McLaren will return to full-time IndyCar competition next season for the first time since 1979 in a partnership with existing team Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
The new venture will be renamed Arrow McLaren Racing SP and rely on SPM’s current infrastructure. McLaren will be responsible for technical expertise, commercial experience and marketing. It will be a two-car team but switch next season to Chevrolet.
“IndyCar has been part of McLaren since our early years of racing, and the series today provides not only a commercial platform to continue to grow our brand in North America, but competition with some of the best teams in international motorsport,” said Zak Brown, CEO of McLaren Racing. “We come to IndyCar in full respect of the sport, our competitors, the fans and the task ahead.
“At our core, we at McLaren are racers and where there’s competition that puts us to the test, we will race.”
The team currently fields cars for James Hinchcliffe and Marcus Ericsson, and Hinchcliffe is a longtime Honda ambassador and star of ads for the automaker in North America. Brown said Ericsson is under a one-year contract that will be reviewed, but Brown answered “yes” when asked by The Associated Press specifically if Hinchcliffe is expected to drive for the team next year.
“Hinch is under contract and we think he’s an excellent racing driver who has won lots of races and he does have big ties to Honda,” Brown said. “From our point of view, we are very happy to continue to have Hinch and that’s kind of the state of play.”
Hinchcliffe later indicated on social media that he will be a Chevrolet driver next season and stay with the new team.
“My love for motorsports started on those weekends watching F1 races with my dad and McLaren was a huge part of that,” the Canadian posted. “To be able to drive for that name is a dream come true. …
“It is rather unfortunate what this means for our relationship with Honda. They are another company that has done so much for me and when the time is right, a discussion to what that means for my partnership with them and HondaCanada will need to occur. But that is secondary right now to this exciting news.”
Hinchcliffe drove for Chevrolet in 2012 and 2013 when he was part of the Andretti Autosport lineup.
Schmidt has been a Honda team since 2010 and all seven of Schmidt’s IndyCar victories were powered by the automaker. Schmidt also won two Indianapolis 500 poles with Honda power. But McLaren had an ugly split in Formula One with Honda and the engine maker is not willing to work with the team at this point.
Honda Performance Development said in a statement Friday “although we regret that this (Schmidt) partnership will be coming to an end … HPD has the utmost confidence in the strength and commitment of its remaining partner teams.”
Arrow Electronics will remain the team’s title partner and team co-founders Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson will continue in their current leadership roles.
“I’m extremely proud of the team that Ric and I have built and that a legendary brand like McLaren Racing has decided to partner with us,” Schmidt said. “Arrow is a tremendous partner which has been integral to our growth as a team since 2015 and to the creation of this new partnership. The combined technical resources and commercial opportunities both McLaren and Arrow bring to the table provide a winning combination.”
Gil de Ferran, the sporting director for McLaren Racing, will lead the IndyCar effort for McLaren independently from the Formula One effort.
“IndyCar is a natural fit for McLaren, given our legacy and determination to succeed at the top levels of international motorsport,” said de Ferran, a former Indy 500 winner. “Our ambition, over time, is to consistently compete for wins and championships.
“We acknowledge the challenge ahead of us but McLaren is committed to this partnership and to supporting the team as a whole.”
McLaren is coming off a spectacular embarrassment in which it failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 in May with celebrated two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso. McLaren partnered with Andretti Autosport in 2017 on an Indy 500 effort for Alonso but took the next season off. Its return to Indy last year was as a stand-alone team, but McLaren was ill-prepared and Alonso missed the race.
Alonso is not interested in a full-time IndyCar ride in 2020, but Brown has indicated the new team will field a third car for the Indianapolis 500. Alonso would likely have an option to drive that entry.
“Fernando is always interested in what McLaren is doing,” Brown said. “His desire to win the Indy 500 hasn’t changed. Our desire to do it with him has not changed. He wants to be a little selective in what he’s doing. Fernando is his own man sometimes, and you need to let him make his own decisions.”
Brown said Alonso will meet with McLaren at the Italian Grand Prix next month and the Indy 500 will be on the agenda.
Brown also said he will honor the SPM promise to Robert Wickens to have a car for him should he return to IndyCar racing. Wickens suffered a spinal injury last August in a crash at Pocono in Pennsylvania, and Schmidt, a paraplegic, said he’d have a seat for Wickens if he is medically cleared to drive. Brown said that remains unchanged.
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