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McLaren picks Pourchaire for its IndyCar seat: All the details

by Jack Benyon
9 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Reigning Formula 2 champion Theo Pourchaire will see out the IndyCar season at Arrow McLaren as part of a new deal with the team.

Pourchaire, who will sit out only the Indianapolis 500 between now and the end of the campaign, joined this week’s The Race IndyCar Podcast to discuss the move in detail for the first time.

He raced for McLaren at Long Beach and Barber in place of the injured David Malukas. The team announced last week Malukas had been released because of the uncertain timeframe around his injury, so now Pourchaire takes over.

Callum Ilott, who did the first race of the season at St Petersburg with McLaren, will drive the car for the Indy 500 in a yet-to-be-announced deal - but Pourchaire will take over from Detroit and contest all the remaining races, including the ovals, while Ilott returns to his World Endurance Championship programme.

How does this move affect Pourchaire’s Formula 1 aspirations and his Sauber reserve role? How is he handling going from very little in terms of work to a full-time IndyCar seat thousands of miles from home in the space of four and a half weeks?

We’ll answer those questions and more below - but don't forget you can listen to Pourchaire’s answers on the podcast, too.

What it means for Sauber role

Pourchaire has been a Sauber junior driver since 2019 and will remain so, despite this new IndyCar deal with McLaren.

He is the F1 team's reserve driver - although he'll inevitably miss grands prix with a host of IndyCar clashes - for the foreseeable future.

One programme that does come to an end is Super Formula. After contesting the season opener, in which he finished 18th, his stint in that championship is now finished.

Missing an F1 seat and future focus

Like multiple other F2 champions in recent memory, Pourchaire looks to have missed out on an F1 seat.

He’s maintained that F1 is still his goal despite the sidestep into Super Formula but, with an active 2025 silly season that includes two potential rookie megastars in Ollie Bearman and Kimi Antonelli at the very least, Pourchaire is already up against fashionable big names that are under the noses of F1 bosses every week.

“To be honest, I did my job; my job is to drive the cars on the racetracks and to give my best and to extract the best out of the team, out of myself and that's what I did last year in F2," says Pourchaire.

"I'm really proud that I'm an F2 champion, and I cannot decide myself if I want to go to F1 or not. But thanks to this Formula 2 title as well, I have an IndyCar team that gave me the opportunity to drive, and for me, it's exceptional to be a professional racing driver here in IndyCar.

“Before that I was struggling to find something to do, and I'm happy to be here.

“F1 is is amazing. IndyCar is amazing. There's a lot of opportunities."

He reckons he has “two or three years” before he needs to rule out F1 on age alone - Pourchaire is currently 20 - but says “my main goal and my dream is to win an IndyCar race, that would be amazing”.

Like many F2 drivers making the switch over, it feels at least as though Pourchaire has accepted the best option available to him. He is hopeful he might still get an F1 chance but his immediate focus at least has switched to IndyCar, where he has set the self-admittedly lofty goal of fighting for rookie of the year.

Lundgaard inspiration

Pourchaire’s 2021 F2 team-mate Christian Lundgaard was an Alpine junior but struggled more than Pourchaire in the series - he was 12th in the championship in his second season while Pourchaire ended up fifth overall.

So an F1 step wasn’t as likely for Lundgaard, but still his move to IndyCar set a precedent for what was possible for highly-rated F2 youngsters caught in the middle ground of not quite doing enough to get an F1 seat but still being good enough to compete at an elite level.

Lundgaard is a race winner in IndyCar and at the forefront of most people’s 2025 silly season discussions.

Pourchaire says he's been impressed by what Lundgaard has achieved, adding that they spoke in Austin last year and Lundgaard told him: “Theo, it's OK if you don't have an opportunity in F1, come over here in the US, you will enjoy it!”

“He was right,” adds Pourchaire. “I really enjoy it. I'm happy to be here. I'm still young, only 20 years old.

“And I'm sure I can enjoy it here in the US and give my best, win races, do a great job, that's what I want to do. I want to race and I'm happy to be able to do that with McLaren.”

Adapting to the US

Pourchaire was living out of a hotel room for the first few weeks of his stint in Indianapolis, where he sat in the nosebleed seats of an Indiana Pacers basketball game and also watched the solar eclipse from McLaren’s factory. It’s fair to say he’s adapted well.

He’s familiar with the culture as a huge fan of basketball and American football, and now he is moving into a new apartment in Indy, helped by his big sister.

“I'm still struggling with the furniture!” he admits, adding, “it's too much to think about.”

It’s not like he’s had a lot of time for admin, outside of signing on the dotted line with McLaren, of course...

It’s such an unusual situation that Pourchaire finds himself in. Usually a driver would start the season and be well settled in their personal life before the season kicks off.

Pourchaire hasn’t had that luxury and his parents have gone from having him at home in France for long stretches to him being away for the last five weeks and showing no signs of being able to return anytime soon.

“It's not easy, especially I think for my family,” he says.

It’s a massive change, but at the core of its success so far is Pourchaire’s easy-going nature. He’s happy exploring and investigating Indianapolis solo, hanging around the McLaren shop getting to know his coworkers, and when he’s at the race track his positive nature is infectious. Just look at this post-Long Beach interview below and how excited he is.

Being on the junior single-ladder can beat that kind of personality out of a driver, but Pourchaire has managed to maintain a wonderful attitude through all of his trials and tribulations, especially heading to F2 at a much younger age than most drivers (he was 17 when he made his debut).

Whether this year is enough to net him a longer-term seat at McLaren, time will tell, but he’ll have fun this year whatever happens.

Can he make the ride his own?

Alexander Rossi is in a contract year with the team, but assuming McLaren keeps him on, Pourchaire will be one of a number of drivers alongside Ilott fighting for the #6 car's seat.

Asked if he thinks he can turn this into a full-time seat, Pourchaire is extremely coy, saying: “It's great also to be with this brand, and I hope I can give my best in IndyCar which is my goal, do the best job possible, and we'll see what will happen in the future.”

It really has been an amazing story for Pourchaire, similar to that of current top IndyCar rookie Linus Lundqvist - who went from being reigning Indy Lights champion, to the sidelines without a ride, and then in the space of a month from injury stand-in at Meyer Shank to a seat at Chip Ganassi Racing.

McLaren has made a big investment in picking Pourchaire for the post-Indy 500 rest of the year even when Ilott would have been available for multiple races.

Two fantastic performances without any testing of the car won’t have hurt Pourchaire’s stock at all, and McLaren has even tried to accelerate his opportunities with a test on the Texas superspeedway oval. Ultimately, that didn’t come off, but it shows how committed McLaren is to Pourchaire.

He has a fantastic opportunity to make this seat his own.

IndyCar's physicality

Despite having trained for F1 and Super Formula for a long time now, Pourchaire has had to adapt his regimen - exposing the differences between the series.

The aforementioned championships have higher downforce, which places more focus on working out the neck, while IndyCar’s lack of power steering means you need to work more on the upper body.

“I struggled quite a lot physically, because the training is much, much different,” says Pourchaire.

“I have to give my best every day in the gym. I have to eat well. I have to be focused on myself and if I want to win here, I have to be perfect physically, mentally, technically.

"So it's a great challenge and I wasn't 100% ready for the IndyCar [on the first weekend]."

How was his oval debut?

Pourchaire got 110 laps on the Gateway oval on Monday. It's one that many drivers say drives more like a road course, so it’s a softer start to his life on ovals - but a tough one nonetheless.

“After the first two runs, when I jumped out of the car, I was a little bit dizzy,” says Pourchaire, following in Romain Grosjean’s and Agustin Canapino’s shoes after they reported the same symptom on their oval debuts.

“My body wanted to still go left. So everybody was a bit scared - the mechanics, they were like, 'Oh, Theo is gonna collapse!' But I was fine!”

On a more serious note, he says: “I think the team was was happy about my performance for the first time on a novel.

“I was doing good laptimes, let's say, which was OK, and the most important for me was to not do any mistakes and to not do a crash or damage the car. So I just wanted to build up my confidence in the car, which is what I did.”

That’s symptomatic of Pourchaire’s sensible approach since he’s come to IndyCar.

Missing the Indy 500

One oval he won’t be getting to grips with is Indianapolis as the Indy 500 came too soon and McLaren almost certainly wanted someone better-prepared for the marquee race.

Pourchaire says that winning the Indy 500 is a dream - he’s watched the event a lot in recent years and admits being a bit biased over fellow Frenchman Simon Pagenaud’s 2019 win - but looking on from the sidelines can still produce some positives for him.

“Of course, a little bit disappointed to not do it because you're a racing driver, you always want to race the best race in the world,” he says.

“You have the Monaco Grand Prix, you have the Indy 500 and the 24 hours of Le Mans.

“But to do it as a spectator on race day is going to be fun because, to feel all this atmosphere, the pressure and to see the drivers from the outside, how they drive, I will learn a lot for sure from that. So, hopefully one day I can do this race and as I said, it's my dream to win it.”

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