until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


IndyCar's 'cursed' driver on his big series return

by Jack Benyon
6 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Driving an everyday road car well under the speed limit or focusing on ‘left foot, right foot’ while meticulously climbing a set of stairs probably aren’t the first pre-racing rituals you think of when it comes to IndyCar drivers who aim at walls doing 240mph for fun.

But it’s been that kind of “cursed” year for David Malukas.

After leaving Dale Coyne to join Arrow McLaren, as a back-up signing for two-time champion Alex Palou when he elected to stay at Ganassi, Malukas fractured his wrist in a pre-season mountain bike accident. He thought he’d be back after a couple of races but his recovery got delayed to the point that McLaren dropped him, days before his prognosis suggested he could be back racing the following month.

Then, having spent May with IndyCar’s content team - meeting and interviewing the likes of film and TV stars Austin Butler and Jodie Comer at the Indianapolis 500 - he got a call just after that event to replace Tom Blomqvist.

Helio Castroneves took over the car for Detroit and Road America but in the background, a deal between Meyer Shank and Malukas was complete in just a week and Malukas had to get back to working his wrist and hand hard to be ready.

Last Tuesday, he got his first taste of IndyCar action since pre-season in a hybrid test at Milwaukee and was eighth fastest among a 20-car field.

“Obviously it's really good news, so I can wake up with a smile again,” Malukas says on this week’s episode of The Race IndyCar Podcast about his new deal.

“I felt like I had been cursed. The few days before the test, I was just being as careful as I can, driving under the speed limits, making sure 'we are going to be as safe as possible' until I get into that seat, so nothing else happens to me.

“Going upstairs, down the stairs, I was doing it so meticulously: 'and left foot, and right foot, and left foot...'. Just really, really focused!”

With that test in the bag, his thoughts have switched from the more mundane everyday tasks to his return at Laguna Seca this coming weekend.

But first we have to ask: How is the hand? (Resisting every urge to quote Hot Fuzz and reply on his behalf: “Still a bit stiff”.)

“Going into it [the test] there's so many new things,” he replies. “From my side, how's the hand going to do? Is the performance still going to be there? It's been a lot of months off. Everybody else has been on it.

“New team, new people, new car, just a lot of new things and obviously letting the mind overthink.

“So I couldn't wait to get into the car so I could finally just see what's what.”

The only real issue has been the fit of his seat - as even though it's his old one, he hasn’t quite become comfy in the cockpit. But that’s the only area he hasn’t fit in as well as he would have liked so far.

“From the team side it was really good. I love the team, everybody's been super nice,” he adds.

“The car is very quick. The performance was there as soon as we got into the car. I just took a few laps and I felt like I was back in the rhythm of things.

“And the hand was perfectly fine.

“Going into it, I wasn't really too worried on ovals, all of it just being left-handers, there's no pressure on that left hand. It's more obviously looking at Laguna, Mid Ohio, those are the ones that I'm more interested to see how the hand is going to do.”

Before we address what’s next, there were some really helpful aspects of the test for Malukas. As well as completing 111 laps, there was a race simulation to do more testing of the hybrid ahead of its introduction next month.

Not only did that mean Malukas got to be part of a very important test where he got the same info as the rest of the field, but the race aspect allowed him to work on his wheel-to-wheel combat, fuel-saving and tyre management - all things that just aren’t easy to practice outside of a race usually.

He’s also jumping back into a Honda-powered car - he raced one for two years at Dale Coyne in 2022-23 - so he says he’s even been able to bring over things like his own tailored throttle maps which help with bedding in.

Malukas says his new team-mate Felix Rosenqvist was the first person in the paddock to introduce himself when he joined the series for 2022, so there’s another element of continuity as Malukas says Rosenqvist has remained one of his favourite people in IndyCar.

The only downside is that Rosenqvist is on a tear since moving from McLaren - coincidentally Malukas was due to take over Rosenqvist’s car there - and has been in the top 10 in every race this season where a mechanical issue hasn’t intervened. Two of those top 10s also came despite being at the back of the pack at one stage.

The Race puts this point to Malukas - that it’s going to be a tough gig - but his reply only shows the frame of mind that Malukas is in. And it’s not: ‘I’ve been injured, let’s get slowly up to speed’; it’s more like: ‘Look at this massive chance I have, here are all the things I’ve identified that can help me learn and get better as a driver’.

“This is just a really good opportunity for me to get back in the car, with this hand, and not really miss too much time outside of all the other drivers,” says Malukas.

“But on top of it, I'm still 22, there's still time for me to learn. I'd say I have a few more years of my brain absorbing information before it starts caving out!

“And I have Felix's data, and of course, with the Andretti alliance [that Shank has], we get all the data from them. So overall, it's just a really good opportunity and a really good place for me.”

With Rosenqvist, a Shank team that Malukas finished ahead of with Dale Coyne last year is certainly on the up and offers many opportunities.

While the Milwaukee test didn’t offer much in the way of trouble for his wrist, there’s more adversity to come.

He has to do a full race distance on a sim - something he says he’s done at home already - for IndyCar to clear him, and then there’s Laguna Seca and Mid-Ohio to come.

Laguna especially has been repaved and was a long race with cautions last year, and the pit entry is also really tight - as is the final corner, which also has a bump in it. So aside from just the longevity of coping with the wrist over a weekend, those specific challenges loom.

But if he can overcome them, he’s in a car that is capable of podiums and being in the top 10 in the championship - at least on road and street circuits. And if there’s anyone you want in on a short oval in the series, Malukas would feel like a top-10 option in that department.

Especially after two career podiums at Gateway.

Get over this initial hurdle and there’s so much upside to this deal - for Meyer Shank, who really needs to finish in the top 22 for a prize money payout, and for Malukas, who is trying to rescue his immediate future and secure his long-term one at the same time.

Laguna Seca and Mid-Ohio are about as tough a test as you could ask for in this scenario, so successfully emerging on the other side would be a huge win for both team and driver.

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