Dre’s Newswipe – Nolan Siegel Replaces Theo Pourchaire

In another shock for McLaren’s IndyCar team, Theo Pourchaire has been replaced for Nolan Siegel. Here’s Dre on the seventh man in McLaren colours in 2024.

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Read time: 6 mins

Zak Brown is an interesting team boss. He runs his team in seriously morally questionable ways. Right now he feels like Motorsport’s King Henry VIII.

Ever since the hiring and un-hiring of Alex Palou, the man himself has been chasing the driving equivalent of Anne Boleyn. It feels like he’s already upended half the country’s religious beliefs, cut off a relationship with the Pope and rammed home a divorce to try to sign someone to appease the King’s needs. And he’s finally found his man in… Nolan Siegel?

Yes, for those who missed it, McLaren has now signed Nolan Siegel to replace Theo Pourchaire in the #6 car immediately and on a multiple-year contract, starting this weekend at Laguna Seca. 

For those in need of a small catch-up; at the time, the team had just released David Malukas after missing the first four races of 2024 with his wrist injury. According to team manager Gavin Ward, McLaren thought that Siegel was committed to a full season of Indy NXT with HMD and a part-time IndyCar schedule of four races with Dale Coyne. 

But that was thrown out of the window when Siegel filled in for Agustin Canapino a fortnight ago for Juncos Hollinger Racing at Road America. Withdrawing from NXT that weekend to do it, put Siegel 79 points behind Championship leader Jacob Axel. With a title campaign now unrealistic, the Siegel camp had a change of heart and offered themselves the opportunity.

And I’m… confused about it. After dealing with the murmurs in my Twitter mentions, I don’t think his LMP2 class win with Zak Brown’s United Autosport at Le Mans this past week was what took them over the top. If anything, the way McLaren senior higher-ups Gavin Ward and Tony Kanaan have talked about him gave the game away that this was always the plan, with Kanaan admitting the maturity of how Siegel handled his Indy 500 bumping was what convinced himself to go all-in on the teenager. 

McLaren themselves felt like they had to tie him down or someone else would. “We were looking for a 2025 commitment. It became pretty clear that the logical thing to do, although maybe not the easiest decision, was to fast-forward and get him the car as soon as possible. We can hit next year, hit the ground running”, said Ward. 

Ward can talk all he wants about preparing his team up for long-term success, which is why he made the move, but this is the seventh driver that McLaren has had in their colours this year, and #7 was quite arguably a downgrade for a driver barely a year younger than Pourchaire. 

As a Motorsport audience, I’ve always hated the fact that we only use the term “pay driver” for drivers we don’t think are good enough. I need to reinforce that Nolan Siegel absolutely ISN’T that. He’s been superb in Indy NXT for a season and a half, and he’s been excellent in Sports Cars too, impressing at the 24 Hours of Daytona in January and Le Mans this past week.

For 19, he’s impressive. But there’s nothing in his career at this point that would make me take him over Theo Pourchaire. Theo won races in F2, a more competitive junior series at 17. He was debatably ready for F1 at 18 but was passed over for Zhou Guanyu at Sauber, who just wasn’t as good a prospect at the time, but had far more commercial potential as F1 eyes up the Chinese market. 

You could make a very strong case that Pourchaire should be in F1, and was on a similar trajectory to Ollie Bearman, who will be there next year. And if you can make a strong case Pourchaire should be in F1, an IndyCar argument is iron-clad to me. Especially with the series themselves being far more aggressive in their hiring from F2 over their own Road to Indy in recent years. 

And I refuse to believe that McLaren is that insecure about their clout as a team that someone else was going to poach this deal when you’re McLaren, the best team in IndyCar outside of the Penske/Ganassi bind at the top of the sport. You could easily financially out-muscle the smaller teams and have him debut next season. I don’t think McLaren was seriously eyeing up Siegel that far out, especially given the technical alliance with Juncos, which we all thought at the time was a play to get Callum Illot as a driver. 

If McLaren were serious about offering Siegel the #6 seat months ago, I think there’s a decent chance the Siegel family isn’t so sure about a second year of Indy NXT. The idea that you had to clear the decks immediately and take more of a PR hit to get Siegel in immediately, I just don’t buy. 

So no, I don’t think it’s money-related either. I know Nolan’s father is a hedge fund guy, and there have been murmurs Arrow might be moving on, but even if that’s the case (And I’ve seen no journo put a name on it publicly), McLaren’s a big money team with ludicrously rich owners, and Zak’s brilliant with sponsor acquisition. No one is making this argument if Alex Palou committed to the contract he signed. We’re going: “Oh my god, they’ve signed the reigning IndyCar Champion, they’re pushing at Penske now!”, not “Oh my god, how could they afford him?!”

Oh, and as a consequence of them not getting Palou, McLaren dropped $10m on Pato O’Ward’s new contract that went public during the court case in February. As another consequence, they had to get David Malukas instead, who was only a “B-Tier” driver in the eyes of General Motors. And then cutting him the first chance they could after his wrist injury and replacing him with a driver with no ties to big funding for the rest of 2024. Yeah, Zak’s starving over there. 

For the second time this season, Tony Kanaan has had to delicately put an arm around one of his drivers and tell him they were being let go from out of nowhere. Theo Pourchaire did nothing wrong, by Kanaan’s admission. They just wanted Siegel more. I just don’t get where “firing Theo Pourchaire for no good reason after committing to him for the rest of 2024” fits into that master plan. It must have been in the small print. 

I’ve read the comments from Kanaan. He knew full well that this was a decision that would split the room. “Some people will agree, some people will disagree, We’ll take the heat. But for me, it’s the best decision. I believe I’m making the right call with the team. I weigh in quite a bit. You’ve got to trust me on this, I’ll put my job on the line”. I do fear though, that immediately getting on Twitter to defend your decision and then beefing with IndyCar’s biggest shit-stirrer in Scott McLaughlin doesn’t sound like a man who’s fully secure with his decision.

For his and McLaren’s sake though, I hope he’s right. Because with every driver that’s been cut for questionable reasons, from Oliver Askew, James Hinchcliffe, David Malukas and now Theo Pourchaire, with the teasing of an F1 seat to Alex Palou, Colton Herta and his own star driver in Pato O’Ward, it only adds to the idea that Brown treats his drivers like pawns, and it doesn’t sit right with me as the fan that I am. 

In any case, please have some empathy for Theo. On any level, he’s had a horrible month. He had death threats from Agustin Canapino’s fans on Twitter that were completely disproportionate to the mistake he made on the track. McLaren stuck up for their driver and broke off a business partnership in doing so, only to dump Pourchaire weeks later. 

As mentioned, Pourchaire took a calculated risk in leaving Super Formula mid-season and moved to America to try and make this work. Now his career is in a state of flux at just 20 years old and there’s no guarantee he will get another chance. He should. McLaren’s loss, could and should be someone else’s gain. But Motorsport is a cruel, cruel world. I hope Theo’s got good people around him. I fear he may need it. 

About the Author:

Dre Harrison

Somehow can now call himself a Production Coordinator at the Motorsport Network, coming off the back of being part of the awkward Johto Era at WTF1. All off a University Project that went massively out of hand. Weird huh?

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