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Pourchaire’s IndyCar chance: “I have been smiling for two weeks”

Written by Archie O’Reilly

Theo Pourchaire has admitted he has been “smiling every day” in the two weeks after finding out about the “amazing opportunity” to make his NTT IndyCar Series debut with Arrow McLaren in the Grand Prix of Long Beach. 

This comes amid David Malukas’ continued absence as he recovers from surgery on a dislocated wrist sustained in February. Pourchaire said “it is not an easy situation” for Malukas but that he is “good” and was present for the Long Beach track walk on Thursday.

Callum Ilott replaced Malukas in the No.6 entry in St. Petersburg and for the $1 Million Challenge exhibition race at the Thermal Club, as well as last week’s Indianapolis 500 Open Test. But with Ilott racing in the World Endurance Championship at Imola this weekend, McLaren opted to turn to another FIA Formula 2 graduate. 

“I was in France doing nothing, some physical preparation for my next Super Formula race,” Pourchaire said. “I received the call. It was amazing news. I booked the flight straight to Indianapolis, then I worked with the team. It’s been a last-minute call. It’s okay - it’s even better like this. I love it. It was an amazing surprise.”

The 20-year-old French driver, whose full-time racing commitments in 2024 lie in the Japanese Super Formula Championship with Team Impul, won the F2 championship in 2023. He was also the FIA Formula 3 vice champion in 2020, going on to finish fifth and as runner-up before eventual success in his third year in F2.

Pourchaire has also been part of the Sauber Formula 1 academy for four years, which he has described as “a great job to have” despite there being no opening in F1 after his championship-winning year. Even though the F1 Chinese Grand Prix conflicts with Long Beach, Sauber willingly gave the green light for Pourchaire to make his IndyCar debut.

McLaren’s former F1 Team Principal Andreas Seidl - now CEO at Sauber - was involved in negotiations after initial contact with McLaren CEO Zak Brown. Pourchaire first found out about McLaren’s interest from Sauber, who indicated that their reserve driver would be required “for the next two races” with McLaren.

Pourchaire was pushed further on whether he would definitely be racing at Barber Motorsports Park the week after Long Beach and said: “We will see if David is getting better. This will depends on David.”

As well as being present for the recent total eclipse in Indianapolis, Pourchaire had a “really good” day in the Chevrolet simulator upon arrival in the United States. Albeit the last-minute nature of his call-up and the fact that it has to be booked in advance meant there was only “one session, probably four or five hours” spent in the simulator.

“I could have my first taste of IndyCar, even if it’s virtually,” Pourchaire said. “The simulators are really good. I could also discover the track on the simulator. I also worked a lot with the team, with Tony Kanaan. He helped me quite a lot.”

While he is not allowed to delve into specific details for privacy reasons, Pourchaire described the IndyCar simulator as “pretty close” to those in F1.

“It’s good,” he said. “IndyCar is very professional. I haven’t driven the car yet. It looks closer to F2 in terms of performance… the professionalism, the number of people, the simulators, it’s closer to F1.”

With such limited preparation time, Pourchaire’s focus “is just to learn the car and the track” and “to do as many laps as possible” rather than placing any lofty expectations on himself. Getting used to a new car and “to build a strong confidence” is his priority.

“Of course, I want to get the best result possible,” he said. “I'm a competitor. As a racing driver, as a competitor, the only place we all love is to finish first. I’m realistic, so I just want to give my best.”

He realises it will be “difficult” to get close to his experienced teammates but added: “I will work with them, I will watch the onboard cameras, the data, work as much as possible and improve my driving and my IndyCar experience from them.”

There are some familiar faces in IndyCar for Pourchaire, including his 2021 F2 teammate at ART Grand Prix, Christian Lundgaard, who he has spoken to since it became apparent that he would be making his IndyCar debut. He has already been made to feel welcome by his fellow drivers.

“I talked a little bit with Christian Lundgaard, Marcus Ericsson, Felix Rosenqvist,” Pourchaire said. “I met them in Indianapolis. They invited me to watch the Japanese Grand Prix. It was fun to meet some of the drivers. 

“They told me, at the end of the day, it’s a race car like any other. It's just quite heavy. The championship is difficult, very high level, very good drivers.”

Lundgaard told Pourchaire that the car “is close to Formula 2 because there is no power steering” albeit it is “a lot more powerful” and with features to get used to, including the “little bit strange” aeroscreen. It is also different to what he has had to become accustomed to during his rookie year in Super Formula, where he has thus far raced once,

“I think it’s very different,” Pourchaire said. “Super Formula is really light - a lot of downforce but not so much power compared to IndyCar from what I saw from the onboard videos and the races I watched.”

Pourchaire does have experience of street racing, including becoming the youngest ever F2 winner with victory in Monaco as a 17-year-old. But he does acknowledge the need to adapt to the considerably bumpier American-style street track at Long Beach.

“It’s going to be tough of course technically because I don’t know the car and the track,” he said. “Physically [it will be tough], as well. I will give my best. I will for sure not give up. I know the race is 85 laps, without power steering, with a very bumpy track. But it’s going to be a great challenge. I think I will be a little bit tired at the end of the weekend but it’s fine.”

It is unclear exactly what the long-term future holds for Pourchaire at this stage. And while IndyCar clearly appeals, he does maintain that it is a “dream” to reach F1.

“I would love to drive, of course, in IndyCar in many more races in my career,” Pourchaire said.

“I’m a reserve driver at the moment… let’s see what the future will look like. Right now I’m just focused on my IndyCar race in Long Beach. It’s already a lot to think about, a lot of information, new things to learn.”

IndyCar has been on Pourchaire’s radar and he has followed the series, partially given French involvement over the years. He has watched the Indy 500 since he was a child, describing it as “one of the best races in the world”.

“For me, IndyCar has always been one of the top motorsports series,” he said. “One thing I remember is watching [Simon] Pagenaud winning [the Indy 500] a few years ago. It’s a crazy race. I love the racing on all the tracks - street course, road course, ovals. As just a motorsport it’s a crazy opportunity.”

While his primary involvement may still be in F1, along with Super Formula, the IndyCar avenue is certainly a very open one for Pourchaire. And that journey gets underway on the streets of Long Beach this weekend.


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