MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Kyle Larson jumped in an Indy car at Phoenix Raceway on Feb. 5 to help find its limit. He came close when he nearly spun out during the test at the one-mile short oval.
“I got loose at one point and almost spun out, so that was good to kind of feel the limit there at slower speeds,” Larson said on Tuesday. “It was the last run of the day. We had been doing kind of shorter runs, running through changes, tires were cycling. I was getting much tighter each run, more understeer I guess you guys call it.
“We went to do a long run, had different air pressures and stuff to start. The car felt a lot different early in the run. I kind of had my mind made up that it was going to build tighter. It was like starting to get loose pretty quickly. I was a bit confused, wasn’t quite expecting that. I was trying to make adjustments on the weight jacker and things like that.
“I just got caught off guard a little bit. I had some warnings a few laps before.”
Larson came up with a unique description of what he experienced.
“I went into IndyCar turmoil,” he said. “I 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.”
The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion at Hendrick Motorsports had a private IndyCar test at Phoenix Raceway under the lights to help him become more familiar with the Arrow McLaren Chevrolet Indy car. Larson is preparing to run the double on Memorial Day Weekend by competing in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Cup Series race on the same day on May 26.
It’s billed as the “Hendrick 1100”, but it will require a lot of miles and a lot of effort before Larson can make it to the checkered flag in his quest.
According to Larson, he ran five sets of tires for about 40 laps each. According to Arrow McLaren, Larson completed 172 laps in the test.
Larson was able to stay ahead of the rain that has hit the West Coast. He completed the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Coliseum on February 3 and headed to Phoenix, where he met up with his IndyCar team for the test.
“It was great to be able to test,” Larson said. “Again, kind of like the Clash this last weekend for NASCAR, I was not expecting to race then, and I wasn’t expecting when I woke up yesterday that I was going to be running an Indy car. I had to kind of get my mind right to prepare myself for that.
“Overall, I was pleased to get the test in. Great, great conditions with weather yesterday. Looks like it’s going to rain here shortly. Glad we were able to do that.
“I thought it went smooth. I got three or four hours in of laps, I think five sets of tires. It was good to run through some things, get comfortable out there making laps, but get to do some pit stop sort of stuff.”
Larson completed his rookie orientation program (ROP) at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on October 12, 2023. That was on the 2.5-mile oval in a controlled test where the talented driver had to completed a regimented list at laps at set speeds.
At Phoenix, it was a short oval where the driver was able to test the limits of his comfort zone.
“Honestly, yesterday was probably more uncomfortable just because it’s a smaller track,” Larson explained. “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, yeah, I mean, the balance was definitely not perfect, which was good to feel.
“At Indy, I’m out there by myself. They have downforce packed into it. I’m comfortable. Didn’t really feel much about the car changing there, so… It was good to feel the car not be quite perfect at times yesterday.”
One thing that surprised Larson is how similar the IndyCar performs to his No. 5 Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet at Hendrick Motorsports in the NASCAR Cup Series.
“Honestly, though, nothing about yesterday felt way different than what a Cup car, the Next Gen car, feels like,” Larson said. “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 IndyCar.
“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.”
Even though he nearly spun out, did Larson come close to finding his limit?
“I almost spun out, so I’d like to think I did,” Larson said with a smile. “I still think there was room for me, when my car was balanced close, I still think there was room for me to at times go another tenth or two faster. 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 four probably.
“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. Like, I wish there could have been, like, one other guy there that I could judge myself off of, look at data and compare. We were just comparing data to 2018. The cars were quite a bit different then. The tire was different, all of that.
“I’m just out there kind of 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, gosh, I don’t know, six to eight years probably.
“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.”