INDIANAPOLIS – Last Friday McLaren and Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports made an earth shattering announcement in the Indy Car world when both sides agreed to join forces for the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season. For the first time in decades, McLaren is back on the full time basis in the series. Also, for this deal to come about, ASPM had to pay to get out of their deal with Honda as they had another year under contract with the Japanese manufacturer.
What was shocking was, ASPM had been with Honda since they started in 2011. But, with Honda not willing to work with McLaren anymore, the only way that this deal would work is if ASPM switched from Honda power to Chevrolet. But, in order to do that, contracts had to be broken.
The obviously were.
“Extremely difficult, you know, because there is that loyalty,” Schmidt said of breaking the Honda contract. “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 was 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.”
Fernando Alonso speeds out of pit lane to make a qualifying attempt for the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500
So, now that the announcement was made, what’s next?
Well, they’re going all in. McLaren will send Gil deFerran back to the United States as the former Indy 500 and series champion will have a large presence on the Indy Car side of the operation.
We are obviously not in a position to win the championship, so our focus these last four races will be entirely on qualifying up front and trying to win the races.
So we want to finish out on a high note, and then begin the process of getting ready for 2020.
“Obviously we’ve begun the discussions of a structure, and I’m super excited that McLaren has placed Gil de Ferran in sort of the head connect for us there, because with his championships in Indy car and Indy 500 victory, his long-term association with Roger Penske, his ownership of his own team that was successful, really excited to work with him as a major conduit in the McLaren situation,” Sam Schmidt said in a conference call on Monday afternoon.
Zak Brown followed that up with saying that de Ferran will be at the rest of the races as well as some other team members to get a head start for next year as well.
“You’ll see Gil de Ferran at all the remaining races, as well as a couple of engineers and data analysts,” said Brown. “Towards the very end of the year, you’ll see people from communications and marketing as we look to review things from a branding and activation standpoint. So I think you’ll probably see a half a dozen people from McLaren at each race moving forward.”
From there, it’s all about logistics and being on top of things.
“Then it’s just kind of we want to make sure we manage the opportunity,” Schmidt continued. “That’s probably our biggest challenge is the fact that we see a lot of opportunities, both on the technical side of the business and on the commercial side of the business, and I think we need to manage those opportunities carefully to not be overwhelmed. Just setting up the structure to do that and moving forward, very exciting for all of our partners.”
Brown agrees. He says it’s about getting to know each other and work in areas to where they can hit the ground running to succeed.
“We have started the education process from SPM and looking into McLaren, and now we’ll have McLaren look into SPM, and then over those next few months, start to identify areas in which we think we can further support and amplify what SPM has sitting within their capabilities as of today.”
The two said that they will operate out of the existing building in Indianapolis that Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports currently resides in and that they will definitely be a two-car outfit. The car colors will be the McLaren papaya orange too. The only change to that will be the car colors and the name on the building being longer. The employees inside will also feature more humans too. As far as who’s driving the race cars themselves, they both expect James Hinchcliffe to be in one of the seats despite his long time deal with Honda.
“I mean, we really don’t,” Schmidt says on if Honda and Hinchcliffe’s relationship will impede the Canadian driver from staying with the team. “James (Hinchcliffe) has been a great asset to the team for the last five years. He’s a brilliant ambassador for all of our partners.
“It’s one of those unfortunate things, when you do what’s best for the team, but the relationship with Honda Canada and American Honda was direct between James and them, and so we don’t even know — we don’t even know what those details were, what those obligations were.
“We don’t anticipate it having an effect on the final year of his contract as far as we’re concerned, but yeah, we’re excited to have him on our team.”
What about the other seat? Brown notes that the phone has definitely been very active since we have announced with all sorts of individuals.
“Yeah, we looked at it as it’s a stakeholder decision,” Schmidt said. “It’s a big decision. So between ourselves and Arrow and McLaren, there’s a lot of great minds there with years of experience.
“The first goal was to get past the announcement last week, and then as Zak said, see how the phones light up and then make that list, and then reconvene later this week and start making some of those decisions and offers and whatnot.
“So kind of like stay tuned, but it will be a few weeks before we make any announcements.”
Would a seat be reserved for Fernando Alonso?
“Yeah, there isn’t a McLaren seat and a Sam seat,” said Brown about the Spaniard driver. “If there was, I would put myself in the car — since it’s a group discussion, Sam won’t go there that. So we’ll make driver decisions together.
“I’ll be seeing Fernando (Alonso) at the Italian Grand Prix. He’s well aware of everything that’s going on with our IndyCar activities and has been for some time. I don’t think his desire to win the Indy 500 has diminished at all. He has not shown an interest, yet, I should say, in a full season of INDYCAR. He’s coming off of 20 years of lots of racing and I think he wanted to take the second half of this year off to see what he wants to do in the future.
“I think he would be an outstanding talent in INDYCAR. I personally think, knowing him as well as I do, and his driving style, he’d be immensely successful and welcomed and would enjoy it. But Fernando is the type of individual that you put the opportunity in front of him and let him make his decision. So I’ll be picking that up with him in about a month’s time, but I would not anticipate in 2020 him having a desire to do a full season.”