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Kyle Larson gets ‘old school’ feel at Phoenix IndyCar test

A Monday IndyCar test at Phoenix was another step in Kyle Larson’s journey to competing in the Indy 500 for the first time in his career.

There was a learning curve but Larson embraced it while getting an “old school” feel behind the wheel.

Larson was the only driver on track Monday as he went through five sets of tires and learned the limits of the No. 17 Arrow McLaren entry. There was no relatable data that Larson could use to see how he compared.

“We were just comparing data to 2018,” Larson told media members during a Tuesday availability. “The cars were quite a bit different then, the tire was different, all of that.

“So you’re just out there kind of guessing and just going off a feel, which is kind of cool because it’s like old school style testing, I guess, than what I’ve been accustomed to now the last six-eight years.”

Learning by feel benefited Larson throughout the session as he learned the limitations of the car at lower speeds than what he will experience during the Indy 500. He was able to better feel the balance and react as he began to spin out, which helped him save the car.

One moment occurred during the final run of the day. Larson expected more understeer — tightness in the car — as he continued to make laps. However, the handling went in the opposite direction. Larson had to react and adjust the weight jacker, a hydraulic ram used to reduce understeer or oversteer as necessary.

“I had a few moments where I was uncomfortable,” Larson said. “I thought that was good to feel at 190 (mph) or whatever we’re going — 180 maybe in the corner — compared to going 220 at Indy and having a moment and being surprised by something.”

Having buttons on the steering wheel to influence handling is something new for Larson. Mastering their use is one part of the learning process as he prepares for the Indy 500 in May, as well as the Indy 500 open test on April 10-11 that serves as his first on-track session with other drivers.

Larson acknowledges this will continue to be a process as May approaches and he prepares for higher speeds, significantly different pit stops and racing next to other drivers with more experience in the series.

The learning curve is sizable but Larson had experience adapting to a variety of race cars and surfaces due to his background in NASCAR and in dirt racing. He also knows that similarities between NASCAR and IndyCar will help him better adjust while racing at Indianapolis, a familiar track.

“Nothing about (Monday) really felt way different than what a Cup car, a Next Gen car feels like,” Larson said. “That was good for me. I think the characteristics of the IndyCar versus the Cup car — at least at Phoenix — felt very similar.

“You’re just going a lot faster in an IndyCar, so the moments happened a little bit quicker. The edge of good versus not good feels a little sharper.”