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Special feature
IndyCar Laguna Seca

‘Mentally tougher’ Malukas gears up for first 2024 IndyCar start

Jettisoned Arrow McLaren signing will make his maiden IndyCar Series start of 2024 at Laguna Seca this weekend for a rival team after recovering from an offseason wrist injury

David Malukas at the Milwaukee Mile Open Test

The last time the IndyCar Series was at Laguna Seca, David Malukas was being announced as the final signing to complete the 2024 driver roster for Arrow McLaren. That was 8 September, 2023.

Fast forward 283 days, and Malukas will make his first start of the season at the historic 2.238-mile natural terrain road course behind the wheel of Meyer Shank Racing’s No. 66 Honda alongside team-mate Felix Rosenqvist, the very driver he was signed to replace at Arrow McLaren.

“Definitely an emotional roller coaster for me this 2024,” Malukas said. “It was a character-building year and now we're back.”

The early promise of offseason testing shortly after signing with Arrow McLaren came to a sudden halt when the Chicago-born driver was injured in a mountain biking accident on 11 February, 2024, which required surgery and sidelined him from the start of the season.

Any hope of a return with Arrow McLaren ended on 29 April, 2024, when the team terminated his contract after four rounds – including the non-points exhibition at The Thermal Club – and cited the reason “due to him being unavailable for the entirety of the season to date, with no confirmed return date”.

David Malukas, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet

David Malukas, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet

Photo by: Josh Tons / Motorsport Images

“When all of it happened, it was tough,” Malukas said. “Honestly for me, mentally, it was definitely one of the toughest things I had to go through.

“There were some really rough, rough days, especially after the whole termination and things going very dark for me.”

He leaned on his parents, Henry and Daiva Malukas, who both left their native country of Lithuania at the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and moved to the United States. But there were still a lot of internal thoughts he had to work through independently too.

“Coming through it, your brain, as soon as you kinda have so much pressure and things going down, your brain tends to say, ‘This is over, it's done,’” Malukas revealed. “It just thinks of the worst thing, goes to plan Z.

“My parents were there. My parents went through a lot of hardship coming from Lithuania coming to America. No money, not speaking a lick of English. They went through a lot of struggles, a lot worse than what I'm going through. They were the ones helping me through it because they understand it very well, more than anybody.

“They kept pushing me, kept motivating me. We stayed with it. Did IndyCar content for the month of May. Smiled. I stayed positive, and knew it was going to come.”

David Malukas, Meyer Shank Racing, at the Milwaukee Mile Open Test

David Malukas, Meyer Shank Racing, at the Milwaukee Mile Open Test

Photo by: Penske Entertainment

That opportunity arrived in the form of Meyer Shank Racing, who announced the 22-year-old for the remainder of the season just 10 days ago, after it benched Tom Blomqvist following a rough start to the season.

And Malukas is reflective of how enduring this situation over the last several months forced him to find another level of mental strength.

“It's definitely changed me quite a bit,” Malukas said. “Looking back at certain moments like that, your brain tends to spiral a little bit, you start asking what is the reasoning, why is this happening to me, these kinds of things.

“I feel like for myself, I kind of believe in the fact that everything happens for a reason. I think the reason for that was to become the driver I can be, with the potential I needed.

“I needed something like that to obviously get me there, to try very hard, to just be better than I was before. It was a very tough few months for me. I think it was all needed.

“Now we can look forward and obviously becoming a better driver than I would have been.”

Malukas has still been able to lean on Arrow McLaren’s trainer, Sean Smith, through the entire recovery process.

David Malukas at the Milwaukee Mile Open Test

David Malukas at the Milwaukee Mile Open Test

Photo by: Penske Entertainment

For what it is worth, Malukas won’t be going into this weekend unready, either. In addition to running numerous days in the simulator, he also took part in IndyCar’s hybrid test at the Milwaukee Mile last week, logging 111 laps and placing eighth out of 20 drivers on the timesheets.

“It's feeling very good,” Malukas said of his wrist that he noted is nearly 80% healed. “The Milwaukee test, I wasn't really too worried going into it.

“Just being an oval, not that much strain on the left wrist or hand. Not much move on the steering wheel. It is also more left-handers. Laguna is going to be a question mark with the re-pavement being heavier on the wheel.

“We are going to see what we can do. There's a lot of things from the car side that we can do from the car side that we can do to help the steering and already have done from a setup standpoint to make it a bit easier for that wrist to move. But, overall, I think it's going to be okay.

“I've been on the sim almost every day doing race simulations [for] two hours plus to the point where my right hand is getting a little bit tired. We're doing everything we can. We'll be ready to go out there and perform.”

Helio Castroneves and David Malukas at the Milwaukee Mile Open Test

Helio Castroneves and David Malukas at the Milwaukee Mile Open Test

Photo by: Penske Entertainment

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