Schmidt Peterson Dumps Hinchcliffe For ‘Youth’

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 31 2019
James Hinchcliffe is out at Schmidt Peterson.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Arrow McLaren SP is taking the “youth route” for its fulltime return to INDYCAR, selecting Patricio O’Ward and Oliver Askew as its drivers beginning with the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season.

The last two respective Indy Lights champions, O’Ward and Askew will compete in a pair of Chevrolet-powered Dallaras fielded by McLaren in its first-year partnership with the team formerly known as Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

O’Ward and Askew were introduced during an INDYCAR teleconference on Wednesday featuring Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson, co-owners of rebranded Arrow McLaren SP, and Gil de Ferran, Sporting Director, McLaren Racing. 

The team’s new technical partnership with Chevrolet _ which has replaced Honda as engine-supplier _ and driver lineup currently has left Canadian James Hinchcliffe out of a fulltime ride for 2020. Marcus Ericsson of Sweden, an IndyCar Series rookie with ASPM in 2019, recently joined Chip Ganassi Racing as its third driver beginning in 2020.

“We have got to all recalibrate our brains here,” Schmidt said of the myriad changes. “But Ric and I both are looking at this as an amazing opportunity not only on the commercial side, but on the technical side, in every effort to win the Indy 500 and to win the championship, which has been my life-long goal.

“We’re constantly pushing to win races and the McLaren association is specifically for that. I think this driver announcement for the long-term…we have long-term partners that are major global corporations and these two young guns we feel are the future of the team.”

The partnership between McLaren and ASPM was announced by Californian Zak Brown, CEO of McLaren Racing, in early August, with Schmidt and Peterson continuing in their current roles. Former Indianapolis 500 champion de Ferran is leading a dedicated group from McLaren Racing, independent of its Formula 1 team, in partnership with the organization founded by Schmidt, a former INDYCAR driver.

“You know, I think as Sam says, both Oliver and Pato are extremely exciting talents,” de Ferran said. ”They have not only won the Indy Lights championship over the past couple of seasons but these are two drivers I think that have proven their worth throughout their careers, have had a tremendous amount of success throughout their careers from karting onwards.

“And I think we’re proud to have them both onboard and go through this journey together. We’re doing a lot of work behind the scenes to help with our preparation, both on and off the track. So may the journey begin. I think we’re all very excited about it.”

A 20-year-old native of Mexico living in San Antonio, Texas, O’Ward competed in seven INDYCAR races in 2019 for team-owner Trevor Carlin.  O’Ward posted a best start and finish of eighth at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, a race won by rookie Colton Herta for Harding Steinbrenner Racing. Ironically, O’Ward originally was scheduled to run the full 2019 season alongside Herta but lost his ride due to a lack of sponsorship before the opener on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

“I honestly couldn’t be more excited,” said O’Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights champion with Andretti Autosport. “I think it’s very big, not just for me but for Oliver as well. We’re just starting our journey into the professional side of this sport and it’s something we have been working towards our whole lives, so I’m very much looking forward to the opportunity. I’m very thankful and I think there’s no better team to do it than with Arrow McLaren SP.”

A 22-year-old native of Florida, Askew won the 2019 Indy Lights championship with Andretti Autosport. “It’s been a whirlwind couple of days here and it’s honestly a dream come true. I can echo what Pato has said,” Askew said. “And honestly, right now, I don’t have any expectations. We’re going to be putting a lot of hard work in the offseason to make sure we take advantage of the tools that we have here, especially with myself as a pure rookie, only my fourth full season in cars. But I think I’m ready for it with the resources that we have here and the personnel.

“Obviously, it’s a top-tier team and I’m looking forward to representing Arrow McLaren SP going into the future.”

Without specifying goals, Schmidt said he expected O’Ward and Askew to continue their upward trajectories as teammates. “It’s a pretty fresh situation here right now,” Schmidt said. “I think each year we do go in with some goals for the team in KPI’s as we call them _ key performance indicators _ and I just think because it is a fresh situation we really haven’t had a chance to sit around the table and develop those for next year. But we will and right now it’s just, as Gil said, put your head down, prepare, focus, got a lot of things we want to accomplish before the first test in January.

“I think we just got a great, incredible team assembled between the McLaren guys in England and our guys on this side and everybody’s just, frankly, chomping at the bit to get to go. Next week we’re actually going to do the Aeroscreen test at Sebring right out of the gate. But nothing’s been established as far as goals yet.”

Meanwhile, the new lineup has left Hinchcliffe _ arguably the commercial face of Honda in both Canada and the United States _without a ride with one year remaining on his contract.

“You know, I think Ric and I would say that this is one of the toughest decisions we have had to make since we have been team-owners,” Schmidt said. “I personally have known James, (father) Jeremy, (mother) Arlene, his brother Chris for 11 years and love him. And I really appreciate what he’s done for the team _ tremendous, tremendous investor in the sport and our brand and everything else.

“So it’s a gut-wrenching decision, but we were faced with an opportunity to pick up these two young guns coming out of Indy Lights that already have 13, 14, 15 years worth of experience and it was just an opportunity that we couldn’t pass up.

“So everything’s amicable, I have all the faith in the world that James is going to wind up in a fulltime ride and Ric and I are fully supportive of that. It’s just a competitive environment and for our partners and everything else that we’re…everybody, it was a group decision, we got an opportunity in front of us, we got to take it, we want to go win races.”

Under terms of his contract, Hinchcliffe could sit out the 2020 season and still collect his salary. “What’s to stop him is the race driver within him,” Schmidt said. “I mean, I think as Gil, myself, anybody that’s a driver _ you want to drive, you want to prove, you want to win the Indy 500, you still got boxes to check.

“And so I have no doubt that he and his team are burning up the phone lines and talking with everybody out there, in any series but primarily INDYCAR. He’s still young (32), he still wants to win races, so I think that’s what’s to stop him from doing it. Certainly, it’s his option, but I don’t think you’ll see him do that.”

Schmidt added that Canadian Robert Wickens, who was paralyzed in a crash at Pocono Raceway in August 2018 while driving for ASPM, is continuing his rehabilitation program and is part of the team as a driver coaching consultant.

“He will be there at a majority of the races next year assisting these young guys to get acclimated as quick as they can,” Schmidt said of Wickens. “So he’s part of the team, but also he’s got a major focus on his rehabilitation and he’s hell-bent on driving again and I wouldn’t bet against him.”

DeFerran, who won the 2003 Indy 500 while driving for Team Penske, took full responsibility for McLaren’s failure to qualify Fernando Alonso for the 103rd edition of the Indy 500 last May. A native of Brazil, de Ferran apologized to the two-time Formula One World Driving Champion while terming a DNQ watched world-wide “the most painful experience” in his 35-plus year racing career.

De Ferran and Schmidt said Wednesday that fielding a third car for Alonso at the 104th Indy 500 in May 2020 “remains an option.” Alonso is aiming to complete the Triple Crown of winning F1’s Monaco Grand Prix, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Indy 500 with a victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Spaniard was named Indy 500 Rookie of the Year in 2017 while driving for Michael Andretti’s organization.

“We absolutely have had a history of 12 years of running a third car at Indy and still plan to do that and Fernando remains an option but nothing’s confirmed,” Schmidt said. “We have, in the deal came all the McLaren equipment, which means we have plenty of equipment and we have historically always ran a third car just because of our commercial partner demand and we expect to do that again this year.”

SPM was established in 2001 by 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.

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.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 31 2019
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