INDIANAPOLIS – McLaren CEO Zak Brown is back in Indianapolis, the same town where he built his business and marketing empire, Just Marketing, before taking on one of Formula One’s most iconic teams.

Brown was a resident of Indianapolis for 20 years and grew to love racing during his time in Indiana.

“I love motor racing – Formula One, IndyCar, sports cars specifically,” Brown said Friday morning. “I lived in Indianapolis for 20 years. I’ve grown up around IndyCar racing. I was able to spend the day today with Mario Andretti and Johnny Rutherford, which is just awesome hanging out with two legends like that.

“I think the racing is second to none and always has been. I think it’s probably the most competitive racing, closest racing, on the planet. Indianapolis 500, Le Mans, Monaco, Super Bowl, it’s one of those bucket list events.”

In 2017 Brown returned to Indianapolis not as a resident, but as an entrant in the Indianapolis 500. Through an alliance with Andretti Autosport, Brown and McLaren got two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso into the Indianapolis 500 field for the first time.

Fernando Alonso (66) on track last Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (IndyCar Photo)
Fernando Alonso (66) on track last Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (IndyCar Photo)

It was a magical experience. Alonso was fast from the start, qualified fifth after making the Fast Nine Shootout, led 27 laps in the race and was in contention for the victory before the Honda engine in his car failed on lap 179.

He finished 24th, but still won the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year award.

Brown and Alonso returned to Indianapolis in 2019, but instead of a magical experience, they were involved in a nightmare.

This time, the McLaren effort was on its own. Unable to use a Honda engine like they had in 2017 when they partnered with the Andretti team, the squad instead aligned with Carlin and used a Chevrolet engine.

What followed was a comedy of errors, beginning with an open test at the end of April. It never got better as Alonso was the last driver bumped out of the 33-car starting field by Kyle Kaiser and Juncos Racing.

Brown and Alonso left Indianapolis after that disappointment, but vowed they would return. Last year McLaren purchased an ownership stake in Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to create Arrow McLaren SP with team owners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson.

Second-year driver Pato O’Ward and rookie driver Oliver Askew are the team’s full-time drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series this year, while Alonso is back for his second attempt at the Indianapolis 500. Alonso will start 26th, the middle of row nine, in Sunday’s 104th running of the prestigious race.

“I’m very happy to be back here in Indianapolis, but obviously disappointed that there’s not going to be 300,000 fans present,” Brown said. “It’s exciting to have Fernando Alonso in your racing cars.

“I think the team is doing an excellent job in integration of the McLaren and the SP team. Looking forward to practice today, get more speed out of our three cars and ready for the race on Sunday.”

O’Ward was the fastest driver in Friday’s Carb Day practice session with a fast lap at 225.355 mph. Askew was fifth fastest and Alonso was 23rd.

“I think traffic is going to be a big problem for everyone, regardless of what power unit you have,” Brown said Friday. “It sounds like it’s pretty difficult to pass.

“Fernando was very quick all week. We’ve got to still massage his car a little bit more since his primary was damaged. Got that repaired. I think today is an important day to fine-tune everything. I think all three cars have been quick, they’ve been quick all month, the last couple weeks.

“I think we’ll put on a good race. It’s going to be about pit stops and strategy I think with how difficult it’s probably going to be to pass around here.”

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