Skip navigation
Favorites
Sign up to follow your favorites on all your devices.
Sign up

From ‘California Dreaming’ to ‘Sweet Home, Alabama’ IndyCar’s Théo Pourchaire discovers America

LONG BEACH, California – Théo Pourchaire of France has proven to be a fast learner in every racing machine he’s ever driven.

The 20-year-old was already the youngest driver ever to win a Formula 3 race, the youngest winner in Formula 2 and won the F2 championship last season.

He made his NTT IndyCar Series debut in the April 21 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach and was the biggest mover in the race, advancing from 22ndstarting position to an 11th-place finish.

He was so impressive that he earned a return trip back to the No. 6 Chevrolet at Arrow McLaren for this weekend’s Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix at beautiful Barber Motorsports Park just outside of Birmingham, Alabama.

Smooth on the race track, the young driver from Grasse has had a crash course on American culture. It didn’t take him long to discover cheeseburgers.

“I really like the food here in America,” Pourchaire told NBCSports.com on April 23. “I have to be careful with my weight and I’m a sportsman, so I have to take care of my body, but I really enjoy eating a lot of cheeseburgers and also Mexican food is very good here. I enjoy spending time in Indianapolis.

“Of course, I have to say the French cuisine is still the best one, but the American one is close behind.”

Pourchaire already knew about the Southern California icon In-N-Out Burger long before he arrived in Long Beach last week. He was turned on to the chain during a trip to Circuit of the Americas (COTA) two years ago.

“Or course, I already tried In-N-Out in Texas because in 2022, I drove the free practice 1 for the United States Grand Prix in Austin and In-N-Out is amazing,” he admitted. “I really like Texas as well. It’s a nice place.”

From “Deep in the Heart of Texas” to “California Dreaming,” Pourchaire’s next American adventure will be in “Sweet Home, Alabama” for his next IndyCar effort as he fills in for the injured David Malukas.

This was supposed to be the breakthrough season for the 22-year-old Malukas, but a fractured left wrist in a mountain-biking accident in February was more severe than originally diagnosed, according to Arrow McLaren Team Principal Gavin Ward.

Because of that, Callum Ilott and Pourchaire have taken turns behind the wheel of the No. 6 Chevrolet.

Ilott competed in IndyCar in 2022 and 2023 but was released from Juncos Hollinger Racing at the end of the 2022 season. He has a fulltime ride in the World Endurance Challenge this season and that is why he could not compete in Long Beach.

Arrow McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown was impressed with Pourchaire in F2. Pourchaire is under contract to Sauber F1 as a reserve driver and also has a commitment with a Super Formula team in Europe.

But a chance to drive an IndyCar was a tremendous lure for Pourchaire and he made the most of the opportunity at Long Beach.

“It was a good first race weekend in IndyCar for me,” Pourchaire told NBCSports.com. “I started 22nd and thought it was going to be a lot more complicated in the race to overtake. But actually, I was the biggest mover of the race. I grabbed a few positions.

“It was very fun inside the car, you know, especially the last few laps when everybody was saving a lot of fuel, and we were on a better strategy, and I just could push a lot.

“So, I had a lot of fun, it was a good first race, and of course, I thank the team for a good strategy and for good car.”

Theo%20Pourchaire%20-%20Acura%20Grand%20Prix%20of%20Long%20Beach%20-%20By_%20James%20Black_Ref%20Image%20Without%20Watermark_m100677.jpg

Theo Pourchaire at Long Beach

JAMES J BLACK

The cars in F3 and F2 help prepare young drivers for Formula One. But there some similarities, and some big differences, between the F2 car and the Indy car that Pourchaire experienced in his debut.

“Compared to the Formula 2 car, I would say the main difference are the races are way longer for sure,” he said. “Eighty-five laps at Long Beach were not easy. Physically it’s quite tough with the aeroscreen. It’s quite warm in the car. We don’t have air coming through the cockpit and it’s really tough physically.

“The car to drive is close to F2. There’s no power steering like F2. There is a lot more power in IndyCar for sure but then the car behavior, the downforce level. the brakes are similar compared to the F2.

“I think the racing the level is really high there because there are a lot of experienced drivers like for example Dixon won the race. He’s really experienced.

“I’m a lot younger than him and I mean it was only my first race weekend. So, you know, it’s good. It’s a good championship.

“I like it. I enjoyed it a lot.”

He even compared the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach to the famed Monte Carlo street circuit in Formula One’s Grand Prix of Monaco.

“I think it was pretty cool event,” Pourchaire said of Long Beach. “I think it’s a very cool place to do your first IndyCar race, Long Beach. It looks like Monaco a little bit. We are close to the sea. There’s the tight hairpin. It’s a street course, and it’s very cool.

“I really love Long Beach, and I hope I will be able to drive in the future again there, because it was my first IndyCar race weekend, and I had a lot of things to think about and to learn, so at the beginning of the weekend I couldn’t really enjoy it just driving around Long Beach.

“Too much information to think about. Too many things to think about.

“Long Beach is very special place for motorsports in the world and I hope to be back soon.”

From the streets of Long Beach, IndyCar’s next stop is the flowing, Barber Motorsports Park which features some fast straights, fast turns and some elevation changes that make it one of the best natural road courses on the IndyCar schedule.

For many drivers who have competed in Europe, they believe Barber Motorsports Park is a European-style road course.

“It’s going to be a new track for me at Barber,” Pourchaire said. “I did a little bit of simulator and watched again the races the past races and the on-board cameras of last year qualifying session practice sessions as well, just to have a look and to have a first taste of Barber.

“It’s going to be very different compared to Long Beach. It’s a very active track, a lot smoother, not many bumps, which is which is good in a way because Long Beach was very bumpy.

“I’m used to Formula One tracks, of course with the Formula 3 and Formula 2 and the tracks look like Barber with a very high speed and long corners and there is a lot of elevation change which is going to make it really interesting.

“I’m looking forward to race there. Again, a new track and it’s going to be my second IndyCar race so, I still have a lot to learn. I don’t expect to perform very well straight away. I will give my best and, take the time to learn the track again and to improve myself, improve my driving the IndyCar.

“I think Zak Brown was happy with the performance so I hope I can do an even better performance in Barber.

“I will try to get it done.”

It’s uncertain if Malukas will be cleared to return to the next race after Barber, the May 11 Sonsio Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Pourchaire currently does not have any conflicting races but isn’t looking past this weekend in Alabama.

Firestone%20Firehawk%20and%20Theo%20Pourchaire%20-%20Acura%20Grand%20Prix%20of%20Long%20Beach%20-%20By_%20James%20Black_Ref%20Image%20Without%20Watermark_m100217.jpg

Théo Pourchaire

JAMES J BLACK

But, if there is a possibility for a full-time ride in IndyCar in 2025, Pourchaire would take it.

“IndyCar was already on my on my shortlist,” he said. “Last year, of course, I wanted to go to F1 because I was racing in F2. That’s the dream of every racing driver to drive in F1 one day. It’s something really big.

“But IndyCar was really close to F1 for me because I really wanted to race more in IndyCar. It’s one of the best motorsport series. And to have the opportunity to do it, I did Long Beach, I will race in Barber to do two race weekends in IndyCar with McLaren is something that was a dream for me. It was a dream to do it.

“I’m really happy to have this opportunity now. I hope I can perform well again in Barber.

“Why not? Why not driving full time IndyCar in the future?”

Pourchaire is confident that his ability to quickly adapt from one series to the next is one reason why he has been able to succeed on his climb up racing’s ladder.

That is why he believes he could be an IndyCar success story, even at such a young age.

“My goal is to win every time,” he said confidently. “I’m a competitor. I’m a racing driver. I’m doing everything to win every time, but I know I have a lot to learn still in IndyCar in the past as well.

“I adapted pretty quickly to every category I’ve been driving. Formula 3, I’m the youngest ever race winner. Formula 2, I’m the youngest ever race winner, I’m an F2 champion as well, so it’s good, it’s good, it’s very good but I want more every time.

“I will never stop, and I will never give up for sure, so I keep pushing every day. I want more as I said and hopefully I can in the future.

“Why not win an IndyCar race?

“That would be awesome.”

If this is the path that Pourchaire eventually follows, he hopes to one day emulate his favorite IndyCar driver, a fellow Frenchman Simon Pagenaud, who won the 2016 IndyCar Series Championship and the 2019 Indianapolis 500 at Team Penske.

Simon Pagenaud

Chris Owens

Pagenaud is not competing in racing this year as he continues to recover from lingering effects of a head injury suffered in a brutal crash at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 1, 2023.

Pagenaud reached out to Pourchaire before the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, however.

“Actually, Simon texted me just before the start of the race on Sunday,” Pourchaire recalled. “And he sent me a message saying, ‘Hello, Theo. Good luck for your first IndyCar race. I will be supporting you.

“Let’s go France.’

“He is a really nice guy. I still remember his win at the Indy 500 it was amazing. We know how hard it is in IndyCar to win a race but to win the Indy 500 it’s even harder and as a French driver of course it’s amazing for our country what he did.

“Hopefully I can follow his path and do the same in the future. We never know what can happen. it’s cool to have his support.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500