Theo Pourchaire testing at the Milkwaukee Mile. (IndyCar Photo)

HOFFMAN: Another One Bites The Dust At McLaren

My eyebrows scrunched as I stared at my computer screen.

“What?,” I blurted out in bewilderment after learning the next piece in the revolving door of Arrow McLaren’s No. 6 NTT IndyCar Series entry. 

Nolan Siegel, a 19-year-old California native, is replacing Théo Pourchaire aboard the No. 6 Chevrolet for the remainder of the season.

“Alexa, play Another One Bites The Dust by Queen.”

How has Arrow McLaren gone through four different drivers in the first seven races of the NTT IndyCar Series season?

Well, let’s start from the beginning. 

After David Malukas’ mountain bike crash during the offseason, his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity didn’t come to fruition as his contract with the team was terminated before he contested a race.

Malukas has since landed at Meyer Shank Racing, where he’ll pilot the No. 66 Honda for the rest of the season. 

Callum Ilott became the main driver of the No. 6 Chevrolet. However, due to scheduling conflicts with his full-time FIA World Endurance Championship ride, Formula 2 champion Pourchaire was tapped to fill the seat for the remaining races outside the Indianapolis 500.

While it was a steep learning curve for the 20-year-old, he caught on quickly with a stout plus-11 net gain in his IndyCar debut in the Long Beach Grand Prix, where he finished 11th after starting 22nd.

A mere two races ago, Pourchaire snagged his first top-10 finish in the streets of Detroit. He finished a respectable 13th a week later at Road America in Wisconsin.

Just last week, Pourchaire was testing at The Milwaukee Mile in Wisconsin ahead of the series’ return to the short oval in August.

Now, in the blink of an eye he’s rideless.

Does Siegel have tremendous upside and potentially have a long career in America’s top open-wheel series? Absolutely.

Despite failing to qualify for this year’s Indianapolis 500, Siegel had plenty of supporters, including veteran Graham Rahal.

“He may be a new name to a lot of people, but he’s a name that you are going to become familiar with,” Rahal said after May’s last row shootout. “He’s won at every level. He’s won at everything he’s done. He’ll be here. He’s going to be winning here. There’s no doubt about that.”

Those are certainly strong words from one of the sport’s mainstays. 

Let it be clear — Siegel is more than deserving of the opportunity. 

My issue lies with how Arrow McLaren has handled its driver lineup.

It all goes back to the end of 2019 when McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown joined then-Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to form Arrow McLaren SP. 

The two-car lineup was set to be veteran James Hinchcliffe and recent Indy NXT champion Oliver Askew. 

However, once Pato O’Ward became available, Hinchcliffe was kicked to the curb. During the 2020 season, Askew suffered concussion-like symptoms from a crash in the Indy 500, which was run in August because of the pandemic. 

He missed three races before finishing the season off in St. Petersburg, Fla. He was dropped from the team prior to 2021. 

Currently, 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi is in his second year with the team, while O’Ward is in year No. 5. 

Tough business decisions have to be made in professional racing in order to grow any team, even if it feels uncomfortable or it’s not popular with those on the outside looking in.

However, I can’t help but feel it was premature to cut Pourchaire from the Arrow McLaren stable. 

In other sports, an athlete’s first team can make or break their entire future. From a team’s culture to the way turmoil is handled, young athletes can be scarred and their performance dip.

My hope is Pourchaire will land on his feet elsewhere — whether it be in IndyCar or potentially a Formula 1 team. His talent speaks for itself.