'The guy can drive anything that's got wheels': Arrow McLaren teammates on Kyle Larson

INDIANAPOLIS – Kyle Larson just wants to race. He doesn’t care if it’s a NASCAR-sanctioned stock car, an Indy car or a kart he can drive on a dirt track in Kokomo, Indiana.

But he didn’t expect the constant swarm of media covering his every move as he looks to accomplish a feat that just four drivers before him have. By now, everyone knows Larson is set to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600, both taking place May 26.

“I feel like I’ve signed an autograph for every fan,” Larson said.

Despite his ties to IndyCar giants Chip Ganassi Racing, Larson is competing in the biggest race on the calendar for Arrow McLaren. While the McLaren team is respected for its notoriously fast cars and accomplished drivers such as Alexander Rossi and Pato O’Ward, those within the organization know they aren’t yet on the same level as giants of the industry.

“The reality is we’re still the underdogs,” O’Ward said. “I think we're gonna get there, and I've signed an extension because I believe in this group of people that I get to work with day in and day out to make it happen, but we're not there yet.

“And there's still long strides to go that will get us there. It's inevitable that year after year, you keep raising that bar, but when those big steps haven't been made yet, that bar just keeps getting higher and harder to reach.”

Only two Indy 500 wins have come under the McLaren banner, both in the 1970s, and an Arrow McLaren driver has never won an IndyCar season championship. When O’Ward (who originally finished third) was granted victory in the 2024 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg after the winner and third-place finishers from Team Penske were disqualified due to push-to-pass violations, it was the first race win for Arrow McLaren since July 2022.

O’Ward, who has driven for Arrow McLaren since 2020, is now signed until 2027 after his two-year contract extension. Finishing as high as third in the IndyCar Series during his tenure with McLaren, O’Ward still hasn’t felt satisfied due to putting what he feels may be unfair expectations on himself.

“A lot of those weekends where they feel like bad weekends are not bad weekends, they're freaking good weekends,” O’Ward said. “A lot of the second place (finishes) last year weren't enjoyed, and that sucks because we were over delivering.”

While Alexander Rossi never raced for Team Penske or Chip Ganassi Racing, he does know how it feels to win the Indianapolis 500, doing so for Andretti Herta Autosport in 2016. Rossi acknowledged McLaren’s spot on the totem pole of the IndyCar Series, calling the organization the “third-best team” at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Yet like O’Ward, Rossi is confident in Arrow McLaren’s future, as he is in his second season with the organization. He believes the notoriety surrounding Larson’s temporary jump to IndyCar is only a good thing for McLaren, despite limited recent conversations with his fellow California-based colleague.

“He’s always somewhere racing something,” Rossi said. “I think he's one of the best racing drivers in the nation, if not the world. … The attention that it’s gaining, it's going to be an awesome thing to be a part of and I’m honored that I get to be his teammate.”

Larson hasn’t spent much time in an Indy car yet, as the first official day of Indianapolis 500 practice was canceled after 23 minutes and the second day was shortened due to incliment weather. The only real time he has behind the wheel of an Indy car came in October 2023 when he competed in the 2024 season Rookie Orientation Program and around five hours of practice testing in February at Phoenix Raceway.

However, he knows working for Arrow McLaren gives him an opportunity to drive perhaps the fastest cars on the oval. And although racing strategy in NASCAR is different from IndyCar, Larson said he doesn’t feel the gap is as wide as some drivers may think.

“I think the way we play out a race in Daytona or Talladega is very similar to an IndyCar race; you're saving fuel to try and have a shorter pitstop to move forward that way,” Larson said. “... Here, I think it'd be a little more difficult to save fuel and maintain track position.”

While O’Ward felt Arrow McLaren still has work to do in terms of race results, team chemistry doesn’t seem to be a problem. That was evident from the way O’Ward playfully rubbed Rossi’s shoulders while the former Indianapolis 500 winner answered questions and the way O’Ward spoke of his limited interactions with Larson, the Mexico-native feels confident in the 2024 group.

As for O’Ward’s feelings about Larson both on and off the track, he radiated optimism about a positive finish in the 108th Indianapolis 500.

“He's filling in the shoes very well,” O’Ward said. “He doesn't have a lot of IndyCar experience, but he's got a lot of motorsport experience. The guy can drive anything that's got wheels on it.”

Contact Kyle Smedley with comments via email or on X @KyleSmedley_.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: How Arrow McLaren teammates have welcomed Kyle Larson to the Indy 500