INDIANAPOLIS – McLaren Racing head man Zak Brown knows full well the rich history that the British auto manufacturer has in American open wheel racing.
After all, three Indianapolis 500 victories – one as a chassis manufacturer with Mark Donohue and Team Penske in 1972 and factory team wins in both 1974 and 1976 with Johnny Rutherford – speak for themselves.
Now, in the wake of last week’s landmark announcement that McLaren will partner with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to compete full time in the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series, Brown is hoping to rekindle the McLaren magic of the past and go toe to toe with the present-day titans of Indy car racing.
Brown spoke candidly on a media conference call Monday afternoon regarding the brand’s return to the IndyCar Series and his personal enthusiasm for coming back to a brand of racing that has meant so much to McLaren as a company.
“For me, this news is super exciting,” Brown said. “When I started at McLaren, obviously things had been very tough for us, so we needed to make sure we got our Formula One team back on track. We still have a long way to go, but we’re pointed in the right direction now and making a fair amount of progress … as I think we’ve shown by our on-track runs this year on that side.
“As far as McLaren goes, we have a long history (in racing), whether it was Can Am or whether it was IndyCar in the past or whether it was sports car racing. I think that McLaren Racing, its DNA is racing, and racing in multiple series if it makes sense,” Brown added. “So we are quite excited to go back to IndyCar, especially given our history there and the importance of the market.”
The move for McLaren to return to Indy car racing on a full-season basis comes after a dismal Month of May appearance for the marque as a factory effort – missing the Indianapolis 500 entirely despite the best efforts of two-time Formula One champion and international driving star Fernando Alonso.
That was a moment that revealed many of the flaws in McLaren Racing’s journey back to Indianapolis this year, flaws that Brown is determined not to repeat as the team takes a deeper step into the pool.
“We certainly made a lot of mistakes in Indianapolis this year, and as I told everyone on the racing team, mistakes are okay as long as you learn from them and you don’t make the same one twice,” Brown explained. “We always had a desire to compete on a full-time basis, and the way we did it in 2019 was kind of the start of ramping up. However, it’s very obvious that that’s not the right way to do it. What we are able to put in place for Sam (Schmidt) will give us that full-time presence and that platform to ensure that we’re competitive and don’t repeat the mistakes we made, which really was showing up with a part-time effort and a part-time crew that worked extremely hard.
“Indianapolis is a tough place to show up for anybody on a part-time basis, and so what we structured here with Sam, we think ticks a lot of the boxes as far as the technical aspects and the commercial aspects that enabled us to go ahead and commit,” Brown noted. “I think the view of my board was either let’s be all-in or all-out, and all the reasons we have wanted to do IndyCar the last couple years have remained, regardless of our defeat at Indianapolis.
“We’re racers, and in racing you’re going to hit the wall every once in a while; you just have to dust yourself off and go back at it.”
Going back at it will begin with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in March of next year, though McLaren Sporting Director Gil de Ferran – who will oversee the rebadged Arrow McLaren Racing SP Indy car operation – will be present at the final four races of the current season as a primer for 2020.
When opening day arrives on March 15, Brown said the team will be ready, with a host of backers behind them spurring them forward.
“We’ve had overwhelmingly great support, first and foremost, from the fans,” said Brown. “I think they are all quite excited to see McLaren back in IndyCar and in a full-time effort with Sam and Ric (Peterson) and our partners, who we knew would all be very supportive going into this.
“Our race team, IndyCar, and the industry itself have all showed that the response has been very, very positive, and we can’t wait to get to the start of the season next year and get the ball rolling.”