By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
McLaren finally ended all speculation about their full time involvement in American open wheel racing by announcing a full time NTT IndyCar Series Program for the 2020 season.
Run in conjunction with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, the newly-renamed Arrow McLaren Racing SP team will be a two car effort powered by Chevrolet engines.
“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 McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown in a team statement.
This is McLaren’s latest next step in Indy car racing after their first steps back in America back in 2017. Then, McLaren partnered with Andretti Autosport and Honda to run Fernando Alonso in the Indianapolis 500. Alonso qualified fifth and finished 23rd following mechanical failure.
In 2019, McLaren partnered with Carlin to run Alonso again at Indianapolis but fell just short of qualifying for the 33-car field for a number of reasons.
“IndyCar is a natural fit for McLaren, given our legacy and determination to succeed at the top levels of international motorsport,” said McLaren Sporting Director and 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner Gil De Ferran. “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.”
Honda will continue to work with Arrow SPM through the rest of the 2019 season before the team switches to Chevrolet. The team were one of three teams to stay with Honda since engine competition returned in 2012, the other two being Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Dale Coyne Racing.
“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 to form Arrow McLaren Racing SP to continue our march to the top of IndyCar,” said team co-owner Sam Schmidt. “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.”
With Arrow McLaren Racing SP going to Chevrolet for 2020, this also throws a wrench into the Meyer Shank Racing situation. Michael Shank’s team has operated in a technical alliance with Arrow SPM this year and their involvement with Honda is extremely unlikely to change given their relationship with Acura in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
What is likely to change is them partnering with another team in a technical alliance or running their car themselves next season in what Shank hopes will be a full time effort.
The more looming uncertainty comes from the driver lineup. Current Arrow SPM driver James Hinchcliffe is backed by Honda Canada but Hinchcliffe tweeted that he’s looking forward to rekindling his prior relationship with General Motors in 2020.
— James Hinchcliffe (@Hinchtown) August 9, 2019
Marcus Ericsson’s contract situation is currently unknown but other drivers have been linked to the McLaren seats. Brown indicated that Sam Schmidt’s promise to Robert Wickens about having a seat upon his being fit to drive remains intact.
And then there’s the Alonso uncertainty. Alonso has said before that he’s not fond of the idea of doing a full time Indy car season but things might change between now and 2020. The team would open to adding a third car for Alonso should the Spaniard decide to race with McLaren in America.
More announcements will be forthcoming about this effort.