Nolan Siegel on his rapid McLaren rise: '2 months have felt like 3 years'

Indycar Racing News

From the Indy 500 to winning Le Mans to being parachuted into the McLaren IndyCar team, Nolan Siegel has had an incredible two months in racing – he tells the story to James ELson

Nolan Siegel IndyCar McLaren

Siegel has had a rollercoaster few months in top-level motor sport


Just a few months ago, teenager Nolan Siegel was a part-time rookie in the IndyCar series for the small Dale Coyne team, dovetailing his commitments with a second-tier Indy NXT campaign.

Now, in the space of two months, he’s spectacularly crashed out of a heroic last-ditch Indy 500 qualifying effort, won the LMP2 category in one of the toughest Le Mans ever seen and made a last-minute debut for McLaren at a chaotic Laguna Seca race where the young Californian successfully negotiated the carnage, making 29 overtakes to finish well inside the top half of the field on what was still just his third championship IndyCar start.

The scenes have flashed by like something from the trailer of a Marvel movie – and Siegel himself tells Motor Sport that it’s tough to comprehend the recent weeks of his life.

“The last two months really have been pretty incredible,” he says. “It’s crazy to think that it’s only been two months.

5 Nolan Siegel Indianapolis 500 2024

Siegel started the year with a part-time Dale Coyne drive in IndyCar


“It feels like I’ve done three years worth of racing in that time – I don’t think that there will ever be a year in my life that’s more memorable than this one.

“It’s been exhausting, but it’s been really, really cool. And it’s kind of fun to think about the fact that I’m in this really life changing moment.”

McLaren has decided to forego its deal with F2 champion Theo Pourchaire which ran to the end of the season in favour of a longer-term deal with Siegel. The first seed was planted when the Palo Alto native called on McLaren’s sporting director Tony Kanaan for advice on how to navigate this year’s Indy 500 Last Chance qualifying session, which Siegel was competing in for Dale Coyne.

The talent, commitment and approach from the precocious youngster impressed Kanaan – even despite Siegel going out of the reckoning in some fashion after hitting the wall in the first turn, sending him spinning into the barrier at the second.

“I was going to go home because I went flat and did everything I could do,” Siegel said in the aftermath. “I wasn’t going to go home because I lifted, so here I am.”

“Working with him all day under pressure, there was something there,” Kanaan told the Indy Star. “You know how that place is, and that kid showed me how strong he is in the head, wheeling the field’s slowest car, and that’s something you have to have.”

McLaren was sufficiently impressed that it began to have talks immediately about a prospective deal in the future, but then things began to speed up when Siegel made his first final-hour substitute appearance of the year for the Juncos Hollinger team, after it pulled Augustin Canapino from its Road America line-up after finding himself at the centre of a social media storm – ironically due to a collision with Pourchaire in Detroit.

Once more Siegel impressed with his mature application, so much so that other IndyCar teams became interested too – when Siegel yet again caught the eye with his winning Le Mans drive (for United Autosports, part-owned by McLaren boss Zak Brown) negotiations stepped up.

4 Nolan Siegel Le Mans 2024

Siegel survived a tough Le Mans 2024 to be part of the winning LMP2 team

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“There was kind of some interest in the future from kind of May onwards,” he says. “TK helped me quite a bit at the 500 in qualifying – we got to know each other and that kind of created more interest, working together more in the future.

“That was when the first talks happened with with Gavin [Ward, McLaren IndyCar principal] and Zak and and TK.

“Nothing was really talked about for this year until after Road America and Le Mans. So the deal this year was very, very sudden. But the plans for the future had been discussed earlier.”

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Not that La Sarthe a walk in the park. Along with team-mates Oliver Jarvis and Bijoy Garg, the No22 LMP2 car came through to win one of the toughest races in recent memory, with heavy rain storms and a four-hour safety car period through the night. It’s a test which may well prove to be the making of Siegel.

“It was definitely the most gruelling endurance race I’ve done,” he says. “I’ve done Daytona three times and Sebring, all the big ones in the US and nothing quite compared to that.

“Most people I think said that this year was one of the most challenging from a weather standpoint.

“Jumping in at night in the pouring rain, or where it’s raining on some parts of the track and not others – it’s really difficult to figure out how hard you can push, especially when it’s 3am.

“It went safety car when I was in – I’ve never had such a hard time staying on the track under safety car.”

It’s been reported that United boss Richard Dean was significantly impressed by Siegel’s highly detailed feedback and approach. Zak Brown was on hand that weekend to see it firsthand too. Does Siegel think that race was pivotal in getting hired by McLaren?

4 Nolan Siegel IndyCar McLaren

Heading through Corkscrew at Laguna Seca


“I certainly don’t think it hurt!” he replies. “I really enjoyed working with both of them, I think that certainly made a difference. I’m glad that we were able to start this relationship in a way with that weekend.”

And so, just a week after Le Mans, with the dust barely settled from the shock news that he’d replace Pourchaire in McLaren’s IndyCar line-up, Siegel found himself on the grid at Laguna Seca – one of the US’s most formidable tracks.

A 27-car field often spells chaos in the ultra competitive IndyCar championship, but Siegel thinks his rollercoaster 2024 up to that point only helped him in those pressure-cooker moments – no more so than in the dusty Californian hills.

“Definitely – I feel like this year has had a lot of high pressure and low [amount] of preparation-type weekends which have been really difficult,” he says.

2 Nolan Siegel IndyCar McLaren

Siegel battled his way through impressively in California


“At the end of the day, those weekends aren’t necessarily set up for immediate success on the results side, but I think that they teach me a ton – Laguna was one of those weekends.”

Lining up 23 out of 27 cars, Siegel thought it might have been all over when he span off early – his profuse apologies over the team radio illustrated how it looked like this might be a nightmare start to his McLaren career.

“Those are never great moments, right?” he says. “It’s tough because these races, everyone’s working really hard. At the end of the day, one mistake that I made can throw away all that work.

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“I’m lucky we stayed on the lead lap – if anything, it allowed us to get off sequence [on an alternate tyre strategy] and I think we actually picked up a few spots because of it.”

Siegel bided his time, and in the midst of a number of safety car periods in the closing laps, moved up the field while others collided, crashed out or fell off the track. By finishing 12th, in just his third IndyCar race, Siegel made more progress than any other competitor in an accomplished effort.

The young racer admits to a feeling of relief after his appointment was met with some scepticism in the racing girl – replacing the impressive Pourchaire with the relatively unproven Siegel.

“It was great,” he says. “There were a lot of question marks at the beginning of the weekend, and I think we answered a lot of those questions in the race. Nobody really knew where we were gonna stack up. I think everyone was a little bit relieved!”

Now he’ll get to a compete with at least a few days preparation going into this weekend’s Mid-Ohio race – a little different to the last-minute opportunities he’s had so far, and at last some sense of normality in an extraordinary racing year.

5 Nolan Siegel Mid-Ohio 500 2024

Siegel feels confident heading into Mid-Ohio


“It’s feeling more natural, feeling more like a regular job now,” he says.

“Being at the shop today, being at the test day where we can focus more on performance, rather than just learning how to work with each other.

“I’m looking forward to Mid-Ohio, I actually feel like there could be potential for a really strong finish.

“If we’re in contention for podiums, I think that’s the goal from our side.”

He might struggle to match the last few months for pure excitement again, but this could just be the start of a brilliant racing story for Nolan Siegel.