

The test was moved up by a day due to the impending threat of rain, which forced Larson to “get my mind right to prepare myself for that”.

The outing was put forth by Arrow McLaren, whom he will drive a fourth entry for in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in partnership with Hendrick Motorsports, his NASCAR Cup Series team.

“Yeah, I thought it went smooth,” Larson said, during an IndyCar media availability on Tuesday.

“Got three or four hours in of laps, I think five sets of tires. Yeah, it was good to run through some things, get comfortable out there making laps, but get to do some pitstop stuff.”

And something even more encouraging for Larson happened on the final run of the day when he began searching for the limit.

“I almost spun out, so I’d like to think I did,” he said, smiling.

Kyle Larson, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, Phoenix testing

Kyle Larson, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, Phoenix testing

Photo by: Arrow McLaren SP

After doing several short runs and continuing to learn the adjustments, Larson was already feeling understeer in his Chevrolet-powered entry. Even so, he went out for an extended run that began on a different air pressure setting and was mentally prepared to gradually return to a “tighter” sensation. What he quickly felt instead was oversteer and tried to fix the balance with the in-car tools such as the weight jacker, but it was too late.

“Yeah, just got caught off guard a little bit,” Larson said.

“I had some warnings a few laps before. I went into IndyCar Turn 1 (and) got a little bit loose into the corner, got to the apex. As I was leaving the bottom, it just started to get sideways. Was able to catch it.

“Honestly, though, nothing about yesterday felt way different than what a Cup car, Next Gen car, feels like. That was good for me. I think the characteristics of the Indy car versus the Cup car, at least at Phoenix, felt very similar. You’re just going a lot faster in an Indy car.

“The moments happen a lot quicker. The edge of good versus not good feels a lot sharper. Yeah, it didn’t feel way, way different than what I was, I guess, used to. Even with those moments of getting sideways, it didn’t feel way different.”

The most encouraging element of that incident, though, was Larson recognized he is inching closer to extracting the maximum out of the car. Additionally, he thought there was more speed left on the table.

“That was me I think being confident and committing to the throttle, knowing and trusting that the car was going to stay gripped, like mostly off Turn 4 probably,” he said.

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

Kyle Larson, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, Phoenix testing

Kyle Larson, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, Phoenix testing

Photo by: Arrow McLaren SP

With no one else participating in the test, Larson and the team – which comprised of every member (minus race engineer Mike Palowski) that will be part of his Indy 500 program – could only compare data from 2018, the last time the IndyCar Series raced at the 1-mile, low-banked tri-oval.

“I’m just out there guessing and going off of feel, which is kind of cool because it’s like old-school style testing, I guess, than what I’ve been accustomed to the last six to eight years probably,” he said.

“But yeah, I felt like I got close to the limit. That last run when my balance was starting to get free, I felt it coming and felt like I was getting close to having a moment, then I did.

“I like what my brain was registering actually happened. What I was feeling in the car on the other runs, I felt like I could feel the balance well and describe it okay, too.”

This venture for Larson, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion, was significantly different to the last time he was behind the wheel of an Indy car, which was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last October to complete all three phases of the Rookie Orientation Program.

“Honestly, yesterday was probably more uncomfortable just because it’s a smaller track,” he said.

“Things are happening quicker. You’re having to lift off the throttle a little bit. At Indy, once we got through the different stages and stuff, we were wide open pretty easy by yourself. It was a cool day and all that.

“Yesterday was fun to kind of have to work on the timing of the corner and work through some balance things because the balance was definitely not perfect, which was good to feel.”

Kyle Larson, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, Phoenix testing

Kyle Larson, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, Phoenix testing

Photo by: Arrow McLaren SP

Larson will be the fifth driver to attempt ‘The Double’, which consists of running the Indy 500 and 600-mile Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the same day of Memorial Day Weekend. The last to make a run at the marathon was Kurt Busch in 2014, but Tony Stewart is the only driver to complete all 1,100 miles, doing so in 2001.

The next time Larson is expected to be back in an Indy car is the Indy 500 Open Test on April 10-11 – the final chance to refine any “little details” before embarking on his maiden month of May at IMS.

“It’s all the little details that you think you have to master if you really want to have a good shot at winning or running up front,” Larson said.

“Those details are pulling in your pit box, pulling out of your pit box. The steering wheel is so small, the cockpit is so tight, the steering so slow, turning in I have to turn way further than normal, be quick back the other way. Just getting all that timing pulling in is difficult.

“The more reps you get, the better at it you are. Yesterday we did some live pit stops at the end of the day. That was good because pit stops are a lot quicker than what I’m used to. In a stockcar, all you’re really worried about is popping it into neutral, coasting in, holding the brake pedal, they drop the car, put it in first gear and you take off. It’s similar to that.

“Now I’m listening to tones in my headphones when they unplug. I can’t go into first gear until it’s unplugged. The timing and the window for that are much smaller. Yesterday, doing it, it feels like it’s all happening so fast.

“With the more reps I think I get, that will slow down for me. I’ll get to where I can nail things a little bit better more consistently. So, yeah, just getting more reps is going to be important.”

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