McLaren To Return Full Time To IndyCar Series

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 9 2019
McLaren will put “papaya orange” Indy cars back on track on a full time basis next season. (File photo courtesy of McLaren Racing)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Determined to erase the memory of Fernando Alonso’s failed bid to qualify for the 2019 Indianapolis 500, McLaren Racing will field a full time program in the NTT IndyCar Series next season in a strategic partnership with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Chevrolet.

McLaren last competed full time in INDYCAR from 1973-79, a run highlighted by Johnny Rutherford’s victories in Offy-powered entries in 1974 and 1976 sandwiched around a runner-up result in 1975. Fort Worth’s “Lone Star J.R.” and McLaren also finished last in the 1977 race.

The partnership announced Friday will rename the team Arrow McLaren Racing SP, which will field two Chevrolet-powered cars in the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series. The rebranding reflects the continuing status of Arrow Electronics as the team’s title partner, as well as a new manufacturer partnership with Chevrolet and its current turbocharged V-6 engine.

Arrow SPM co-founders Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson will continue in their current roles. But former Indianapolis 500 champion Gil de Ferran, Sporting Director, McLaren Racing, will lead the McLaren IndyCar program and the involvement in Arrow McLaren Racing SP. De Ferran will oversee a dedicated group from McLaren Racing, independent of its Formula 1 team.

“This team provides McLaren with the right synergy as a strategic partner for our return to the sport,” Californian Zak Brown, CEO of McLaren Racing, said in a team news release. “We believe together we can help each other achieve our mutual ambitions. Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson have built a solid foundation and we look forward to working together to take the team to the next level.

Things did not go well for McLaren at Indy this year.

“INDYCAR has been part of McLaren since our early years of racing, and the series today provides not only a commercial platform to continue to grow our brand in North America, but competition with some of the best teams in international motorsport.

“I’m absolutely delighted that we will expand our relationship with Arrow Electronics across both F1 and INDYCAR, while renewing our long affinity with Chevrolet as our engine partner. McLaren and Chevrolet have a special history together in North America and it is fitting they are part of our fulltime return to INDYCAR.

“We come to INDYCAR in full respect of the sport, our competitors, the fans and the task ahead. At our core, we at McLaren are racers and where there’s competition that puts us to the test, we will race. The NTT IndyCar Series provides such a challenge.”

Canadian James Hinchcliffe and Marcus Ericsson of Sweden comprise ASPM’s current driver lineup, competing with Honda turbocharged V-6 power in their respective No. 5 and No. 7 entries.

James Hinchcliffe drives one of the Arrow Schmidt Peterson Hondas this year. Next year, the team will be known as Arrow McLaren Racing SP.

The infrastructure of Arrow SPM will underpin the team’s operations, while McLaren will add technical expertise, commercial experience and marketing strength in a bid to “regularly challenge for wins and the series title.”

DeFerran, who won the 2003 Indy 500 while driving for Team Penske, took full responsibility for the team’s failure to qualify for the 103rd edition of the Indy 500 in May. A native of Brazil, he apologized to Alonso while terming a DNQ watched world-wide “the most painful experience” in his 35-plus year racing career.

Friday’s announcement served as a clean sheet for de Ferran and the organization founded by the late Bruce McLaren of New Zealand.

“INDYCAR is a natural fit for McLaren, given our legacy and determination to succeed at the top levels of international motorsport,” de Ferran said. “Our ambition, over time, is to consistently compete for wins and championships. We acknowledge the challenge ahead of us but McLaren is committed to this partnership and to supporting the team as a whole.”

SPM was established in 2001 by former driver Schmidt, who was paralyzed in 2000 after an accident while testing at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, Fla. Schmidt added Canadian businessman Peterson as an equity partner before the 2013 season. Schmidt made 27 career INDYCAR starts and scored one pole and one victory, both in his hometown of Las Vegas at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in September 1999. Schmidt has a master’s degree in international finance from Pepperdine University.

“I’m extremely proud of the team that Ric and I have built and that a legendary brand like McLaren Racing has decided to partner with us to form Arrow McLaren Racing SP to continue our march to the top of INDYCAR,” Schmidt said. “Arrow is a tremendous partner which has been integral to our growth as a team since 2015 and to the creation of this new partnership. The combined technical resources and commercial opportunities both McLaren and Arrow bring to the table provide a winning combination.”

Peterson is the founder and CEO of Oculus Transport, Ltd. A resident of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Peterson has more than 25 years of experience in a variety of businesses, including over 15 in the oil and gas sector specializing in oil field trucking and nitrogen production. His racing background includes competing in stock cars and open-wheel formula cars, culminating with driving in the 1991 Atlantic Championship and the Canadian CASCAR series.

“I’m really excited that we could pull together our long-term partner Arrow and forge a new partnership with McLaren to become a unified force,” Peterson said. “I’m equally thrilled that Sam and I are able to continue on in our long-standing relationship together and maintain our ownership position in the company. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.”

Mike Long, chairman/president/CEO of Arrow Electronics, noted that advancement in automotive technology continues as “a powerful growth-driver for our business.  We are delighted to see our partners join forces in a way that provides an even broader platform and showcase for Arrow’s engineering and innovation.”

Jim Campbell, United States VP, Performance and Motorsports for Chevrolet, was pleased to add another fulltime team to the company’s lineup under the McLaren banner.

“Chevrolet and McLaren have a storied history of racing together, going back to the mid-1960s,” Campbell said. “We have always had tremendous respect for Zak Brown and Gil de Ferran, as well as for Sam Schmidt, Ric Peterson and Mike Long. We are looking forward to partnering with the entire Arrow McLaren Racing SP team as we prepare for the 2020 INDYCAR season.”

Meanwhile, Honda Performance Development released the following statement on ASPM’s decision: “HPD is proud of its numerous accomplishments in partnership with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, which include all seven of the team’s NTT IndyCar Series victories to-date, as well as two coveted pole positions for the Indianapolis 500.

“Although we regret that this partnership will be coming to an end in advance of the 2020 season, HPD has the utmost confidence in the strength and commitment of its remaining partner teams, all of whom have won at least one NTT IndyCar Series race in each of the past two seasons. We look forward to demonstrating that same type of depth across our entire lineup for many years to come.”

Alonso’s failure to qualify for one of three remaining starting positions in the 33-car field for the Indy 500 had raised questions about McLaren’s desire to return to INDYCAR fulltime. “We didn’t do the job. We were not quick enough. Simple,” Alonso, a two-time Formula One World Driving Champion, said during his post-qualifying presser on May 19. “The others, they did better. We congratulate them.”

The 2017 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year with Andretti Autosport, Alonso and de Ferran recounted a frustrating week leading into time trials that began when Fernando crashed his primary papaya orange No. 66 car during practice on Wednesday, May 15. The team never recovered in its backup Dallara chassis.

Alonso’s ride with Michael Andretti’s team two years ago featured Honda power and the manufacturer’s Speedway aero kit package. Sanctioning body INDYCAR switched to a universal aero kit furnished by Dallara for engine suppliers Honda and Chevrolet last year _ another new item that Alonso and the first-year McLaren INDYCAR crew were forced to address.

Alonso skipped the 2018 Indy 500 while competing for McLaren in his final FIA Formula One World Championship season. Alonso began his on-track preparation for the 2.5-mile IMS oval by testing on Texas Motor Speedway’s high-banked/1.5-mile oval on April 10.

A two-time winner of F1’s Monaco Grand Prix who shared the winning Toyota Prototype car in the 2018 and 2019 editions of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Alonso is looking to join Graham Hill of Great Britain as the only drivers to have won motor racing’s Triple Crown. The Indy 500 remains Alonso’s missing link. 

A native of Spain, Alonso did not immediately commit to returning to IMS in 2020 last May, choosing to concentrate on finishing his Toyota program in the World Endurance Championship. “I wanted to have 2020 open,” Alonso said, ”because I don’t know exactly what opportunities may come for me for next year in terms of racing.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 9 2019
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