Arrow McLaren staying the course with Malukas as his rehab from injury continues

Arrow McLaren would love nothing more than for David Malukas to be in the No. 6 Chevy this weekend at Long Beach. And next week at Barber Motorsports Park, and for the month of May at Indianapolis. Like his team, the irreverent 22-year-old from Illinois is also pining to start his season. But the injuries he sustained in his left hand and wrist from a pre-season crash while mountain biking have not been sympathetic to those desires.

Given a six-week recovery period by his doctors after undergoing surgery on February 13 to repair the extensive damage, the process has reached a full eight weeks without crossing the finish line. To the frustration of Malukas, the healing just isn’t happening as swiftly as he’d hoped. Forced to miss his third race weekend of the year, Malukas finds himself in a maddening place where an established timeline to drive the No. 6 Chevy no longer exists.

“It’s taking longer than we wanted, but we’re still doing everything that we can,” Malukas told RACER at Long Beach.

Left to focus on the areas of rehabilitation that will rebuild strength in his arm while isolating the affected areas, Malukas is in a steady cycle of daily physical rehabilitation to prepare himself for an eventual return to action.

“The main goal right now is trying to do every single muscle outside of the wrist. And that’s still an area where we’re having to wait,” he said. “So we’ve been using a BFR (blood flow restriction) cuff which slightly cuts blood flow off on the hand. It’s almost like adding resistance without adding too much weight. It’s very cool. So we’ve been doing that to get bicep and tricep strength back. And obviously, there’s just all these other little muscles; it’s interesting how many muscles there are in the hand.”

He’ll continue undergoing a race-by-race evaluation by IndyCar’s medical team, and while it’s impossible to rule Malukas out from any upcoming event, the recalcitrant nature of his injury means it won’t come as a surprise if he’s sidelined for at least another month, which would encroach on his ability to compete in the Indianapolis 500.

Still, there’s optimism for his future at Arrow McLaren; as soon as Malukas is ready to climb in and attack without limitations, he’ll pick up where temporary replacements Callum Ilott and Theo Pourchaire leave off.

“That’s not a question. David is under contract. He’s our choice. He was supposed to be in the car for Race 1,” said a matter-of-fact Tony Kanaan, Arrow McLaren’s sporting director.

Malukas has a solid routine in place to manage the physical side of what’s needed to get back to racing. Handling the mental and emotional side, with the constant race-by-race hope to participate in his first race for Arrow McLaren — nearly nine months after he signed to drive for the team — has been the hardest part to handle.

“Obviously, there’s been moments up and downwards, and we wanted it to be a bit quicker, so mentally, it’s a little bit tough,” he said. “But the team has been amazing. Everybody’s super supportive and on my side, so it makes me feel a lot better.”

Tony Kanaan knows all too well what Malukas is going through. Gavin Baker/Lumen

On Arrow McLaren’s side, the Gavin Ward-led team is taking every measure that’s available to help Malukas because it wants him to join teammates Pato O’Ward and Alexander Rossi in the roster spot he was given.

Kanaan is responsible for handling Arrow McLaren’s drivers, and with the need to prepare for two eventualities at each race — where backup drivers are being put on standby for the next for the rest of April and May — he’s also charged with keeping Malukas’s mental state in the right place as they wait for his wrist and hand to mend.

“The biggest issue right now is we need to take care of David. I’ve been through this, unfortunately,” said Kanaan, whose career was paused more than once due to injury. “We need to take care of David’s head to focus on: ‘You just need to get better.’ Now, the uncertainty? Nobody — none of the doctors, nobody — knows when that’s gonna happen. The timeline, it’s something that we all are searching for.

“Because as a driver, you’re looking for the deadline, you’re looking for the last lap, you’re looking to the fastest recovery. We’re a different breed. And then when somebody explains to you that it might take longer…that is what I’m balancing with David. I said, ‘Don’t set the timeline in your head. Don’t let that affect you. Let it be clear. All you need to do right now is ask yourself what you can do to be better.’”

Over the last two months since the accident and surgery took place, Kanaan has become like a big brother to Malukas.

“We’re actually having our physio guy spending 80 percent of his time with David,” Kanaan added. “I’m going to the doctor’s appointments with him; I’m driving him there. I went to my place, got a full sim rig, put it in my truck and drove it to his house so he can have one to use. We’re doing everything we can.”

And there’s the tough reality Malukas has been presented with that Kanaan is having to handle.

It’s only natural for Malukas to feel exposed while he sits and watches other drivers pilot the car he’s meant to represent for Arrow McLaren. Malukas isn’t at risk of losing his seat, but at the same time, there’s also the potential for a strange and uncomfortable decision to make if an Ilott or a Pourchaire puts in a star performance or wins a race.

Having to watch Theo Pourchaire in the Arrow McLaren Chevrolet he should be driving brings adds to the challenge facing Malukas. Michael Levitt/Lumen

With sponsors to service and represent to the best of their ability with the No. 6 Chevy, there’s the unflinching need to always do what’s best for those who make fielding the car possible.

Kanaan cites his friend Helio Castroneves, the four-time Indy 500 winner, whose trial for tax evasion in the late 2000s made it impossible to drive; his boss Roger Penske hired an out-of-work Will Power to fill in and he was soon hired for a full-time role. Power’s been with Penske ever since and has gone on to win Indy and two championships since 2009.

“You’ve got to think about the message you’re sending to the team, right?” Kanaan said. “We’re supporting David. At the same time, I can’t leave a car without a driver. Every race car driver, the first fear when you get hurt is you want to get back into the car because you love what you do, but the first priority is because you don’t want anybody else driving it, because one race can change your life. Helio was about to go to jail, they put Power in the car, Power won the race. Luckily, Penske could run both of them (when Castroneves was done with the trial). Otherwise, Helio was gonna be out.

“This is all caused by the uncertainty of the injury. The whole explanation is, we’re behind him. But every time we put somebody in that car, it is a risk. Not that we’re gonna kick him out, but it will be a discussion. But he’s in the shop every day. He’s part of this team. You can see on social media, he’s in almost every post. There is no more we can do for him. Now, things that we can’t control are happening but we still need to run the car as best as we can.”

Kanaan closed the conversation by reiterating Arrow McLaren’s central position on the Malukas situation. The odds of seeing him race anytime soon are slim, but everyone is committed to making it come to fruition.

“If people think we’re making it a mystery with who we put in the car each time, well, not really,” he said. “We need to get ahead of the game, so we did bring Theo in two weeks ago. And Theo is in the car because Callum is racing in WEC this weekend, otherwise he would have been driving. We don’t want to keep doing these changes; we’re not testing drivers. We’re actually just filling the gap the best we can while waiting for David to come back.

“I told him, ‘Your biggest challenge will be when you think you’re ready. But we need to evaluate how ready you are. Because for you to come back too soon and run 20th is going to do you more harm. But we’re behind you.’”

Story originally appeared on Racer