McLaren’s desire to become a full-time participant in the NTT IndyCar Series has included many obstacles, but they have not kept the famed racing brand from its mission.
Its arrival for 2020 has already been controversial to some. By combining efforts with Arrow Schmidt Peterson’s IndyCar team to become Arrow McLaren Racing SP, the operation left Honda with more than a year left on its contract.
Honda officials prohibited American Honda and Honda Performance Development from doing business with McLaren because of comments made about the company’s Formula One engine in 2017.
Arrow McLaren Racing SP will be a Chevrolet team.
Popular Canadian driver and Honda spokesman James Hinchcliffe was expected to fulfill the final year of his Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports contract as driver for Arrow McLaren SP but was told in late October that he would not be one of the two drivers.
Instead, Arrow McLaren Racing SP will have an all-rookie lineup featuring the past two Indy Lights Series champions. Mexioc’s Patricio O’Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights champion, finally gets a full-time ride and he will be joined by 23-year-old Oliver Askew of Jupiter, Fla., who won the 2019 Indy Lights championship.
Hinchcliffe remains part of the team and will be paid for the final year of his contract. He is free to pursue a full-time ride with another NTT IndyCar Series team but had been unsuccessful in that effort at press time.
McLaren CEO Zak Brown had a strong passion to bring McLaren back to IndyCar racing since he brought two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso to the 101st Indianapolis 500 in 2017.
In a joint effort with Andretti Autosport, Alonso led 27 laps and was in contention before his engine quit on lap 179. He finished 24th.
McLaren returned to Indy last year and failed to make the 33-car starting lineup. The McLaren Indy team had an engineering alliance with Carlin, but that team also struggled at Indy.
When the team left Indianapolis Motor Speedway after getting bumped out of the starting field, Brown and McLaren sporting director and Indianapolis 500 winner Gil de Ferran vowed they would be back.
In an effort to help ensure a successful Indy car operation, McLaren purchased Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in August.
“This has been going on obviously behind the scenes for some time, identifying areas in which we think McLaren can help support what we think is already a very good foundation at Sam’s team,” Brown said. “Arrow is obviously our title partner of our IndyCar team. They joined us this year in Formula One. Their automotive business has taken off in the last five years, and they currently are in business with our automotive group, our racing group, our IT infrastructure and applied technologies.
“While they are a sponsor partner on our race cars, they are a much more integrated technology partner across all of our businesses.”
In order to make that move, Sam Schmidt had to end a long-standing relationship with Honda, including ending a contract with one year left on the agreement.
“It was extremely difficult, because there is that loyalty,” Schmidt said. “There is that length of time and a lot of success and at the end of the day, they are a great motorsports and OEM operator.
“When they aren’t winning, they do everything possible to win, so we wanted to stay in that camp. When you draw the line down the center of the paper and you put your pros and cons on each side, that was definitely a big negative to doing this deal.
“On the other side of the page, there were so many positives that it really was, you know, a no-brainer. At the end of the day, it’s just unfortunate, but it’s ultimately their decision.”
De Ferran, a two-time CART champion with Team Penske and the winner of the 2003 Indianapolis 500, is in charge of McLaren’s IndyCar effort. Arrow, Schmidt and Ric Peterson remain ownership principals in the team.