Kyle Larson's Indy 500 debut providing some valuable crossover knowledge for GM Motorsports

INDIANAPOLIS – Driving an IndyCar in a simulated environment was a totally foreign experience for Kyle Larson – but the simulator apparatus wasn’t.

When the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion began preparing for his Indy 500 debut in the virtual world last year, everything felt strangely familiar while learning the new nuances of a single-seater, open-cockpit vehicle.

The driver in the loop simulator rig (though with some minor modifications to replicate an IndyCar interior) and its software were the same as the platform used by Larson in NASCAR.

2024 INDYCAR Indianapolis 500
2024 INDYCAR Indianapolis 500

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It’s been nearly 18 months of mapping out the details of racing the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day.

The location – GM Motorsports’ Charlotte Technical Center that literally is just down the street from Hendrick Motorsports – was the same.

The engineering and technical staff running the sim was the same.

“It probably makes it easier because he's used to the building, and I think that's probably a big help,” GM Motorsports executive director of competition Dr. Eric Warren told NBC Sports.

“That's helpful in that environment. The steering forces and the car are so different that it's probably a familiarization with the facility and the people probably really helps.”


Though Larson will attempt to become the fifth driver to race the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, he is in a unique position by having the most seamless experience yet between his two ventures.

Hendrick Motorsports, which fields his No. 5 Chevrolet in NASCAR, also has ownership in the No. 17 Dallara-Chevy that he will race in the Indy 500 for Arrow McLaren.

It’s the second time in the history of “The Double” that a driver has raced the same engine make in both series. Robby Gordon was in a Chevy in both races in 2002 and ‘04, but there will be an unprecedented level of crossover with Larson’s entry this year.

NASCAR Cup Series Ally 400
NASCAR Cup Series Ally 400

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Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen is the latest Chevrolet-affiliated driver to make a crossover into the NASCAR Cup Series with the help of GM Motorsports’ Charlotte Technical Center.

Brian Campe, the technical director for Hendrick Motorsports who is calling strategy for Larson at the Indy 500, notes that “there are no barriers” on intellectual property because Hendrick and Arrow McLaren both fall under the GM Motorsports umbrella.

“We can freely share things because we don't compete against each other even in other series,” Campe told NBC Sports. “So that's been refreshing that it's just been an open book of, ‘Hey, you need to know something here, here's the information, here's the software, here's an Arrow McLaren laptop.’ ”


While Hendrick and Arrow McLaren benefit from the arrangement, the crossover also is extremely valuable for GM Motorsports.

Warren said it’s allowed for unusual collaboration and sharing resources across series in which Chevrolet races, helping foster new ideas as the Charlotte Technical Center creates more common ground.

“Where the technical center comes in is all of our tools now internally that we've built up were used across IndyCar and NASCAR,” Warren said. “So a lot of the simulators, all the simulation and a lot of the same processes we run across both series.

“So it's beneficial from that standpoint, because from the engineering staff at GM Motorsports, we can work fairly freely between the two series. And it's different because the relationship between the teams is always different in each series and how integrated you are with the team.

"As far as engineering, we've built up the NASCAR part of how the teams work together. It's pretty mature at this point has been for a few years, and we're building that same level of interaction in IndyCar. It’s good technically because we can watch the integration of Hendrick and McLaren and how Brian Campe and some people at Hendrick are working with the group at McLaren.”


In addition to providing technical tools, Chevrolet could support Arrow McLaren’s one-off entry for Larson with resources that the team might not have otherwise.

Warren said he met with McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown to understand what the team might need for support, whether it’s testing, engineering personnel or other financial help.

“My job a lot of times is to make sure who needs what ingredients and what can we support and enable,” Warren said. “So if we're seeing something in IndyCar that needs extra focus, we always swing a little bit to whatever the biggest problem is. But that changes on a daily basis between all the series in this world.”

This year, Chevy began using a predictive strategy software with its IndyCar teams that had been developed for years in NASCAR. As an IndyCar team such as Arrow McLaren gains confidence in its modeling, Campe already had familiarity.


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“We've been beta testing it last year, and there's a lot of similarities, particularly on the ovals between the two series,” Warren said. “The kind of AI-based tools they have had a lot of time in NASCAR that we've worked on. The IndyCar teams are starting to figure out what they can trust, what they can rely on.

“Some of the NASCAR groups are spending time with some of the IndyCar groups, and they always have different observations that bring up questions that the performance engineers and the race teams can get together and talk about. So all that cross communication of bringing people together really has a lot of value.”

Helping NASCAR and IndyCar teams with one-off entries also provides a farm team-type experience for GM Motorsports. When Shane Van Gisbergen won his Cup debut in the Chicago Street Race, Trackhouse Racing director of performance Darian Grubb served as the crew chief with help from GM Motorsports staff.

“We like to put engineers in that particular situation,” Warren said. “Darian Grubb obviously is very integrated in our program, and then we put engineers in roles to augment the team capabilities, so the team doesn't have to totally staff up, and we kind of fill in some gaps.”


There also has been edification from Larson’s feedback about driving an Indy car, which he surprisingly discovered to handle similar to a Next Gen in Cup.

Unlike its predecessor (the Gen 6 was more aerodynamically stable and easier to catch), the Next Gen is symmetrically similar to an Indy car and lacks sideforce (making it easier to lose control at the limit of grip).

“Everything that I feel out there is like what I would expect from a 9:00 a.m. practice session in a stock car at the Brickyard 400,” Larson said during the Indy 500 Open Test last month.


Those remarks caught the ear of Campe and Warren.

“I was really like, ‘OK, let's dig into that a little bit,’ because there's something to learn there,” Warren said. “Clearly, they shouldn't (be similar) in a lot of ways -- one's power steering, one's not -- but those are things you kind of learn that tells you something about the tires. There’s good technical engineering data there. Especially coming from Kyle who races a lot of different types of cars.

“That’s a learning moment. From an engineering point of view, there's a lot of information to learn there.”