Photo: Walter G. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Zak Brown Balances Present and Future of Arrow McLaren at Indianapolis

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

INDIANAPOLIS – Let the Marcus Ericsson sweepstakes begin.

Arrow McLaren team boss Zak Brown is living in the here and now of this weekend’s 107th running of the Indianapolis 500, but is also keeping an eye on the future of his organization and where it could go from here.

All four of the team’s entries will start in the first three rows on Sunday, with Felix Rosenqvist the highest in fourth place. Pato O’Ward starts fifth, team newcomer and 2016 Indy 500 champion Alexander Rossi will start seventh, and Tony Kanaan will roll off in ninth for his final Indy 500 start.

Throughout the Month of May, Arrow McLaren has been in the conversation to win this year’s 500 after coming up one spot shy last year, and Brown would tend to agree with that assessment.

“I think we have a good shot at the race,” Brown said. “I think there’s probably 10 to 12 other cars that also have a great shot at the race. I expect it to be very competitive and like any Indy 500, gonna require skill and a little bit of luck. But hopefully with having four cars that are capable of winning, that odds are decent.”

The team’s performance this week is a far cry to their first attempt at the 500 in 2019 when they missed the race with Formula One star Fernando Alonso behind the wheel. Brown explained that instead of letting that kind of disappointment be an anchor to sink the team before it even left the dock, they were able to buckle down, get to work and bring the team up to their standards.

“We learned so much from that,” Brown said. “So, I’m quite proud of how we recovered. The support that we had from our sponsors, the team, the shareholders.

“I think it would’ve been pretty easy to quit and go home. And we did the opposite. We doubled down. We dug in and as I tell everyone in the factory, mistakes are okay, just don’t make the same ones twice. And so, we learned a lot. Now to be here as competitive as we are not that far after, it’s something I actually look back at it and I kind of almost wouldn’t end up wanting to do it another way.

“I think it’s a great story and I’m very proud of the team and very proud of everyone that we kept our heads up. We owned it, we learned from it, and now we’re very competitive.”

With the team in great shape performance-wise in the present, the future of the organization is slowly starting to come into focus.

Given the team’s current success, Brown noted that a fourth full-time entry is on the table going forward, especially with all four cars having a legitimate shot to win on Sunday.

“I think we’ve got a great, great team,” Brown said. “Great drivers, great leadership. The team looks good. Everyone’s noticing us. I just want to win races, win championships, and win the Indy 500.

“We are considering a fourth car. We’re having a lot of commercial success. I’m finding IndyCar is very popular and we have the demand that we could put out a fourth car. So we have the economics for that.

“It’s just a function of whether that’s biting off more than we can chew. Given how the team’s responded to the Indy 500 so far, it encourages me to maybe go one step further, but we’ll take that decision in the summer.”

Enter Marcus Ericsson.

The defending winner of the Indianapolis 500 is in a contract year with his current team, Chip Ganassi Racing, and Arrow McLaren would be interesting in signing him if the opportunity to do so arises.

Just last season McLaren was able to snooker Ganassi and bring 2021 IndyCar champion Alex Palou on board. Though Palou is finishing out his contract with Ganassi this season, he is expected to be a part of the McLaren IndyCar lineup, along with some F1 duties in 2024.

“I don’t think people steal things. I think people lose things,” Brown said of the thought of going head-to-head with Ganassi once again for the services of a driver. “Marcus has done an outstanding job. Known him from Formula One for some time. He’s very humble. He’s earned it. He’s done an awesome job, won the Indy 500. He’s led the championship for some time.

“He would definitely be in the consideration if we decided to do a fourth car. I think he’s probably the top free agent. So, I’m a little surprised, given how strong things are commercially that reading the quotes that his current team doesn’t have the commercial confidence that they can sell an Indy 500 championship contender and sign ’em up.

“I understand they probably have a little bit of time, so I’m sure they’re working at it, but I wouldn’t let him go if he was driving for me. I would’ve had the commercial confidence that I could get the sponsorship. But that’s not my issue. So, if he does become a free agent, we run a fourth car, he would definitely be heavily under consideration.”

Whether or not Ericsson does get courted by McLaren could come down to a couple of different factors.

First is the fact that McLaren may not have the infrastructure to expand to a fourth full-time entry, given their current facilities. Brown explained that though the team is moving into a new shop in 2025, they are currently operating three teams out of a shop that was originally designed for just two cars.

“We’re in a race shop now that was kind of designed for two cars and it’s stretched at three,” he said. “We’ve now had to do things like outsource our gym, outsource some of our paint shop, outsource some of our storage. And so, we’re not set up logistically to run four cars full-time.

“I think that’s our biggest challenge is do we have the room and space? We’re gonna be moving into a new shop in 2025. So, I think it’s more of a timing issue. Does the team feel we’ve got the capacity to run four cars at the level that we are now.”

Then there’s current McLaren driver Felix Rosenqvist, who seemed to be on the chopping block last year in the midst of the battle with Ganassi over Palou.

Brown said he and the team love having Rosenqvist on board, but they would have to see how things play out over the summer to see if he stays for another year or is on the chopping block again.

“Felix is doing an outstanding job,” Brown said. “He’s been very fast. The team loves him. Marcus would be definitely high in the consideration set, but very much Felix as well. Someone else might snap up Felix before we make a decision. But no, Felix is awesome. I’d love to keep him in the team.

“We just have to see how things play out.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.