By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
NASHVILLE – The quest for an NTT IndyCar Series championship is further paramount for ARROW McLaren SP as McLaren Racing acquired 75 percent majority stake that’ll be finalized at the end of the season.
Right after confirming their announcement Sunday morning, Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson affirmed they’ll still be around the IndyCar program with zero intentions of ever putting their efforts up for sale.
“We thought the only way we can make it better is to align with a Formula One team. We’re the only team we can do that right now,” said Peterson, who joined Schmidt’s efforts in 2013. “It’s very important to team up with McLaren and win races.”
Rest assure, everyone’s confident the team are on the cusp of being a team to be reckon with that can beat the likes of Penske, Ganassi and Andretti. Something Schmidt never visualized when he started operating his race team 20 years ago.
“ARROW thinks five years out, I wasn’t thinking 20 years out. Everything happens for a reason,” said Schmidt. “McLaren is an iconic name in Formula One. It’s one of those things that if you have the opportunity to be associated with them, it’s a no brainer. Very excited but I wasn’t thinking in advance for sure. I know it’s going to be for the long term and I think it’s the biggest benefit.”
Since beginning his involvement in the sport back in 2017, McLaren Racing’s CEO Zak Brown has seen the sport grow tremendously. In fact, he’s embraced the idea of teams growing as the better the entries, the better the competition becomes.
But there was a point where the effort could’ve met a dead end and that was the disastrous 2019 Indy 500 effort. Fernando Alonso failed to qualify for the race that capped off a Month of May McLaren wants to forget.
It was that moment where Brown realized that he shouldn’t underestimate his competition, especially in IndyCar.
“I made a lot of mistakes there. I had a lot of red flags that came across my desk pretty early on. I was trying to point my Formula One team in the right direction. So, I didn’t put full attention on the IndyCar effort,” Brown commented.
“I should have trusted my instinct and you learn by those things. It’s hard to put together a temporary race team in the Indy 500. We had a great driver and great budget. We had no excuses.”
Two years later, Brown’s operation has grown to where it’s fighting for wins and championships. Both Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist will stay in 2022 with Brown expressing full interest of expanding into a three-car operation by 2023.
Should a third full-time entry become a reality earlier, he knows the market is small and wants a driver that’s capable to go toe-to-toe with the best.
“I’m very happy with both. It’s about getting the right package together. We got the resources, but we want to run three cars that can win races and compete for the championship,” Brown explained.
“I think this is much of a driver championship, so we got to make sure to get the right pilot in the race car. There’s not a lot of them on the market. So we’ve got a very short list.
“If we can land someone that we think that’s capable of winning. We’ll go for it in ’22. If not, we’ll find the right driver for ’23 but we definitely want to have three cars.”
Another thing brought up in the press conference was both Formula One drivers Lando Norris and Daniel Riccardo having an interest competing in the states.
However, Brown confirmed their main focus is on F1 where they’re hoping to be at least third in the Constructors’ Championship. Especially, in a thrilling season dominated by Red Bull Racing and Mercedes.
“They both like to do it, but they’re very focused on F1. I think it’s exciting,” said Brown. “The F1 paddock really enjoys IndyCar. I know the IndyCar paddock enjoys F1. It’s unique for our race team. Nothing immediate in our future, but we’ll see.”
With the team expanding over the past several years, developing drivers could be key. Especially, if they’re eyeing on entering more cars in the future. Among those possibilities is perhaps starting an Indy Lights team, but it really boils down if Team President Taylor Kiel sees it as viable to their progress.
“If he feels that can be beneficial to our racing team. We would look it. Right now, we’re focusing on two cars that we have and ultimately growing,” said Brown.
Kiel echoed Brown’s comments, saying: “If it can make our team better, I’ll certainly consider it.”
For now, the focus shifts to the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix (5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). The site of the 11th round of this season’s NTT IndyCar Series campaign. Rosenqvist will roll off fourth with O’Ward starting ninth.