until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


The next moves in a McLaren-led IndyCar 2025 silly season

by Jack Benyon
8 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

When asked if he was interested in signing Josef Newgarden, McLaren’s Zak Brown replied: “I think he's an awesome racing driver. But no, I'm set with my 62 drivers!”

As Newgarden is now off the market after signing a contract extension at Team Penske, attention turns to McLaren - which has already been the busiest team in the driver market this year in arranging stand-ins for the injured David Malukas, hence Brown's "42 drivers" quip - and the future of its line-up.

With Malukas dropped after a pre-season wrist injury that ended up keeping him out for the first four races of the IndyCar season, Callum Ilott stepped in for the Indy 500 before Theo Pourchaire took over that car full-time starting at Detroit. The pair had shared the stand-in duties for Malukas before his axing.

So the team has already had five drivers across three cars this year, and only Pato O’Ward is definitively signed beyond 2024 with his mega contract extension brought on in part by Alex Palou deciding not to join the team for this year - a move which still has Palou and McLaren embroiled in a UK commercial court battle.

With two competitive seats alongside O'Ward theoretically up for grabs, you can see why there’s so much attention surrounding McLaren.

Arrow McLaren, IndyCar

Asked just before the Indy 500 when McLaren would be making a decision on its drivers, Brown told a small group of reporters including The Race: “Soon.

“Obviously, the Alex [Palou] situation took us by surprise. The David Malukas situation took us by surprise, obviously we didn't see that coming.

“The very early reports were he [Malukas] could be ready for the start of the year.

“And then, of course, Alex is out of contract. I think he's doing a great job. He's had an awesome Indy so far [it then culminated in a solid fourth-place finish], so I really rate Alex Rossi.

“It took a while to get settled on - is David in, is he not, Callum's got his other conflicts. Theo was racing in Japan, by the time we made that decision, is he the best one to be prepared for Indy?

“So now it's like 'catch our breath, focus on Indy, and turn our attention to what we're going to do with our driver line-up after this race, those conversations will come real quickly'.

“We've got a shortlist, as you can imagine.”

Its current drivers are top of that shortlist so let's start with them.

A third season with Rossi?

Alexander Rossi, Arrow McLaren, IndyCar

The Race expects Rossi to be signed to an extension by McLaren, although paddock sources indicated no deal has been concluded yet.

Rossi had a very strong Indy 500 month, and has largely gone under the radar as McLaren's most consistent performer in race trim this year.

A host of things outside his control have robbed him of some seriously strong race results, and the only complaint of his season so far can be that he hasn’t qualified well enough, with an average start of 11.83 compared to an average finish of 9.67.

Alexander Rossi, Arrow McLaren, Indy 500

Speaking of average finish, while Rossi is 10 points behind team-mate O’Ward in the championship, Rossi’s average finishing position is almost a whole position higher per race. A season littered with errors for O’Ward is only saved by his St Pete win - inherited after the Penske push-to-pass disqualifications - and finishing second at Indy.

While the peaks Rossi is capable of aren’t going to come from a 9.67 qualifying average, his race performances have been strong. In the top 10 at every race bar Barber where a wheel fell off after a pitstop, he's even salvaged strong results at Long Beach (hit by O’Ward) and Detroit (caught in Will Power’s Turn 1 crash).

Rossi is a real under-the-radar star of 2024 so far.

His Indy 500-winning experience and his status as a safe pair of hands have established him as a no-brainer to keep around, with the hope his qualifying performances can be elevated through getting a better car underneath him.

The new kid on the block

Theo Pourchaire, Arrow McLaren, IndyCar

In terms of things inside his control, Pourchaire’s year has gone pretty well so far. An incredible 11th on debut at Long Beach, having never driven an IndyCar before that weekend, was followed up with a small blip at the Indy GP before a strong 10th at Detroit - although it did come with an error in hitting Agustin Canapino.

The big thing for Pourchaire is going to be doing enough across the last 11 races to persuade Brown, team boss Gavin Ward and McLaren that he is better than its other options like Ilott.

Asked if it was a two-person fight for the third seat between Ilott and Pourchaire, Brown replied: “Not necessarily.”

Pourchaire is yet to make his oval debut, so there’s still loads to learn. As things stand, though, you’d have to make him the favourite for the third seat - because if he does well, he’ll be freshest in McLaren’s memory when it’s making the decision.

Theo Pourchaire, Arrow McLaren, IndyCar

Ilott is racing in the World Endurance Championship and fundamentally only has had two races and an exhibition event with McLaren to impress it.

His two years at Juncos in IndyCar offered plenty of signs of how good Ilott is, but are always tempered by the fact that Juncos was a smaller team and not capable of fighting near the front regularly. His results were brilliant in many cases but you have to do some digging to understand why.

Pourchaire has plenty of time to make this seat his own and if he doesn’t, he’ll be the only one to blame. He has a phenomenal opportunity and is already doing a good job.

Ilott's IndyCar prospects

Callum Ilott, Arrow McLaren, Indy 500

When asked if Ilott was under consideration, Brown offer a simple one-word reply that was followed by a lengthy silence - which indicated he didn’t really feel the need to say much else.

“Yes" was the answer. And again, this was Brown speaking before the Indy 500 - saying McLaren was already "very happy with what we saw on the street race and road course" from Ilott and that he was "definitely under consideration".

It’s hard to imagine that IIott’s stock didn’t rise as a consequence of his 500, though. An extra run would have likely boosted him higher in qualifying, but in the race he was nothing short of spectacular.

He had to give up his 15th starting spot before the race begun to pit with an issue, which turned out to be a jammed-on weight-jacker. With the downforce cranked up to the maximum on the front wing and the car being almost undrivable, he raced back through to 11th from the back of the pack.

Callum Ilott and Will Stevens, Jota Porsche, WEC

Unfortunately he likely won’t be back in IndyCar for some time now as he focuses on WEC and its flagship event, the Le Mans 24 Hours.

If McLaren doesn’t sign him up, I expect a host of other teams to be interested. Equally though, with the chip off his shoulder IndyCar-wise, Ilott would likely be just fine staying in sportscar racing - already a race winner in the WEC and impressing for the Jota squad, which runs a Porsche 963 prototype.

What about Malukas?

David Malukas, Indy 500

Malukas is another name that will enter the silly season fray as soon as he is cleared to race.

He spent the Month of May working for IndyCar’s content creation team and interviewed the likes of movie stars Austin Butler and Jodie Comer. But even that isn’t as good as racing an IndyCar.

While fans need to remain patient and allow Malukas to recover in good time, as soon as he’s available he’ll start courting interest.

McLaren has said that no bridge is burned and both sides have refused to rule out a future reunion. But it looks for now that the uncertainty surrounding Malukas and what he’ll be like post-injury means McLaren is likely to have made its driver decisions before he is ready to race.

Who else is on the market?

Christian Lundgaard, Rahal Letterman Lanigan, IndyCar

Christian Lundgaard has long been the second name on the silly season buzz list after Newgarden, so now he jumps to number one.

Yet some improvements by his current team Rahal, combined with not a lot of better options on the table, might mean he stays put.

His stock is high as a series winner who has comfortably outperformed experienced team-mates in his two and a bit seasons in the series.

He’s unlikely to move because McLaren looks set to stay the same, Andretti looks set, Ganassi looks more likely to downsize from five cars than to expand, and Penske is likely set, too.

That covers the teams consistently better than Rahal. Meyer Shank is ahead in the championship with Felix Rosenqvist, but was poor last season, so how much faith do you have that it has permanently turned a corner? It’s a tough one.

The spanner in the works for silly season might come with Prema. Although the team will be new to the grid in 2025, could its junior single-seater gravitas help persuade someone like Lundgaard or Ilott to make a move? That question won’t be answered until later in silly season.

Of course, the seats lower down the grid will come further down the line, so the attention for now is on McLaren, Lundgaard and whatever Meyer Shank chooses to do.

Tom Blomqvist crashes, Meyer Shank, Indy 500

It has dropped rookie signing Tom Blomqvist for two races after a difficult start to the year and a mistake on the first lap of the Indy 500. Although it said Blomqvist remains part of the Meyer Shank set-up, it’s hard to see him slotting back into that car.

But it's McLaren and Lundgaard who represent the next big domino pieces to fall, and it won’t take long before next year's IndyCar grid takes a fairly concrete shape.

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